Co-Parenting after the divorce. “What I have learned about co-parenting in 8 years.”
“When you call The Bob Leonard Law Group, there is a good chance I will have the pleasure of speaking with you. While I DO NOT have a degree in counseling, law, or in dealing with divorce, I have plenty of experience co-parenting.”
After 15 years of marriage, I became single and a co-parent to two children. My daughter was 13 and my son was 5 ½ at the time my divorce became final.
I have been divorced nearly 8 years, and to say my ex-husband and I have come a long way since then is an understatement. Most people would agree that I have an unusual post-divorce relationship. My ex-husband and I co-parent extremely well and treat each other with the respect we each deserve. Our situation is not possible for everyone, nor should it be, but I hope I can offer some “lay person’s” insight and advice from what I learned dealing with one of our first difficult conflicts.
Dad’s House Rules vs Mom’s House Rules
Respecting a co-parent’s right to establish the rules for their house is important. Whether you are the primary custodial parent, the parent with visitation, or in a shared custody situation, you may learn quickly co-parenting creates an environment for children to become masters of manipulation. Children can, and will, divide and conquer to get what they want—no different than if you had remained married. Alienation of a parent is not a healthy situation for a child. What makes co-parenting challenging is dad’s rules and moms rules usually differ, whether it’s meals, bedtime, homework, TV, video games, etc.
Establishing communication early on with your former spouse is also important. I find that if you CAN have a face-to-face or phone conversation, that’s best. Why? Because putting everything in writing can lead to miscommunication in intent and tone, etc. Try to compromise on some things. Let’s face it, often you’re divorced because you don’t have the best communication skills or ability to compromise with your current co-parent. Co-parenting is a different kind of relationship. You are no longer spouses, but you will ALWAYS be parents. Your kids are testing the waters, too. This is their new “normal,” but to them, it feels ANYTHING BUT normal.
If you are unable to compromise, and your kids are old enough, explain that mom and dad have different house rules, and while dad and mom may not agree on those, it’s important for THEM to obey the rules at each house. Explain that the rules are different because of work schedules, and sometimes the rules are different because you simply think differently and have different opinions. Trust me, your kids already understand that on some level, even if they are young. It’s alright to say that you each are doing what is best for your homes and what you each feel is best for them, WITHOUT using this as an opportunity to “bash” the other parent. Obviously, I am not talking about rules (or non-rules) that put your child in danger.
Kids are kids. They will “forget,” either legitimately, or not, when going from one house to another. Remind them, gently at first. If you see it becoming a habit, warn them that if certain behavior continues, or if certain chores aren’t done, their privileges may be lost. Don’t let YOUR GUILT over the divorce allow you to become a “soft” parent. Kids still need boundaries, whether they are with you or not.
Encourage questions. Let the kids ask you why you allow/don’t allow certain things. Again, don’t speculate about the other parent. Stay in your own realm. When there are no boundaries at the other home, this can be hard to let go of, but you have to.
People have different parenting styles. If your spouse was not the disciplinarian while you were married, don’t expect him/her to become one once you are divorced. Now, take a deep breath, exhale, and pick which battles are truly worth fighting.