Contrary to popular belief, a divorce doesn’t have to be a terrible event for a child. If the partners are able to co parent effectively in the aftermath of a separation, the divorce can create a better environment for the kids. All it takes is a set of dedicated, empathetic parents and some simple co parenting practices to pull it off. In this article, I’ll give a comprehensive look at why co parenting is important and what specific things you can do (and avoid) to excel in your co parenting role.
The Importance of Co Parenting
Your relationship with your ex-spouse is of paramount importance. Even if you and your ex don’t get along, it’s essential to put your differences aside and approach co parenting as something that’s really important—because it is. Here’s why.
Kids Need Cooperative Parents
Can you guess what the “co” in “co parenting” stands for? Its “Cooperative.”
Co parenting means setting your quarrels aside and coming together in order to raise your child in a healthy, loving, collaborative environment. If you don’t, your child is more likely to display the negative symptoms of divorce, like poor interpersonal skills, withdrawal from social situations, substance abuse, sexual promiscuity, and other risky behaviors.
The good news is these worrisome outcomes aren’t a given! Many healthy, stable children come from single-parent, divorced homes. Co parenting will help you and your ex find a way to give your child the confidence and stability they need. But it’s up to you to make sure this happens. In fact, proper co parenting can actually turn divorce into a positive thing for you and your child if you just do a few simple things (and avoid a few others).
Co Parenting and the Positive Side of Divorce
Usually, divorce massively cuts down conflict in the home. But sometimes conflict bounces right back if you continue to fight with your ex or talk badly about each other around the kids after your divorce. At this point, it’s critical for you and your ex to find a way to transcend the conflict and make co parenting work.
In fact, living in conflict is a sure way to bring out the worst in a divorce. Children living with consistently argumentative parents may become scared and stressed, often picking a “favorite” parent and causing additional jealously between the spouses. Parental fights disturb children’s sleep patterns, hurt their performance in school, and cause a slew of truly destructive outcomes. When kids have to deal with volatile, unhappy homes, they are deeply damaged.
With this in mind, divorce is often the right decision because it’s better than raising a child in an unhealthy home. Divorce is hard for everyone involved, but studies suggest most children get over it within two years. The transition for kids can go much faster if parents take their co parenting roles seriously, or slower if parents don’t do co parenting well. It’s crucial for you and your ex to mediate conflict and work together to make the co parenting dynamic work. By being the best co parent possible, you can help your child grow up to be a resilient, supported, independent, and charismatic young adult. Here’s how.
Being the Ultimate Co Parent
Co parenting is a delicate balancing act. First, you must be firm in the boundaries you set with your ex spouse. Then, you must cooperate and work together. Finding the proper balance in your co parenting takes level-headedness, compromise, and humility.
Co parenting is certainly a challenge, but it’s well worth it to know you’re doing everything in your power to give your child the best upbringing possible. Here are the most essential DOs and DON’Ts when it comes to co parenting.
Swallow Your Pride
Divorce is very rarely a simple matter. Odds are, a lot of small, complicated issues piled on top of each other before finally leading you and your ex to split up. Maybe it was traumatic. You might have some bad blood. When it comes to co parenting though, you have to let it all go and find the strength to put your child first.
Your child doesn’t care which parent was more “right” during the divorce and which was more “wrong.” What they really want and need is to be equally supported by two cooperative parents. If you let a grudge get in the way of your child’s quality time with their other parent, you’re doing nothing but hurting them. Even though it might be hard to let things go, it’s good for your child. Your teen deserves to live in an environment free from conflict.
Practice Empathic Listening
Co parenting well means listening. A lot. Both to your child… and to your ex.
Directly after your divorce, you’ll probably want to talk things through with your child. You’ll want to explain why you and your ex came to the decision to separate in the first place and describe what life is going to look like from this point on. This is all good information to impart, but do your best to try and elicit the questions from your child. Rather than lecture them, you want to ask questions and listen to their responses. This way, you’ll have a better understanding of your child’s perspective on the matter, and they’ll know you have a true interest in helping them voice and resolve their emotions.
Likewise, you need to listen to your ex’s concerns. This might be harder, but it’s important for the two of you to have grounded, logical conversations about co parenting. Try to absorb as much information as you can and address each point individually to show you’re serious about addressing their concerns. Try a technique called empathic listening, which you can learn in our course taught by Mark Goulston.
Know Your Boundaries
Co parenting means your house will no longer be your child’s only world. Sharing your own child is often one of the hardest things to come to terms with after a divorce. Your child has just as much a right to spend time with your ex as they do with you. This means some special occasions—like birthdays and holidays—won’t be spent with you. While it might be challenging, it’s important for you to respect the boundaries you and your ex have decided on.
Also, it’s likely your child will come to you with some issues and will go to your ex with others. For instance, many daughters feel more comfortable opening up to their mothers about certain things, while boys tend to reach out to their fathers more often. As a co parent, you have to be okay with the fact your child will sometimes opt for your ex’s advice over your own. Again, this isn’t about you; it’s about your child, so don’t let it affect your pride.
Be Willing to Compromise
When you and your ex set boundaries and policies for your co parenting routine, you might think they’re set in stone. However, all things are prone to change. Your ex might want to come to a birthday party they don’t have visitation rights for, or they might ask you not to come to some event you’d both agreed to attend. Rather than look at these instances as attacks or violations, think about how the decision will impact your child. Is it better for both of you to attend? Or will it spark conflict? Take a step back and be willing to compromise with your ex for the sake of your child. Put your kid first at all times, and come to decisions accordingly.
One of the most consistent relationships in your child’s life has just come to a halt. They’ll need a lot of time and energy to process this change, so try to keep other things consistent. If it’s possible, try to keep them living in the same home, keep them at the same school, and involved in the same activities. Keep your co parenting as similar to usual as possible. Sticking to a routine will help them realize that they can still control a certain amount of normalcy in their life.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always an achievable goal. Even if your child has to move homes or schools though, there’s always a way to keep some level of consistency in their new co parenting routine, and blend old traditions in with the new. Even something as simple as a movie night or special dinner will play its part in helping your child adjust.
Talk Badly About Your Ex
No matter how frustrated, angry, or hurt you are by your ex, they’re still your child’s parent. What if they spent all their time around your child badmouthing you? It would damage the relationship you have with your child, and turn co parenting from a constructive solution into a battleground for your kid’s affection. Animosity only breeds animosity, and your child doesn’t need to be involved. Keep your thoughts to yourself when you’re around your child, and if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
Make Your Child a Confidant
It’s good to find someone to confide in, but it can’t be your child. They’re already dealing with all their own emotions when it comes to your divorce, and they don’t have as full of an understanding as you do. Don’t burden them by turning them into your co parenting counselor. Working through your own emotional baggage by unloading it onto your child will only confuse them, and might even lead to them thinking the divorce is their fault or believing they need to take on a caregiver role. This will complicate your relationships and likely lead to trouble down the line. Instead, confide your co parenting drama to a close friend or some other third party, like a therapist.
Bribe Your Child
Co parenting isn’t about creating favoritism. You don’t want your kid to only think of you as the “fun parent,” do you? More likely, you want them to see you as a role model, somebody they enjoy spending time with, and someone they’re comfortable looking to for help. While the occasional gift or outing is a great bonding tool, you don’t want to use these types of events as the sole basis for your relationship. Instead, build your status as a co parent through listening, fostering meaningful conversation, and doing everything you can to be dedicated to your child’s success and wellbeing.
Use Your Child as Leverage
This is a massive co parenting no-no. No matter how tempting or convenient it is to use your child’s love, visitation rights, or child support as a way to get back at your ex, you have to refrain. Your child is not a commodity or a strategic tool. If you treat them this way, you’ll be doing nothing but fostering resentment both in your ex spouse and in your child. Your kid will grow up and realize you used them for your personal gain, which will harm your relationships, and your ex will become more resentful. While it might pay off in the short run, you should never, ever, barter with your child’s affection.
Let Emotions Take Priority
This is one of the most important approaches to take with co parenting. When setting the boundaries between you, your ex, and your shared child, emotions are going to run high. However, letting these feelings take the reigns will likely result in an argument, which defeats the point of co parenting. Again, think of your child and take a step back to use logic when approaching touchy issues. Will the decision benefit your child? If so, you need to follow through. It might be a bruise to your ego, but selfless parenting is an essential part of co parenting.
As You Leave…
…remember what’s most important: your child. You and your ex have done what you both think is best, and now it’s up to you to make sure your child grows up in a stable environment. Co parenting is an amazing strategy for giving your kid the support they need even with divorced parents. Still, it takes a large commitment from you to make this work. No matter the complications going forward, do all you can to remain a selfless, steadfast, and loving co parent. If you do, I’m sure you’re child will grow into the person you want them to be.