During a divorce, with emotions running high, it can be easy for parents to forget the truly innocent parties in this process – the children. They did not ask for the upheaval to their lives and the need to have separate households and two of everything. They will have all sorts of emotions, from confusion to fear to guilt. Keeping the children in the best physical and emotional health should be the parents’ paramount responsibility. But it can be hard.
We hear the word co-parenting often in the context of divorce. It seems a strange word – both parents are full parents, and the prefix “co-“ seems like a demotion of sorts. But the concept of co-parenting is a combination of cooperation and parenting. How do two people who could no longer live together now work cooperatively as parents?
It begins and ends with putting the needs of the children first. Whatever emotions the parents feel about their marriage and each other must take a backseat to the pressing concerns of the children.
Both parents must reassure the children that they are loved by both parents and will have a warm and welcoming relationship with both parents after the divorce. Beyond that, the children need a sense of consistency and reassurance. How can parents achieve this?
One excellent idea is to create a Co-Parenting Agreement. Some courts actually provide some form of this agreement in a Parenting Plan, but one crafted personally by the two parents has the best chance of lasting because it will be tailored to the needs of a specific family. In addition to the custody schedule, the Co-Parenting Agreement should address how to work together for the children, getting as detailed as possible to make sure everything each parent wants or needs is in the agreement. Parents should pay particular attention to how to communicate with each other and the children, how to make decisions together, how to resolve differences, key rules to observe in both households, mutual goals for each child, handling extended family, and structuring activities and events where both parents should or must be present.
Beyond the Co-Parenting Agreement, each parent needs to support the relationship of the other parent with the children. Do not denigrate the other parent; try and speak positively of the other parent when that parent comes up in conversation; assure the children that they have open access to the other parent. Also, keep the children out of adult decisions. Do not use the children as messengers. Put the welfare of the children first.
Finally, because co-parenting can be challenging given the emotions each parent may harbor for the other parent, consider counseling or therapy, individually or together. The healthier you and your former spouse are emotionally, the better chance the children have of a smooth transition into a new way of living.
If you have questions about co-parenting and divorce, contact us – we can help.