The prospect of co-parenting can fill many separated couples with dread, especially if the breakup has been far from amicable. However, most parents agree that it is important to find a healthy, workable way to approach the task in spite of any personal difficulties.
Taking the following eight strategies into account should help you overcome the hurdles associated with adjusting to this new form of parenting.
1. Focus on your goals
If you want to make co-parenting work, you need to stay focused on what you want to get out of the arrangement. Presumably, you are looking to promote safety, security, and good health for your children, so remind yourself of this as often as you need to.
Try to set aside other potential goals (such as reconciling with your former partner or hashing out old issues) until you have a stable co-parenting strategy in place.
If you think it might be helpful, remind your ex-partner of the need to put the children first, and agree to call a truce for the sake of their well-being.
2. Keep emotions out of the arrangement if necessary
When a separation has been volatile and evoked strong feelings like anger, resentment, or betrayal, you may find it useful to view co-parenting as more of a business arrangement. For example, you might choose to interact with your spouse only when discussing parenting, you may opt to keep phone calls out of the equation and use text messages or emails instead, or you could even draw up an informal contract outlining how you plan to approach co-parenting. It’s particularly important to keep intense negative emotions in check around your children and to maintain respectful communication in a family setting.
3. Help yourself heal
If your separation has been painful, you will be better able to tackle the task of co-parenting if you make time to help yourself heal. For example, you may benefit from seeking the help of a counselor, or you might simply need to write daily journal entries in order to vent your feelings.
Meanwhile, make sure you regularly engage in restorative activities (like seeing friends and pursuing hobbies) and vow to treat your body kindly as you go through this difficult transition.
4. Be mindful of your motivations
Even if you and your ex-partner have agreed to focus on the children, other motivations can start to creep into your interactions. Monitor what you say and do to ensure that you really are taking the adult path. For example, when you negotiate time spent with the children, are you using them as bargaining trips?
When you try to forbid something, are you trying to hurt your former partner? Asking yourself these questions will help you to keep an unhealthy desire for revenge in check.
5. Consider family mediation
If you are really struggling with co-parenting to the extent that you can’t agree on any useful strategies, it’s worth considering family meditation. In this setting, a professionally trained mediator will listen to both parents and engage in collaborative discussions that help you to co-parent more effectively.
A mediator can enable you to see possible solutions that you haven’t considered and are committed to maintaining complete neutrality throughout.
6. Act like an adult even if your ex-partner does not
If your ex-partner is being petty, cruel, or uncooperative, it can be tempting to stoop to the same level. However, it is best for you and your children if you take a deep breath and stick to your principles.
Use respectful language, try to stay calm, ask genuine (rather than combative) questions, and try to remember that your ex is also struggling with their own set of complicated, difficult emotions surrounding your separation.
7. Help your children understand
Another vital part of co-parenting involves deciding how you will explain your separation to the children. Your approach will naturally vary depending on their ages, but the key message you will want to convey is that the separation is not a reflection of your feelings about the children.
Children often believe they could have done something to keep the family together or that they somehow ‘caused’ the separation, so be firm and clear when explaining that the issues are between you and your ex-partner.
In addition, stress that the children do not need to take sides, don’t pump them for information about the other parent, and reassure them that your love for them remains entirely unchanged.
8. Agree on parenting strategies
Finally, many parents get so caught up in negotiating time spent with the children that they neglect to discuss the parenting aspect of co-parenting until a major issue presents itself. It is very important for children to receive consistent messages about boundaries, so make time to talk to your partner about what the children should be allowed to do and how discipline should be approached.
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