Tips for Healthy Co-Parenting
By: Cynthia Robbins
Following a divorce, many parents face the daunting task of redefining their relationship as they navigate the difficult waters of co-parenting with their former spouse.
Many parents even ask, “What exactly is co-parenting?”
Co-parenting is defined as sharing the duties of raising a child, typically between parents who are separated or no longer in a relationship together. The co-parent relationship differs now because the parents are NOT in an intimate relationship with each other that focuses on meeting each others’ needs. Instead, they are in a new relationship that focuses solely on meeting each child’s needs. Establishing this type of relationship with an ex-spouse can be extremely painful and challenging. Each former spouse may still be working through hurtful experiences and struggling to develop a new and separate life apart from the former spouse while still needing to interact with the former spouse as a co-parent.
Although no set of established principles can work in every situation, several universal tips can help establish or improve most, if not all, existing co-parenting relationships.
1. As a former spouse, do everything possible to move forward to heal from the breakup. If additional support from family and friends and counseling are needed, take the time necessary to grow emotionally and learn new and valuable coping skills to handle the stress successfully and ultimately forgive the former spouse. Unresolved pain and bitterness can have a devastating impact on your children over time. It’s important to understand that taking care of your own emotional needs is just as vital to being a good parent as setting up scheduling and organizing the multitude of issues involved in parenting.
2. Understand that the co-parent relationship is meant to be a completely new and different relationship. Accepting responsibility to develop this new relationship can be especially difficult when dealing with an unsupportive former spouse, but taking ownership and responsibility for your own actions can help forge this new relationship that will hopefully improve over time. Resolve that you will act appropriately and responsibly in all circumstances. Focus on developing skills to help you stay calm and positive during stressful interactions.
3. Accept that your new roles as co-parents may need to differ from other friends and family members who are co-parents. Be grateful for others’ input but understand that what works for one co-parenting relationship may not work in another.
Don’t feel obligated to blindly listen to each and every co-parent in your life, as this can be overwhelming and discouraging at times, especially if they have not developed healthy co-parenting relationships themselves. Often, objective individuals, such as licensed counselors, may offer valuable input that is not hindered by the emotions experienced by close friends and family members who are co-parents.
4. Accept that every family member will grieve and suffer in one or more ways as a result of the breakup and divorce. No parent can shield and protect their children completely from suffering, and even small children have genuine emotional pain. Often children will not want to open up to their parents for fear that they will be causing their parent’s additional pain or stress. It’s important, though, as the parent to acknowledge the difficulties that have resulted and empathize with the children in the best ways possible, without discouraging them from recognizing and experiencing their own sadness and grief.
If the children are not already in therapy, offering this as a tool may be helpful and give the children a responsible adult experienced in children’s issues to guide them in developing healthy ways to overcome their sadness. Some therapists even offer support groups for children to meet other children their age who are going through similar circumstances. This can be very helpful and provide the children with opportunities to process their pain in safe and healthy ways.
5. Move forward in creating new memories with your children that are meaningful and fun, without being demeaning or negative toward the former spouse. Resolve that you will not bad-mouth or show disrespect toward the other co-parent.
It’s so important that your children have a role model to follow to learn how to deal with devastating and painful experiences and difficult people. They are going to learn by watching you, regardless of how you act, so embrace your role and be resolved that you will be mature, positive, and focused on their well-being. Be determined not to use your children as sounding boards – if you need to vent about a difficult experience with the co-parent, wait until an opportune time to talk to a trusted adult. Do not expect your children to meet your emotional needs. It’s okay to acknowledge that things are challenging right now, but reassure them that you, as the adult, will be continuing to get the help that you need to be the best parent you can be for them.
These guidelines are meant to help you and your children, regardless of whether or not the former spouse is interested in working on the co-parenting relationship. It’s important to embrace the future without waiting for the other co-parent to decide to be reasonable and appropriate. Some co-parenting relationships ultimately develop into very healthy relationships, while others remain strained.
Focus on what you can do, and don’t wait for the other co-parent to resolve their issues before moving forward as a healthy parent for your children. Your children will be forever grateful for the love and care you provide them and will always remember how you have chosen to handle this difficult situation with grace and strength.
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Related: Divorce Law