If you’re getting a divorce and you have children, you will have to learn how to raise children in a co-parenting relationship. It’s important to remember that most kids do best when they have solid, ongoing relationships with both of their parents and their extended families. You will be working with your child’s other parent for years to come.
Here are some tips to do so positively:
Be honest, open, and age-appropriate with your children when you tell them about the divorce. If you can, break the news together as parents. Reassure your kids that you both still love them and always will. Explain that they are not in any way responsible for the end of your marriage. Encourage your kids to talk about how they are feeling and to ask questions. Keep your answers honest but don’t share the reasons for the divorce or try to assign blame.
Keep children apprised of any finalized changes. Your kids have a right to know what will be changing in their lives, such as where they will be living and how much time they will be spending with their other parent. Be open and frank about decisions that are final. Don’t confuse them with decisions that are preliminary or involve them in legal negotiations over court orders and time-sharing arrangements.
Be respectful of your kids’ other parent. Many parents make the mistake of venting about their exes to their kids or to friends and family members, especially on social media accounts. Being aware of the details of your dispute with your ex can put kids in the position of thinking they have to pick sides. Make an appointment with a divorce coach or a psychologist so you’ll have a place to go with your frustrations. Let your kids talk to their other parent whenever they want to. Show them you can be polite even when you disagree with someone. Never withhold visitation to punish the other parent. Never use your kids as messengers; it puts them in the middle of your disagreements.
Respect your ex’s parenting decisions. Even after the divorce, you should still be on the same team as the child’s parents. If you challenge those decisions where the children can hear, you undermine their other parent’s authority. Ideally, set up ground rules with your ex and try to keep expectations consistent between the two households. You want your ex to support your decisions; support theirs. If you and your ex get into a dispute, consider getting a mediator involved in resolving it.
Maintain family relationships. Your extended family – and that of your ex – has an important role to play in your kids’ lives. That shouldn’t have to change because you’re getting a divorce. There may be some relatives that will no longer cooperate with you after the divorce, but many people will see the advantage of maintaining strong ties. Build post-divorce relationships with your kids’ grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins. Invite them to your kids’ birthday parties. Encourage your kids to call and email their extended family routinely. Instead of alienating your kids from their extended family, try to keep in contact and connect with those relatives.
Spend quality time with each child. As a single parent, it can be hard to carve out time to build and maintain relationships with your children, but it’s important. Spend some time one-on-one with each child, ideally doing something that is special to both of you. Take time away from your usual responsibilities to do something special like going to a movie theater or going on a picnic. The point is to make sure each child knows that you love them and that you are focused on their wellbeing and happiness even in trying times.
As you go through your divorce, your attorney can be a big help in setting up a positive framework for co-parenting. Be sure to work with a dedicated, compassionate attorney who will help you build bridges.