Amicus Law & Mediation

Rules for Successful Co-Parenting

Rules For Successful Co-Parenting

Article sourced from: The Successful Co-Parent

Paula T. is a school counselor at an elementary school and has put together a handout called “Parenting Tips for Coping with a Separation or Divorce” to give to the parents of children in her school facing separation and divorce. I am going to quote very liberally from this handout (Okay, I’m basically copying word for word and adding commentary. She says it all much better than I can!) because the information and insights are simply just that good. Paula has graciously shared her experience and knowledge with me and has been very supportive of my venture into blogging on the subject of successful co-parenting. The information below is used with her permission.

“Separation and Divorce are hard enough on children. Parents can inadvertently make things even harder. After working with children in separation and divorce coping groups, I have learned a great deal about their feelings, concerns and frustrations. These tips are based upon what I have learned about their feelings and hopefully offer advice on how to avoid some of the issues that can cause the intense negative feelings.” – Paula T.

1. Don’t trash the other parent to your child.
This should be a no-brainer, but, unfortunately, it happens all too often. “’An arrow aimed at your ex-spouse will only land lodged in the heart of your child.’ I don’t remember where I read this but it is powerful and true. Don’t talk negatively about the other parent. Even if the other parent talks negatively about you! Your ex-spouse is your child’s flesh and blood. Talking negatively can leave the child feeling bad about himself. Often in the end, the one who is trashing the other parent comes out looking worse in the child’s eyes. If your ex-spouse talks negatively about you and your child tells you about it, talk to your child about whether or not the comments are true or spoken out of anger. Talk about how divorce can cause parents to be angry and say negative things as a result.” Please don’t ever get into the “Mom/Dad said that about me? Well, let me tell you what he/she did/didn’t do/said” conversation with your child. Nobody wins, but your child definitely loses. You can take pride in the fact that you are taking the high road and not causing your child immeasurable pain.

2. Open communication.
“Keep the lines of communication open. If you talk negatively about your ex-spouse, those lines may close. If you cry each time your child expresses his or her sadness and anger about the divorce, those lines may close because your child may not want to upset you. I am not suggesting that you ignore your feelings. I encourage you to seek personal counseling if necessary. Be strong for your child. Empathize with his feelings and acknowledge your own.” Open communication takes trust. You want your child to feel comfortable coming to you for help, comfort, and advice, especially as they move through the teenage years. If your child can’t count on you, there’s no telling who they will turn to for those things.

3. Let your child be a child.
“Make sure the child doesn’t end up being put in an adult role of a confidant. Be careful of telling your son that he is the man of the family now. Children need to be children with responsibilities at the child level.” You can be friends with your children when they are adults. Right now, they don’t need a friend, they need a parent. One they can count on to be there for them, rather than feeling they are responsible for propping their parent(s) up and helping them get through this difficult process. They are children for such a short amount of time. Let them enjoy their childhood.

4. Keep to a “normal” routine.
“Keep your routines as normal as possible. Try to minimize the impact on the child’s academic and social life. Bend over backwards if necessary. I have known many children very angry about not being able to go to a friend’s birthday party or a scout camping trip because it was dad’s weekend and he didn’t want to take him.” Before I enrolled Jimmy in a Saturday morning art class he wanted to take, I checked with Jack first. Jack didn’t want to have to take Jimmy to class on the Saturday’s Jimmy was with him, but he didn’t mind me taking him. So that’s what I did. As soon as class ended, I dropped him back off at Jack’s and they continued their weekend together. Make the sacrifice for your children. It makes a difference.

5. Choose where to live carefully.
“Try to live in the same school district. This minimizes travel time and helps the child feel like his whole family is part of the community.” I have to say that this is so very true and has had a huge impact on the success of our family. Jack bought a house about a mile down the road so going back and forth between the two homes is easy on everyone. Before we broke up, Jack always took Jimmy to school in the morning, and I always picked him up in the afternoon. After Jack moved out, we still kept to this routine. The added benefit is that both Jack and I get to see Jimmy’s face almost every day, even if it’s only for a couple of minutes. We get to hug and kiss him and tell him face to face that we love him. That sense of continuity is a comfort to Jimmy, and makes those nights when he’s away from me that much easier.

6. Communicate directly with your co-parent.
“Don’t use your child as a messenger. Communication with an ex-spouse can be tricky if there is intense anger. Regardless of this, never use the child to deliver messages. For example, asking your child to talk to your ex-spouse regarding details of an upcoming visit is not his job. Work out a plan to talk about visits, child support, and logistics with your ex-spouse whether it is on the phone, via letters, text or email, or even through another neutral adult. Dealing with these issues is too much for your child to handle.” Did you ever play the game “Telephone” when you were younger? You can pretty much count on a younger child not fully communicating the message, or not communicating it correctly. The result being descent into chaos. You are the adults. Put on your big girl/boy pants and communicate with each other. If you are communicating in writing, don’t include recriminations. State the facts, without emotion, and ask for what you need, clearly and plainly. Leave your child out of it. See #3 again. Let your child be a child.

7. Share the love.
“Reassure children through words and actions that parental love and relationships with both parents will continue despite changes in the family. Make sure the child knows that he is not to blame for the separation or divorce. If one parent does not follow through on scheduled visits, make sure the child knows that this is not his fault either. Both parents should try to attend the child’s activities (i.e. sports events and school events), whether or not it is their scheduled day to be with their child.” Both parents should be registered for notifications from the school for newsletters, calendars, emergency notifications, etc. This keeps one parent from being responsible for communicating the information to the other parent if there are barriers to open communication and sharing. If there isn’t a really good reason why your ex should be kept from school, sports, hobby, or academic activities, don’t stand in the way of them supporting their children. They will remember that the other parent wasn’t there, and they will eventually find out if you are the reason they didn’t attend. Fortunately, in our case, Jack and I usually drive together or meet up together once we arrive. Our goal is for Jimmy to never have to worry about his parents being in the same room together or fear that the awkwardness will put a damper on a happy memory or milestone. It hasn’t always been easy, but we sucked it up and put a smile on our faces for Jimmy’s sake.

8. Be flexible.
“Schedules should be predictable and stable, but flexible enough to change when the need arises. Switching nights occasionally because of business trips or other events should be able to be accomplished without causing major stress for everyone. If you bend occasionally, your ex-spouse will too.” Seriously. If you think refusing to adjust the schedule is a way to punish your ex, you can pretty much guarantee that it will come back to bite you in the butt at some point in the future. It’s called Karma, and it’s real. Treat your ex as you would like to be treated. Help them out, without beating them up about it, and they will do the same for you. It can be a gateway to a successful co-parenting relationship.

9. Good cop vs. Bad cop.
“One issue that has come up over the years several times is the good cop-bad cop issue. When one parent has visitation on weekends only, they may end up being the ‘fun parent’. They aren’t necessarily dealing with homework, bedtimes, the morning rush, chores, etc.” Although Jimmy is with Jack two nights during the week and does deal with these issues, they also talk on the phone every night before Jimmy goes to bed and they talk about their day. There have been times when Jimmy has misbehaved above and beyond the normal day-to-day issues and I will call Jack to talk about it. We work out how to handle the situation and present a united front when talking to Jimmy. Together we make rules for both houses so Jimmy has the consistency a child needs.

10. Communicating with the absent parent.
“Children may miss the parent who they are not with at the moment. Let your child make phone calls between homes. Denying him this may make him miss the other parent even more or even worse, may make him reluctant to go on visits. Rules may need to be established regarding the length and frequency of the calls.” I cannot stress enough how important it is for your child to have a routine of calling the other parent. As I said before, Jimmy calls Jack every night before he goes to bed. They only talk for about 10-15 minutes, but it’s important to and for them both. We have an open policy on phone calls during the weekends. If I want to talk to Jimmy when he’s with his dad, I call. Jack does the same when Jimmy is with me. I don’t understand why a parent would limit communication between parent and child when there are no abusive behaviors in play. Also important is letting the parent and child have privacy during their phone calls. It’s none of your business what they discuss, but I can pretty much guarantee they are not talking about YOU.

11. Discipline as usual.
“Don’t avoid disciplining your child. Divorce can cause changes in behavior so it is important to analyze new misbehaviors to try to discover if the divorce may be causing them. However, children need to know that there are consequences for misbehaviors. Take a look at your current method of discipline. Make sure it is working. If it needs fine-tuning, seek out resources. Personal counseling can offer you ideas as well as child raising books.” This is another opportunity to communicate with your co-parent. If Jimmy misbehaves while with Jack and the punishment, such as a ban on electronics, needs to extend past the time they are together, Jack will call me to discuss it. Guess what? Jimmy won’t be using electronics at my house for a few days either. Support your co-parent. You’ll find they will more readily support you and back you up as well. You’re a team, even if you are no longer together as a couple. Act like it.

12. Counseling for your child.
“If your child’s school offers a counseling group for coping with separation or divorce, consider finding out about it. Children who I have worked with seemed relieved to find out that they are not the only ones experiencing the feelings they are experiencing. Counseling groups can offer children coping strategies that they can use to help them get through the changes and challenges a separation or divorce causes.” Yes! Yes! Yes! Jimmy was in the “Changing Families” group at school and it was such a comfort and support to him knowing he wasn’t the only kid going through his parents splitting up. We talked about the topic that was covered each week and it gave Jimmy and me an opportunity to talk about how Jack and I were handling issues and if we needed to do anything differently. It opened up so many different avenues of dialogue for all of us and strengthened an already very strong bond. If your school doesn’t offer a coping group, or your children are too young for school, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a qualified counselor.