Let me start by saying, I am one of the world's biggest supporters and advocates for marriage. There is thankfully no divorce on either side of our family. This blog post is by no means meant to encourage divorce. I believe divorce should be a very last resort. Divorce is, however, the statistic for one out of every two marriages, and so today I wanted to offer tips to those people affected. My greatest hope is that if you are currently struggling in your own marriage or relationship, this will be your wake-up call to get off the fence and get help, before it is too late.
As a divorce lawyer, I see people on a daily basis dealing with the aftermath of separation and divorce. In those cases where the couple has children, the unavoidable reality is that the children are likely to experience much more emotional turmoil and anxiety than the parents anticipate.
As a father of two young children (ages five and seven), I consider myself very fortunate to have a healthy marriage and a stable family for my children to grow up in. As I tell my clients, if you have children, you owe it to yourself and to them to see if there is any way to work things out so that you can have a happy, well-adjusted family. Yes, it is possible. Unfortunately, often after much of a fight to keep a marriage together, sometimes there is simply no remaining practical option but to divorce and start over. When this is the case, it is time to focus on co-parenting.
While most parents agree that they want to do what is in their children's best interest, following through with that can often be challenging. Here are some tips to help you move past the pain and work with your ex-spouse.
Effective Co-Parenting is the Best Way to Help Your Children Adapt to the Divorce
Your divorce will affect your children; this is an unavoidable fact. Working together on a healthy co-parenting arrangement will help your children adjust to this major change. They need to know they are still loved in order to feel secure during this time. However, the benefits extend beyond childhood security and self-esteem.
Learning how to solve problems. Children learn how to work through their issues by watching their parents. If the parents are locked in a battle of wills that is fraught with name-calling and spitefulness, then the children will learn the same behavior. Even though you have divorced, you and your ex can still be partners. Your cooperation and willingness to move past the pain will teach your child how to resolve issues and work together.
coparenting2_fullsize_story1Consistent rules are more productive. Children of divorced parents will learn quickly how to play both sides of the fence in order to get their way. Working together eliminates this problem. Even though you are divorced, you will still have to come to an agreement on key issues and abide by those agreements. When the rules, discipline and rewards are consistent between the households, everyone will benefit.
Set the Pain Aside
Divorces usually come packed with emotions. It is normal to feel angry, resentful and hurt, especially in divorces where abuse, neglect or infidelity played a role. It is vital that you find a way to set those feelings aside. This is the time to focus on your child's needs. The co-parenting arrangements are not about your relationship with your ex-spouse, they are about your child's relationship with both of you. Remember that your children should never be your sounding board for problems with your ex, nor are they your support for the emotions you are going through. Call your friends, join a therapy group or find a great counselor to fill this role. Your job is to support your children and the co-parenting arrangements, and that means keeping your negative feelings about your ex to yourself.
Be the Adults
stuck-in-the-middleIt is tempting to have your kids deliver messages, but this puts your child squarely in the middle and undermines your co-parenting efforts. Be an adult about the situation, pick up the phone and talk with your ex-spouse. It will be awkward at first, but it will get easier with time. Most importantly, it will benefit your children. Here are some tips to help you communicate effectively and avoid fighting over the phone.
- Keep a formal tone. When you view the relationship with your ex as a business partnership, it will become easier to stay civil. Remember that the important party here is your child, and use the same respectful tone with your former spouse that you would use with an important customer or colleague.
- Ask, do not demand. Remember the old saying that you will catch more flies with honey than with vinegar? When you need something from your spouse, ask nicely rather than demanding.
- Listen to your ex-spouse. It is tempting to tune out everything your former partner is saying, but that is not what's in your child's best interests. Listening does not necessarily mean that you agree, but it does show respect and will help keep things on a positive note.
- Calm and collected. Your ex-partner is not going to go away, so you will have to find some way to work together until your child is grown. Getting angry after a conversation or fighting with your ex on the phone will cause your child a great deal of stress. It is in your child's best interest for you to find ways to stay calm when dealing with the ex.
- Kid-focused conversations. Discussions with your partner can sometimes degenerate into complaint sessions about old issues. When the conversation starts to shift in this manner make an effort to turn the focus back to the children.
Co-parenting arrangements can be difficult to put in place, but they are extremely important. Your children will benefit greatly from watching you and your ex-spouse work together. In addition to feeling more secure and loved, they will also learn important problem solving skills. The road won't always be easy, but your children will benefit greatly from your efforts.