Children of divorce do best when both of their parents continue to be actively involved in their lives. It's the ongoing connection that makes the positive difference for these children, minimising the fact that their parents no longer live together.
That's why co-parenting is so universally encouraged after divorce as a significant way to reduce the long-term emotional impact on children. Co-parenting styles and arrangements can differ widely from family to family to suit their individual needs. However, most professionals agree that co-parenting will only succeed if some basic agreements are made and kept and significant mistakes are avoided.
Here are some good rules to follow:
1. Don't deny your child personal time with both of their parents.
If you want your child to weather the challenges that come with divorce and disruption of the family dynamic, allow him/her as much time as possible with both you and your ex. Your child will thank you, have fewer behavioural problems, and grow up happier and emotionally healthier when you honour their love for both of their parents.
2. Don't argue or have tantrums around your child.
Be a positive role model for your child by exhibiting mature behaviour. If you have issues, gripes or reason for angry words with your co-parent, plan a private time alone, far from your child's eyes and ears, for those conversations. The consequences when you do otherwise will be significant and long-lasting.
3. Don't make your child your confidant - or friend!
It's hard enough for adults to unravel the complex emotions connected to divorce. Think of how unfair it is to expect your child to bear those burdens on your behalf. You rob your kids of their childhood when you confide or share your feelings about your ex with them - especially when you're trying to influence them in your direction. Need to rant and vent about your ex? Do it with a friend - or better yet, a professional with an objective ear.
4. Don't make your child the messenger.
When you have issues to discuss, discuss them directly, not through your children. Not only can the kids mess up the messages, they can also intentionally change the messages due to guilt, anxiety, fear, resentment and other emotions related to protecting one or both parents. This is a big no-no that can lead to no good.
5. Don't think like a sole parent; you're part of a parenting team.
When you were married you were one of two parents. You still are. When parenting issues come up, ask yourself what would I do as a parent if I weren't divorced? If that still makes sense, respond accordingly. You're a parent first and a divorcee second. Parents who continue parenting as a team create an easier transition and better post-divorce adjustments for their child.
6. Don't be rigid - flexibility is fruitful.
Every time you bend, go with the flow, compromise and cooperate with your co-parent you model the kind of behaviours that benefit both of you in the long-term. Flexibility reduces defensiveness and builds bridges towards better parenting solutions. Remember, every time you forgive and indulge irritating behaviour without creating an issue, you are doing it to make life easier for your child. Isn't he or she worth it?
7. Don't exclude the other parent whenever you have a choice.
Even when you are the primary residential parent that doesn't mean your ex can't be included in special occasion celebrations, school activities, sports and other events in your child's life. Think about how pleased your child will be having both Mum and Dad on hand to enjoy significant moments in their life. When it makes sense for both parents to be together on behalf of your child, be cordial and mature. This lifts an enormous weight off your child's shoulders. They'll thank you when they are grown.
Sometimes it helps to think about co-parenting as a business relationship that has to work. You make accommodations on behalf of your partner for the higher cause of business success. This can be a valuable perspective for co-parents after divorce. When you put all your efforts into making it work, your children reap the rewards. Isn't that a bottom line result worth your commitment and attention?
If you are having problems in your relationship and would like advice about co-parenting children, please contact a member of our Family Law team.