Divorce is tough on everyone involved, and children are no exception to this. When parents are able to come together and work towards having a cordial relationship, children are often able to go through this transition in a healthy way, with little lasting negative impact.
When looking at all the stressors placed on the transitioning family, sharing parenting responsibilities with your ex is often the hardest part of a divorce. As co-parents navigate custody agreements, financial responsibilities, school, communication, and coordinating schedules, there is no doubt that co-parents feel challenged and stressed through this daunting process. While every family’s situation is unique, there are a few tips that are foundational to a successful co-parenting relationship.
What is Co-Parenting?
Co-Parenting is when two individuals who are divorced or separated share custody of the same child or children. The ability to work together and participate in the caregiving is foundational to being a healthy co-parenting unit. Reflecting on the importance of co-parenting can be a great motivator in maintaining a healthy co-parent relationship.
Ultimately, the most important reason for maintaining a positive relationship with your ex is for the well-being of the child. This positive relationship helps foster resilience in children and provides them a safe foundation to process the range of emotions associated with this life change.
3 Tips for Co-Parenting After Divorce:
1. Never Put Your Child in the Middle
This first tip may seem obvious but it is not always easy to do. Placing your child in the middle of parental conflict can be a major risk factor for their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Placing children in the middle may occur in subtle ways such as passive aggressively speaking badly about your former partner in front of your children. Some parents may reserve this kind of talk for times when their children are not in the room. Yet, even when you feel like your children may not be listening or paying attention, so often they are! Listening to negative talk about the other parent can be detrimental to their mental health as they often feel like they have to take sides. This creates tremendous angst for the child as they love both parents and feel as though they are placed in an impossible situation.
Placing children in the middle can also occur in more overt ways such as using your child as a messenger to communicate with your ex. This is a big no-no. When children are placed in the middle of conflict, they often lack the language skills or emotional maturity to convey the message in a way that deflects conflict and does not upset the other parent.
Ultimately, being a mediator for parents in conflict can be rather intense for even the most tenured therapist. When children are placed in this role, they experience inappropriate guilt, responsibility for the negative outcomes, anxiety, fear and shame; feelings that may last them a lifetime.
2. Work on Communication with Co-Parent
Investing in your relationship with your co-parent should be a top priority as it creates a safe and secure emotional environment for your child.
One suggestion would be to keep the conversations child-focused as it may remove conflictual emotions and feel a bit more business-like. Solution-focused communication with your ex-partner can also be a helpful tool as it primes many of us to remain professional, respectful, and goal oriented.
To accomplish this goal, co-parents should be clear about expectations and boundaries for the conversations. The goal is to stay calm and connected in communication, and this is best accomplished through providing consistent communication that makes requests and avoids demands. In the moment, be sure to slow down and focus on your word choice or tone to lessen the risk for arguments and misunderstandings.
American Author Stephen Covey best explains that one of the main causes for communication distress occurs when, “we listen to respond, not to understand.” And too often, this is what hurt, angry and frustrated co-parents do when communicating about their shared children!
Seasoned co-parents ultimately find creative strategies to communicate, for example via text and email, so that partners have an opportunity to think critically about their response. These ex-partners find ways to honor their past relationship and the needs of their children through finding solutions that are best suited to maintain their co-parent relationship.
3. Seek Help When Needed
When co-parenting, tensions can run high. In these times it is essential to have a safe place to process feelings of distress and reflect on your behavior choices. This safe place could be a religious leader in your community, a good friend that is able to help you see both sides clearly, or a supportive group.
Third-party mediators can be extremely helpful when dealing with big decisions, conflict, boundary issues, and much more. Support groups are a great place to discuss and vent frustrations and learn tips from others who are in similar situations. The support of a therapist though divorce counseling or someone close to you that you trust may also be helpful.
There is no doubt that divorce comes with many challenges and transitions for all involved. Finding support and help for overcoming these changes is so valuable especially when working towards developing a healthy co-parenting relationship.
Why Cooperative Co-parenting is beneficial for your children
Overall, it’s important to reflect and understand why co-parenting is worth it. The ultimate goal is to provide children with a safe and secure foundation. When children know that their world is predictable and that their parents will consistently provide them with support and care, they are able to develop and grow uninhibited. Parents don’t have to stay together to provide their children with a consistent, loving environment. However, they are required to provide consistency and coordinated care to create an ideal environment for their children.
At Biltmore Psychology and Counseling, we are dedicated to assisting parents in navigating the difficult part of the divorce process, conflictual parts of co-parenting and emotional parts of communication distress. We understand that this is a journey that is best done with adequate support and care, and we are here to help!
Our psychologists and counselors provide strategies and coping mechanisms in overcoming the hardest parts of co-parenting. We offer counseling services to support a co-parent seeking individual therapy or for couples/families looking for tools to best navigate this time of change. Together we know that co-parents can come through this time better and stronger than they have ever been before!
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Family therapy can be used as a therapeutic approach to a wide range of presenting concerns, problems, or frustrations. Yet, rather than each family member meeting one on one with an individual counselor, family therapy invites multiple family members to meet together to participate in the therapeutic process.
It is very common to feel uncomfortable or a bit overwhelmed by the idea of doing family therapy. If you’re starting family therapy, there are some steps you can take to prepare for your experience.
Dr. Melissa Estavillo is a Licensed Psychologist and founder of Biltmore Psychology and Counseling. With over 7 years of experience, she specializes in both individual and couples therapy in Phoenix and Scottsdale, AZ. She integrates complementary methodologies and techniques stemming from Emotionally Focused Theory, Psychodynamic Theory and Other Evidence Based Practices to offer a highly personalized approach tailored to each client.