Tips For Co-parenting After Divorce-Divorce Doesn’t Have to Destroy Your Kids

Every child deserves two parents who can work together.  However, for many of us, getting along with a former spouse is difficult and unpleasant.  The following are the standards I wish every co-parent would follow.  If you follow these guidelines you will make the transition of divorce and the process of family restructuring and rebuilding easier for yourself and your children.

  • If you have not done so already, call a truce with your Ex.  (Note: Your Ex does not have to take the same action.) Divorced parents can succeed at co-parenting. That success may not begin with harmony.  But, you can get there if you start with a cease fire.
  • You are stuck with each other forever. One day, you will be Grandma and Grandpa to the same babies. And when these babies are grown-up they will tell stories about Grandma and Grandpa.  How do you want to be remembered?
  • Start calling your former spouse “my Co-parent.”  No more “Ex,” “former wife,” etc.
  • Divorce creates a breakdown of trust and communication. Accept this and work towards rebuilding trust and communication with your co-parent, even if it feels like you are doing all of the work. And, be patient, emotional wounds need time to heal.
  • When its time to tell your children about the divorce, tell them together. Do it at a time and place when distractions are at a minimum.  Remember to tell your children:
    • We made the decision to divorce because we believe it will be best for everyone.
    • No one is at fault here.
    • We love you and will always love you. The love that a parent has for a child never ends.
    • We are going to work together to make sure we take care of you.
    • We each have a special relationship with you. You can love us both and never feel that it means choosing between us, just like each of us loves you and your brother/sister or our own parents.
  • Establish a business relationship with your Co-parent.  The business is the co-parenting of your children. Business relationships are based on mutual gain. Emotional attachments and expectations don’t work in business. Instead, in a successful business communication is up-front and direct, appointments are scheduled, meetings take place, agendas are provided, discussions focus on the business at hand, everyone is polite, formal courtesies are observed, and agreements are explicit, clear, and written. You do not need to like the people you do business with but you do need to put negative feelings aside in order to conduct business. Relating in a business-like way with your co-parent may feel strange and awkward at first so if you catch yourself behaving in an unbusiness-like way, end the conversation and continue the discussion at another time.
  • There are at least two versions to every story. Your child may attempt to slant the facts in a way that gives you what she thinks you want to hear. Give your co-parent the benefit of the doubt when your child reports on extraordinary discipline and/or rewards.
  • Do not suggest possible plans or make arrangements directly with pre-adolescent children. And, always confirm with your co-parent any arrangements you have proposed to an older child.
  • The transition between Mom’s house and Dad’s house is often difficult. Be sure to have your children clean, fed, ready to go, and in possession of all needed paraphernalia when its time to make the switch. Consider reducing switching difficulties by structuring your time-sharing so that weekends start Friday after school and end with school drop-off on Monday morning.
  • Do not screen calls from your co-parent or limit telephone contact between your child and your co-parent. Instead, ensure that your child is available to speak to your co-parent when s/he is on the telephone.
  • Do not discuss the divorce, finances, or other adult subjects with your children. Likewise, avoid saying anything negative to your children about your co-parent and his/her family and friends.
  • Children are always listening – especially when you think they’re not. Avoid discussions regarding the divorce, finances, your co-parent, and other adult subjects when your children are within earshot.
  • Watch your body language.  Avoid using any non-verbal communications, including facial expressions or other subtleties to express negative thoughts and emotions about your co-parent. Your child can read you!
  • Don’t overshare or process your emotions with your child.  Work to keep a balanced emotional perspective and differentiate between feelings and facts.
  • Do not use your child as a courier for messages or money.  No exceptions.
  • Support your child’s right to visit their grandparents and extended family. Children benefit from knowing their roots and heritage. And, children love tradition. Extended family provides children with a sense of consistency, connection, and identity – especially during divorce. Remember neither extended family is better or worse – they are just different.
  • Resist the urge to question your children or press them for information regarding the details of your co-parent’s personal or professional life.  No exceptions.
  • Each parent must establish and maintain his or her own relationship with the children. Neither of you should act as a mediator between the children and the other parent. And, neither of you should act as the defense attorney, presenting a child’s case to the other parent.
  • Be on time for pick-ups and drop-offs. Do not enter your co-parent’s home unless you are invited in.
  • Your child’s relationship with his parents will influence his relationships for the rest of his life. Never put your child in a position where he has to choose between his parents or decide where his familial allegiances lie. Instead, allow him to love both parents without fear of angering or hurting the other.
  • Do not take it personally if your teenager prefers to be with his/her friends. Don’t push, but remain available. If you feel rejected and back-off, your teen may feel rejected in return.
  • Expect that your children may feel confused, guilty, sad and/or abandoned in response to the divorce. Acknowledge their feelings as normal and remind them that even though the family is undergoing a major change, you and their Dad/Mom will always be their parents.
  • If your co-parent disappoints your child or fails to honor a time commitment, try to keep a balanced perspective and don’t be too quick to make a negative judgment. 
  • If your kids want to talk, shut-up and listen.
  • Maintain as many security anchors (continuation of relationships, rituals, and the environment) as possible.
  • Keep your children informed of the day-to-day details of their lives.
  • Don’t overindulge your children out of guilt or in an attempt to “buy” them. Children want to stay up late but they need rest. Children want candy but they need vegetables. Children express financial wants but they have emotional needs. Give your children a small amount of what they want and a lot of what they need.
  • Remember no one is all bad or all good. Be honest (with yourself) about your co-parent’s and your own strengths and weaknesses.
  • Be consistent in how you discipline your children. Set boundaries, giving them freedom within a limited area, and enforced rules outside of the “corral.”
  • Avoid giving your children mixed messages or false hopes of reunification.
  • Remember that schedules will have to change from time to time to accommodate circumstances and your child’s development. If you need to change the schedule notify your co-parent ASAP. When your co-parent needs to change the schedule show a relaxed flexibility and go with the flow.
  • Share good memories, but do not live in the past.
  • Consider occasionally separating your children in order to give each parent some individual time with each child.
  • Introduce your child to neighborhood children that she can play with at her second home.
  • Consider holding monthly family meetings, with a rotating chair, to discuss chores, problems, schedules, plans and challenges.
  • Coordinate with your co-parent so that school events, functions and activities are covered. Who will buy the school pictures? Who will handle field trips? Who will work the fund-raiser? Who will work on the science project? Who will buy the school supplies? Who will handle the teacher’s gift?
  • Don’t forget old family traditions and rituals – practice them and create new ones.
  • Be willing to separate your needs from the needs of your children and make their needs the priority.
  • Keep parenting issues separate from money issues.
  • Ensure that boy/girlfriends and potential step-parents go slow, stay out of the divorce, and don’t interfere in a child’s relationship with either of his natural parents.  Never encourage your child to call someone else Mom or Dad.
  • Children, of any age, may be hesitant to spend time with a parent for a variety of reasons. Both parents should encourage the child to go with the other parent.
  • If you are not united it will confuse your child and confirm to him that he can manipulate you.
  • Make sure that your child’s friends’ parents know your co-parent and know that they can trust him/her with their child.
  • Befriend other divorced families that have been successful in the transition and use them as mentors.
  • Divorce is not an event, it is a process. Allow yourself, your co-parent and your children at least two years for readjustment.
  • Divorce in itself will not destroy your children. It is your reaction to the divorce that has the power to destroy their coping mechanisms. On-going conflict and emotionally unavailable parents who have regressed into boy/girl crazy adolescents are the real culprits.
  • Do not use your children to fill your need for companionship. If you don’t have one, GET A LIFE!! This is crucial to your (and your child’s) recovery from divorce. Seek out support from friends, family, support groups, or a divorce coach. Consider entering into therapy with a licensed mental health professional. Consider joining Parents-Without-Partners, Co-dependent’s Anonymous or a Church group for divorced/widowed persons.
  • Dissolving a marriage doesn’t mean the dissolution of the family or your parenting obligations. In fact, while a family is undergoing the restructuring process the children need strong and caring parents more then ever. If you and/or your co-parent are too emotionally drained to be those parents find temporary substitutes who can give your kids what they need.
  • Every child needs at least one loving, stable parent. It is YOUR responsibility to be that parent. And, if your child is lucky enough to have an additional parent, such as a loving step-parent, rejoice – because no child can have too many people love him.
  • If you are a long-distance parent:
    1. Watch TV together. Let your child know that you are watching his/her favorite shows and ready to talk about them.
    2. Ensure that your children have access to a scanner or give them pre-addressed, stamped envelopes so that they can send you schoolwork and other paperwork.
    3. Make audio and video recordings for each other. Nothing to say? Record yourself reading a book.
    4. Remember small events. Send cards, pictures, and letters for Halloween, Valentine’s Day, The 4th of July, etc.
    5. Use Facebook, Instagram, and other social media if you can do it privately and safely.
    6. Make sure that your kids have watches or phones with your number programmed in.
    7. Keep up with schoolwork. Make sure teachers know how to send you updates. If you hear nothing be sure to initiate communications with teachers by telephone and email.