A divorce can tease out the worst sides of both you and your ex spouse, creating a vacuum of pain and resentment in the void between. Cooperating with an ex on a weekly basis may be the last thing you want to do, but a positive co-parenting relationship between the two of you is essential to the emotional and mental health of your child, especially in situations of equal joint physical custody, when balanced co-parenting is most possible. According to research done by the University of New Hampshire, successful co-parenting can help children develop feelings of stability, make them feel less torn between parents, and are less likely to feel abandoned.
One immediate concept both you and your ex need to embrace is that like it or not, you’re in this together. For your child’s sake, you must put all of your emotions behind you, and develop an amicable, if shallow, relationship with your ex. You have to see them, you have to speak to them; accept this. It will get easier with time.
Develop a good channel of communication. As in you and your ex spouse. According to Psychology Today, Research indicates that burdening your child with your adult issues promotes feelings of helplessness and insecurity, which can cause children to question their own strengths and abilities. Do not make your child your messenger or your primary source of information about your exes life, especially if your tone is negative. Have that conversation with your ex yourself, and leave your child out of the conflict.
Good communication only occurs if you both stay focused on your joint goals for your child; keep everything to the point. This means evading bait for emotional arguments and avoiding opening old wounds at all costs. Family and divorce expert M. Gary Neuman suggests taking the high road any time the conversation goes sour by saying things like “I appreciate your feelings, but right now I am here to discuss our child’s school assignment.”
Don’t speak ill of your ex spouse. Especially in their younger years, you are your child’s biggest influence. You want to set a standard for your children, and show them that it is possible to maneuver through something as ugly and wrenching as divorce with maturity and respect. This can be particularly difficult for a parent with limited custody rights to feel resentment for their ex. Do not voice it in front of your child; vent to another outlet. If you can do this you show your child they can too.
Be accountable for your mishaps, especially with your child. Co-parenting can be an overwhelming responsibility at times, and it’s important to accept some of your bad days because of course nobody is perfect. If you make a potentially harmful mistake, take full responsibility of it by explaining in detail to your child why it was wrong. Apologize. If you find yourself struggling, Neuman suggests even creating a signal with your child, where they can keep you in line if you struggle with things such as speaking positively about your ex.
Remember you’re on the same team, so you need to be on the same page. Consistent parenting will make both your and your exes lives easier. Establish the same expectations and then stick to them. Neither of you should try to be the ‘cool parent’ or the parent who lets them shirk responsibility; it will ultimately stir up resentment in your spouse. Just as bad is making an assumption that they are responsible for your child’s bad behavior, then accusing them of doing something to undermine you or shame you. If you are upset with something you think your ex has done, approach them with a neutral tone and discuss it. Remember that you and your ex want the same things; give them the benefit of the doubt if you can, and maybe they will do you the same for you.
Negotiating is especially important if one parent has legal custody: even though the parent with only visiting rights doesn’t get the final say, discussing why a certain decision is necessary will foster the feeling that each parent is taking into consideration what the other has to say, making both feel included in the decision.
It is a dedication to good, positive consistency that makes for a successful co-parenting partnership. It may not be easy in the beginning, but the end payoff will be a happy healthy child.