Co-parenting with an ex-spouse has its challenges, not the least of which is communicating with someone you may have been completely unable to talk to, or let's face it, be in the same room with. However, your children deserve the best out of both of their parents, whether or not you can stand one another.
Here are some tips on how to get along well enough with your ex to make sure your children's emotional and physical needs are met and help your children get through the divorce feeling loved and secure.
(1) Divorced parents can succeed at co-parenting.
(2) If you have not done so already, call a truce with your ex. (Note: Your ex does not have to take the same action.)
(3) Establish a business relationship with your former spouse. The business is the co-parenting of your child(ren). In business relationships there are no emotional attachments or expectations of approval and emotional support. Appointments are made to talk about business, meetings take place, agendas are provided, and discussions focus on the business at hand. Everyone is polite, formal courtesies are observed, communication is direct, and agreements are explicit, clear, and written. You do not need to like the people you do business with, but you do need to put negative feelings aside in order to conduct business. Relating in a business-like way with a former spouse can feel strange and awkward. If you catch yourself behaving in an “unbusiness”-like way, end the conversation and continue the discussion at another time.
(4) Give the other parent the benefit of the doubt. Do not second-guess him/her regarding discipline or rewards.
(5) Do not suggest possible plans or make time arrangements directly with children under 12 years of age, and always confirm any arrangements you have discussed with an older child with the other parent as soon as possible.
(6) Send and return children who are clean, rested, and fed.
(7) Do not use an answering machine or caller ID to screen calls from the other parent, or limit telephone access between your children and the other parent. Ensure that the children are available to speak to the other parent on the telephone up until their actual bedtimes.
(8) Do not discuss divorce disputes with your children or allow them to hear you discuss these issues with others. Do not speak ill of the other parent or his/her relatives, friends, or loved ones in front of the children. Do not use body language, facial expressions, or other subtleties to express negative thoughts and emotions about the other parent. Your child can read you!
(9) Do not send messages or money with your children.
(10) Support your children’s right to visit their grandparents and extended family. Children benefit from knowing their roots and heritage. Remember, neither extended family is better or worse than the other – they are just different.
(11) Do not ask your children for information about the other parent’s household, friends, income, or activities.
(12) Do not act as a mediator, referee, or defense attorney between your children and the other parent.
(13) At pick-up time, do not honk your horn in front of the other parent’s house. However, don’t go in either – unless you are invited in. Always be on time for pick-up and drop-off and have the children ready to go.
(14) Transfers can be painful times. Be kind and patient with each other and your children.
(15) Never put your children in a position where they have to choose between their parents or decide where their allegiance lies.
(16) Expect that your children may feel confused, guilty, sad, and/or abandoned in response to the divorce. Acknowledge their feelings as normal and remind them that even though the family is undergoing a major change, you and ex-spouse or ex-partner will always be their parents.
(17) Remember, even if the other parent disappoints your child or fails to honor a time commitment, you should tell the child that in spite of his/her shortcomings, the other parent loves the child very much.
(18) If your kids want to talk, shut up and listen.
(19) Keep your children informed about the day-to-day details of their lives and your separation/divorce in a way that they can understand.
(20) Maintain as many security anchors (continuation of relationships, rituals, and the environment) as possible for your children.
(21) If you need to change the schedule, notify the other parent as soon as possible.
(22) Your child’s relationship with his parents will influence his relationships for the rest of his life. Allow him to love both parents without fear of angering or hurting the other.
(23) Remember that schedules will have to change from time to time to accommodate the other parent and your child’s development.
(24) Keep parenting issues separate from money issues.
(25) You are stuck with each other. One day, you will be Grandma and Grandpa to the same babies. Consider working together to rebuild trust and communication. You have a long time ahead of you. Be patient; emotional wounds need time to heal.
(26) If possible, tell your children about the pending separation together before one parent leaves. Plan a transition time if you can.
(27) Ensure that boyfriends, girlfriends, and potential stepparents go slow, stay out of the divorce, and don’t interfere in a child’s relationship with either of his/her natural parents. Do not encourage the child to call potential stepparents Mom or Dad.
(28) Divorce is not an event, it is a process. Allow yourself, your ex-spouse, and your children at least two years for readjustment.
(29) Divorce, in itself, will not destroy your children. It is your reaction to the divorce that has the power to destroy their coping mechanisms.
(30) Don’t use your children to fill your need for companionship. If you don’t have one, GET A LIFE! This is crucial to the recovery of you and your children. Seek out support from friends, family, support groups, a divorce coach, and, if necessary, from a licensed mental health professional. Consider joining Parents-Without-Partners, Co-Dependent’s Anonymous, or a church group for divorced/widowed persons.