Divorce is challenging, especially if you have children. Despite the negative emotions and resentment, you may have toward your former spouse, you have to find a way to parent together. This means learning to have a healthy co-parenting relationship for the benefit of the children. The reality is that your children need both of their parents in their lives, and they will cope better with the divorce if you take steps to co-parent in a healthy, rather than a conflictual, manner.
The Importance of Healthy Co-Parenting
Divorce can have a negative impact on children, but if you are able to keep conflict to a minimum, children will be better off. A study in Child Psychiatry & Human Development found that when parents were able to co-parent cooperatively following divorce, children had fewer psychological problems, and families functioned better.
On the other hand, parents with high-conflict co-parenting relationships tend to be inconsistent in their parenting, which has a negative impact on children. The bottom line is that while it may be difficult to be cordial and minimize conflict post-divorce, it benefits the children and overall family functioning, so developing a healthy co-parenting relationship is worth the effort. If you find yourself in a particularly difficult co-parenting situation, family therapy from a licensed therapist can provide practical solutions to help ease your burden.
Three Tools for Creating a Healthy Co-Parenting Relationship
The good news is that studies have shown that even if people were unable to get along in a marriage, they can learn to co-parent effectively. If you’re ready to develop a healthy relationship for the sake of your children, the following three tips can be helpful.
Stop Undermining Your Former Spouse
Undermining behaviors, such as criticizing your former spouse’s parenting or competing to be the “best parent,” are harmful to the co-parenting relationship and to your children. The truth is that children love both of their parents, and they do not want to have to choose a favorite parent. This means that if the other parent gives a favored birthday gift, you should not jump in to “one-up” them and give an even more spectacular gift.
Similarly, you should avoid making negative remarks about your former spouse in front of the children. This not only makes them feel as if they have to choose sides, but research also indicates that this type of behavior leads to emotional and behavioral problems in children, including acting out and feeling depressed or anxious. Instead of undermining your former spouse, you should see them as a teammate or partner in parenting your children. You may no longer have an intimate, romantic relationship, but the two of you do need to work together, rather than against each other, to raise healthy, well-adjusted children.
Formulate a Parenting Plan
Even though the two of you are no longer married, you do need to be on the same page when it comes to parenting. While your two households may have slightly different rules or routines, it is important to reach an agreement on important matters, such as consequences, healthcare, and school. It may be necessary to sit down and reach an agreement on how you will handle the “big things.” This will require respect and some degree of negotiation, but you should be able to come to an agreement regarding what is best for children.
Once you create a plan, it’s important to stick to it. For instance, if you decide that a consequence given at mom’s house should also be applied at dad’s house, be consistent about enforcing this. This could mean that if a child loses screen time at mom’s house for acting out at school on a Thursday, they don’t have screen time at dad’s house over the weekend. This not only gives you an opportunity to be supportive of each other’s parenting; it also sends your children the message that the two of you are on the same page and cannot be pitted against each other for them to get what they want.
Keep Lines of Communication Open
Communication is critical for a healthy co-parenting relationship. This means keeping your former spouse updated with things going on in your children’s lives, changes to the routine, or problems that arise. For example, if you need to make a slight adjustment to the regular parenting schedule, it’s important to communicate this in advance, instead of surprising your former partner with the change at the last minute. Furthermore, if you’ve noticed one of the children seems to be having a hard time at school, have a conversation about this.
It can be a challenge to put your emotions and hurt feelings aside in order to parent effectively with your former spouse, but in the end, everyone benefits. The family will function better, so there will be fewer crises to resolve, and you’ll find that if you can set aside your differences and cooperate, there is less conflict.
If you’re having difficulty navigating the challenges of co-parenting post-divorce, it may be beneficial to seek family counseling to help with issues like communication. There are also parenting and divorce support groups available, where you can learn from the experiences of others who have faced the same difficulties.