While we tend to work with people involved in high-conflict circumstances, there are those divorced parents out there who have moved beyond those issues that contributed to the demise of their relationship. These parents work together when it comes to the upbringing of their children and work very hard to disallow any issues from affecting the work that they do raising their children. These tips aren’t all-inclusive but do provide a foundation for cooperative parenting – often referred to as “co-parenting.” Co-parenting isn’t just for divorced couples or broken relationships involving children! Co-parenting works well within the confines of a healthy marriage and family, too.
While these are in no particular order, we list #1 as “the #1” when it comes to any “Top Whatever” list in the post-divorce parenting situation:
- Avoid putting the children in the middle of conflicts between the parents! This requires a high level of self-awareness and objectivity about the kids’ needs. It takes intestinal fortitude to consider compromising for the sake of their well-being. Don’t let a conflict linger. Get to a resolution quickly and as amicably as possible.
- Set and maintain appropriate boundaries! Sometimes, it’s quite difficult to convince yourself that what the children are doing with the other parent is generally not your business (within reason). If an activity won’t harm them mentally or physically, be interested in what they’re doing, but avoid interjecting how you would do it differently or cross the other parent’s boundary. Believe it or not, children to learn that there are benefits to discovering different ways of doing things. Neither parent will handle every situation in exactly the same way as the other. Get used to it.
- Contrary to what we discuss with high-conflict situations and keeping low-contact – in a positive post-relationship atmosphere, contact is okay! Communicate regularly with the other parent. Share information. Particularly when children are young, the other parent needs to know the basics when parenting responsibilities are being handed over. Is the child sick or healthy? Has are the children eating? Depending upon the distance home – have they gone to the bathroom recently? When did they last bathe/shower? For older children, both parents need to exchange information about school activities, sports events, their schedules, field trips and the like. It’s good to get into a regular habit of checking in with each other on the days when parenting is shared. Keeping each other “in the loop” can prevent oversights such as a missed activity or remembering to pick up the child at school!
- Be respectful of the other parent. This keeps the post-divorce co-parenting relationship at ease and provides for less stress for everyone, especially the children. It also provides a good model for your children about cooperation and quality parenting, even after the family break-up. Remember, it’s no secret that children imitate our behaviors, so the more positive behaviors they witness, the more positive their future actions are likely to be. It’s vitally important for a child’s healthy development to have respect for authority figures, including both parents. It will lead to respect towards teachers at school and, later in life, respect towards leaders in business.
- Help the children acknowledge the other parent with appropriate gifts or cards during meaningful occasions. This will help the children develop their ability to express positive sentiments towards others and make them feel good about themselves, too. Give them praise for their thoughtfulness. Your encouragement today will build good people tomorrow. Helping the kids to recognize the other parent’s birthday, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day are good examples when this effort should be deployed.
- Demonstrate and teach positive conflict resolution. The teaching part is very important and takes a long time to stick. Don’t try to hide conflicts when they arise. Of course, we’re talking small-in-scale conflicts, not major issues. Children are very observant often know more about what’s going on than we realize. Use conflict as an opportunity to show children appropriate dispute resolution techniques. Every time.
- Keep consistency when it comes to discipline, meals & food choices, and general child care whenever and wherever possible. This makes transitions from one household to another easier and minimizes the upset at transition time often associated with inconsistency. Children respond well to rules and boundaries and quickly learn what to expect from each parent. The more in-tune you are with each other’s efforts, the less likely the children are to act-out and exploit differences. Be respectful of each other’s parenting approaches Recognize that while consistency is best, differences are inevitable and acceptable.
- CAREFULLY share with your co-parent what you need from him/her to do your best parenting job. Avoid frequent schedule changes or last-minute expectations of the other. While everyone has different requirements for support, the more clear you are about what you reasonably need from the other, the easier co-parenting will be to manage. Don’t guess. Don’t be ambiguous in your communications. Be clear and concise so there is limited opportunity for misunderstandings.
- Find meaningful balance when it comes to parenting tasks. Not everything will be perfectly equal – so don’t make the mistake of expecting them to be. Serious imbalances can cause problems. The greatest area of risk is when it comes to discipline. Allowing one parent to always be the “bad person” while the other is always the “good person” will end up disastrous for both. Don’t fall into that trap. Work at sharing parenting chores as equally as possible and your schedules permit. Don’t try keeping all of the “good or fun” tasks at the expense of the “tough or unfun” ones. Don’t engage in one-way communication or order-giving. Be flexible and reasonable.
- Remember the in-laws and other extended family members! While the primary responsibility for extra-familial interaction should remain with each parent, hopefully, situations may arise and be handled appropriately when in-laws, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. can be involved with you. These people can also be a valuable resource when circumstances arise where childcare coverage is needed in an urgent situation, a pick-up or drop-off is necessary, etc.
These are just 10 of the biggies we think should garner significant attention and be remembered. Yes, even when the post-relationship conflict is minimal. Respect and consideration, planning and communication don’t end with the relationship, regardless of the conflict level. If you and your ex are beyond the issues that resulted in the dissolution of your relationship and have a cooperative parenting situation – you’re way ahead of the game and will do well bringing up healthy, well-adjusted children.