Co-parenting after a divorce is never easy, especially if you have a strained relationship with your ex-spouse. During a split, concerns and stressors can start to arise, be it with regards to your ex's parenting abilities, child support or finances, or the emotional strain of conflict or resentment. While no one enters a marriage or has children with the intention of getting divorced - engaging in amicable, communicative co-parenting can not only reduce some of these stressors, but also help your children establish more secure, stable, and healthy relationships with both parents.
Concerning your child's personal well-being, research illustrates that children whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship:
- Feel Secure.
- Benefit From Consistency.
- Better Understand Problem Solving.
- Have a Healthy Example to Follow.
- Are Mentally and Emotionally Healthier.
To co-parent agreeably, however, it easier said than done. When making joint custody arrangements and shared decisions, we know it can be immensely challenging for parents to set aside their individual needs, painful history, and built up resentments to prioritize their child's well-being. That's why we've put together these tips for explaining shared custody to your child and strategies for successful co-parenting; to help you overcome the myriad of co-parenting difficulties, develop a cordial relationship with your ex, and ultimately enable your kids to thrive.
BREAKING THE NEWS: A UNIFIED FRONT
Telling your children that you are getting a divorce is likely to be one of the most difficult conversations you will have as a parent. Even if you're on poor terms with your spouse, it's better for the child to approach the conversation together; providing a unified structure and the same, clear information and reassurances will be the first indicator to you're child that while things are going to change, they are not the center of the conflict.
Before doing so, both parents should learn how to manage their emotions; separating feelings from behaviors. Friends, therapists, divorce mediators, and exercise can all serve as outlets for negative emotions, allowing parents to stay kid-focused while keeping children out of the middle during the early stages of divorce.
Before parents explain their decision to separate to their children, it's important to consider their age. Young children, particularly, will struggle to immediately understand the context of what is happening, while teenagers will tend to be very much aware of the situation. Talk to your soon-to-be ex, and, if necessary a therapist, about how the news should be broken to the children and then follow through with your plan in a mature manner.
HIGHLIGHT THE POSITIVE
In the immediate aftermath of telling your children that you will be getting a divorce, it's important to sandwich the bad news by highlighting both the positives and the constants. To buffer the feeling that their whole world is being flipped upside down, both parents should remind their children that their love, commitment, and consideration for them is unchanging and unyielding.
Positive reassurance can also show kids that their daily life will not be affected by the divorce. For instance, remind them that they will still be able to see their friends, participate in their favorite activities, and keep up with their school schedules. Showing positivity and consistency to children, however, begins with effective, purposeful, and peaceful communication between parents. Again, easier said than done; here are some methods that can help you initiate and maintain effective communication.
- Set a business-like tone. Approach your relationship as business partners; where you're "business" is your child's well-being. Speak slowly, with cordiality, respect, and neutrality.
- Make requests. Statements can be misinterpreted as demands. Try re-framing your concerns with requests like, "Would you be willing to.." or "Can we try..?"
- Listen. Mature communication starts with listening. While it may not signify your approval, you won't "lose" anything by simply conveying to your spouse that you're hearing their point of view.
- Show restraint. If jabs are being thrown, remember that communicating is going to be necessary throughout your kids' childhood. By training yourself not to overreact in conversation, you will gradually feel less affected when buttons are being pushed.
- Keep conversations kid-focused. If a conversation with your spouse focuses on the child's needs only, you won't easily digress into personal needs and irrelevant conflict zones.
GIVE SOME SPACE
You may feel the urge to be with your child virtually around the clock after delivering the news of an upcoming divorce, but that may or may not be the best thing, depending on the age and personality of the child. In some cases, a little space is what will be needed in order for a child to process the news in his or her own way. Pay close attention to the mood of your child or children during the days and weeks after sharing information about the divorce and respond accordingly.
There is nothing we can say or suggest that is going to make telling your kids about the divorce any easier or less unpleasant. It's going to be difficult - there's no way around it. However, we hope the tips above can help you navigate the process successfully.
In the second part of this blog post, we will offer advice that pertains to managing the co-parenting situation once the divorce is finished and you are sharing custody of your children.