Divorce can be a traumatic experience for all concerned, especially when there are children involved. For most parents, their greatest heartache is for their children and the effects that the divorce will have on them. Although the marriage is over, you are both still the parent of your children and nothing is going to change that. Once the dust has settled from the divorce it is time to tackle the important challenges of co-parenting in the most effective and beneficial way for your children. Here are ten top tips for you to consider.
1. Think of it as a new beginning
Don’t despair and fall into the trap of thinking you have ruined your child’s life forever. For many children, life after divorce can be much better than living with the constant stress and tension of parental conflict. Now they can have good quality time with each parent separately which often works out to be a double blessing. Choose to see this as a new chapter or a new beginning for you and your children and embrace the adventure of co-parenting that lies ahead.
2. Identify the obstacles
One of the biggest obstacles to effective co-parenting is negative emotions such as anger, resentment and jealousy. Allow yourself time to grieve the death of your marriage, and get the help that you need to work through your emotions. Don’t deny or try to stuff down the way you are feeling – acknowledge and recognise your emotions, but also realize that they can hamper you in your role of co-parenting. So try to compartmentalize your feelings while you deal with them, for the sake of finding the best co-parenting solution for your children.
3. Make a decision to cooperate
Cooperating does not necessarily mean being friends. In all likelihood the relationship is strained between you and your ex, so it will take a conscious decision to be willing to co-parent constructively for the sake of your child. To put it simply, it comes down to loving your child more than you hate or dislike your ex. Putting things in writing can help to make clear arrangements which are easily referable at a later stage, especially when it comes to who pays for what and vacation times.
4. Figure out a co-parenting plan
Once you have decided to cooperate it is good to figure out a co-parenting plan which works for both of you as well as the children. Don’t forget to talk to your kids and hear some the good ideas they often have. Let them know how you feel and what your aims and expectations are. You may be surprised at their opinions and how they see the way forward. Your parenting plan would need to cover the visitation schedule, holidays and special events, the children’s medical needs, education and finances.
5. Remember to be flexible
Now that you have a plan in place that is a great starting point, but you will probably need to re-evaluate periodically. Be prepared to be flexible as unexpected things are sure to pop up from time to time. What happens if your child is ill and needs to stay home from school, or if your circumstances change in the future? Sometimes the co-parenting plan needs to be adjusted at the beginning of each school term according to your kids’ sport or activity schedules.
6. Be Respectful
Going forward in a constructive way means putting the past behind you and realizing that the co-parenting years ahead can be that much better if you both remain respectful and self-controlled in what you say and do. This includes what you say to your child when your ex-spouse is not present. Remember that your child loves both of you. With patience and perseverance you can give (and hopefully receive in return) the dignity, courtesy and respect that every person deserves.
7. Learn to cope with your loneliness
Time apart from your kids can be really devastating and lonely, especially at first. Don’t be hard on yourself, but gently start to fill your alone time with up building activities that you enjoy. You may even begin to look forward to having time for yourself, time to visit friends, get some rest, and do the hobbies you always wanted to do. So when your kids return you can feel refreshed and ready to welcome them back with renewed energy.
8. Communicate with the new mate
If your ex has a new mate or remarries, this person will automatically be spending significant time with your children. This is probably one of the most difficult things to accept in co-parenting. However, in the best interests of your child it is good to make every effort to communicate with this person. If you can share your concerns and expectations for your children, in an open and vulnerable way, without being defensive, it can go a long way to helping your children form a secure attachment.
9. Build up a support group
We all need a support group, whether it’s family, friends, church members or colleagues. Don’t try to go it alone – as human beings we are made to live in community, so don’t be afraid to ask for help, and to offer help to others. Once you start reaching out you will be blessed to find how much help is available. And when it comes to the co-parenting, make sure that your support group is synchronized with your method and manner of relating to your ex, respectfully and cooperatively.
10. Remember the importance of self-care
Self care is the first step towards healing, recovery and restoration after divorce. If you want to co-parent constructively, you need to be the best that you can be, physically, emotionally and spiritually. Co-parenting requires equal cooperation by both parents. If your spouse is abusive or unwilling to cooperate, you may need to take legal action or seek professional advice and counselling to find the best way forward for your own protection and for the wellbeing of your children.