I’d say the majority of client’s I work with have divorced parents. Its not uncommon for me to have both parents in the room at the same time, during therapy, not speaking a word to one another, barely making eye contact, and making it obvious there is a lack of communication and serious tension. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are going to be times were tension is part of the deal. I get that. But, there are some tips I’d like to share with you, which give way to handling that tension, making transitions smoother, and yes, communicating briefly without anger.
Below is a list I have compiled together which will give you a few tips on how to ‘co-parent’ while being divorced. All of these tips work for whatever age group or stage you are in.
- Set aside anger and hurt- Its absolutely natural and OK to feel feelings like hurt and anger, however your feelings do not have to dictate your actions and behavior. Remember your priority here- your kids. Get your feelings out somewhere, somehow; see a therapist, talk to your friends and family, just don’t vent to your kids. Never vent to your kids about how you feel about your ex. Not only does this set your kids up to feel uncomfortable and confused, but they may learn to resent what you say. Your child has a right to a relationship with their other parent that is free of your influence.
- Learn to talk to your ex– Never use your kids as messengers. “When you use your children to convey messages to your co-parent, it puts them in the center of your conflict. The goal is to keep your child out of your relationship issues, so call or email your ex directly” (Block, helpguide.com). Begin to speak to your ex in a business-like tone. Be cordial, polite, straightforward, and stick to the facts. Your business in this relationship is your children’s well being, that’s it. Learn to make requests versus statements. Statements can come off as bossy or undermining. Try to frame your request like this: “Would you be willing to…?” or “Can we try…?”. Lastly, commit to talking regularly. Find restraint in your conversations with your ex. But remember that talking consistently is the best way you are going to make this ‘team’ work.
- Act like a team even if you don’t want to– “It’s healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives and to learn to be flexible, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between your home and your ex’s avoids confusion for your children’ (Block, helpguide.com). Try to keep rules, discipline, and schedules the same, if possible. This way you can avoid difficult and confusing transitions, and everyone stays on the same page. Also, make important decisions as a team such as medical issues, shared-financial issues, and educational needs.
- Make transitions easier- Help your child anticipate change- remind your kids they will be going to their father’s house a day or two before the transition takes place. Pack in advance so that things don’t get hectic or messy. When your child returns, give them space, as children also need time to readjust after a perceived large transition. Lastly, plan for a game or something fun to do when they return as to continue to routine and schedule.
- Pick your battles- “It’s important to have common ground rules and values for the kids in both households. But it also stands to reason that each parent will deal with certain situations differently. Don’t expect dad to do everything exactly the same way you do it. Even if you were still married you’d have different parenting styles. And that’s ok. Kids thrive on those differences.” (Ladish, huffingtonpost.com)