What Divorced Parents Need to Know About Co-Parenting After the Split
Divorce may change the way a family looks, but it does not have to (and shouldn’t) break it completely. Parents who can manage to stay civil and connected when their marriage ends offer their kid much better outcomes. That’s because kids thrive in stable environments and are better able to handle the world when they have a sense that their mom and dad are co-parenting to further their child’s interests.
But as idyllic as co-parenting sounds, it’s not as easy as paying child support and hammering out an equitable child custody agreement. Co-parenting presumes a continuing relationship between parents. And the reality is that co-parenting also requires a kind of consideration that may have been difficult to find with an ex-partner in the first place. But if parents can find common ground in the well-being of their child and follow some basic co-parenting rules, things can turn out really good for everyone.
Co-Parenting Requires Positivity and Support
A bad divorce can lead to bad feelings. And those feelings are often valid and even justified. But they are not, in any way, helpful when aired in front of your child.
One of the most toxic things a parent can do after a divorce is tear down their ex in front of their child. It might feel cathartic but it’s terribly destabilizing. That’s particularly true when a child has warm feelings for the other parent. Bad things said about a beloved parent can be internalized by a kid. If they hear a parent is terrible, the child might begin to think the same thing about themselves. In the end, talking bad about an ex can result in alienating a child.
It’s better to reserve airing bad feelings about a spouse to the bar or therapist couch. In front of the kid, there should be nothing but positivity and support.
Co-Parenting Requires Discipline Negotiations
Inconsistent discipline between divorced parents can result in inconsistent behavior from a child. If certain behaviors are allowed at one parent’s home and not at the other, kids can feel confused about expectations and problem behaviors can escalate.
In some cases, a child with inconsistent discipline from divorced parents might begin to compartmentalize parents into good and bad. They may push boundaries with the “good” parent who has less emphasis on discipline while withdrawing from the “bad” parent.
Agreeing on discipline offers children stability between homes. A consistent method of discipline means a kid knows what’s expected and can feel secure to thrive.
Co-Parenting Requires Consistency
Just like discipline, sharing a similar routine between parents’ homes gives children a sense of consistency. More than that, a consistent routine linked to bedtime, wake time and meal schedules helps children maintain wake/sleep and meal rhythms that keep them rested and healthy. A rested and a healthy kid is one who is far more likely to be well behaved.
Co-Parenting Requires Compromise
For many divorced couples, flexibility and compromise were hard enough to find in their marriage, much less after. But being rigid doesn’t work when trying to coordinate two newly separate and likely very distinct lives.
Things happen. Sometimes kids need to be picked up earlier or later. Sometimes meals and bedtimes need to change. Sometimes parents get sick. The point is that these events require parents to be flexible and forgiving. Yes, consistency is important, but not at the cost of ease and harmony.
Co-Parenting Requires More Than a Joint-Custody Agreement
Setting up a joint-custody arrangement with a weekend parent and a weekday parent isn’t the most effective co-parenting. These kinds of custody arrangements often mean that one parent gets to enjoy leisure with their child while the other takes on the weekday responsibilities. Meanwhile, the weekend parent is frozen out of crucial activities like helping with school work and caring for other day-to-day needs.
There are other, more equitable custody arrangements that allow both parents to enjoy quality leisure time and weekday responsibilities. And frankly, it’s good for kids to see parents play with them and take care of them, showing a balance of nurturing and fun.
Co-Parenting Requires Healthy Communication
More than anything, it’s important for parents to remember that they are offering their child an example of communication in stressful times. Kids who see their parents communicating well despite being divorced are gaining important lessons about relating to others during adversity.
Co-parents who yell, argue, snipe or tear each other down when they are together are in serious danger of raising a kid who shows those same behaviors when relationships get strained. That’s not a great proposition, particularly as a kid starts approaching their teens.
By Patrick A. Coleman