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More Effective Co-Parenting: Working With Your Ex

Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to learn to work with your ex. Any problems you had making decisions together while you were married are magnified, especially immediately following the divorce.

As you grow further apart, your lifestyles may change, making it even more difficult to develop effective co-parenting strategies. Whether you’re still drawing up the divorce agreement or have been working on co-parenting with a former spouse for years, there are some things you can do to make it easier to work with your child’s other parent.

Start With Your Child’s Best Interests

The most effective co-parenting relationships start with this one simple principle. Both parents should agree that they are less interested in what’s best for them (or in “sticking it” to the other parent) and more interested in the most positive outcome possible for the child or children involved in the situation. This is an agreement that you need to make with your former spouse as soon as possible in the divorce process. You may have nothing else in common, but you can both agree that you want your child to have the best life possible. Focusing on their needs, not just their wants, can make it easier to decide:

  • How to set child support or who is responsible for paying for unexpected expenses
  • How parenting time will be handled
  • What possessions a child needs to have at both homes and what possessions can travel between the two homes
  • How to set rules together

Wanting what’s best for your child also means that you don’t badmouth the other parent in front of them. Even if you’ve had a huge argument over a late child support check or a commitment that your ex “flaked” on, that’s not something that needs to be shared with your child. Instead, find a close friend or family member to confide in, preferably when the child is out of the house or in bed for the evening.

Maintain Continuity

Every rule doesn’t have to be the same between both houses. You might have different rules about shoes on the furniture, when exactly homework has to be completed, and whether or not dinner can be eaten in front of the television. Other things, however, require continuity between your homes. For example:

Eating habits matter. If your child is allowed to eat junk food at one parent’s house indiscriminately but must eat healthy food at the other, there may be a serious difference between their behavior patterns and overall health, not to mention the way they feel.

Bedtimes should be similar. A child whose bedtime is constantly changing will have a hard time getting good, solid rest. While some allowances can be made for weekends and vacations, it’s important to maintain a similar schedule, no matter where the child is.

Key values need to be discussed. This might include insisting that homework be completed in a timely manner, making sure younger siblings are never bullied, and avoiding materials that you and your former spouse agree are inappropriate for a child. You shouldn’t have to worry that your ex will take your child to see that movie you’ve forbidden in your home.

Punishment sticks from one house to the other. Be fair about your punishments, but realistic. If the child is grounded from texting at one house, that shouldn’t lift just because they’ve traveled to the other parent’s, although exceptions should be made for texting the parent they aren’t with, regardless of the punishment. Work together to come up with punishments that won’t disrupt the other parent’s schedule or household when necessary.

When you focus on the best interests of the child and on a sense of continuity, it’s easier to make co-parenting decisions that will benefit your child, first and foremost. Looking for more tips on learning to survive parenting together after a divorce? Untangle The Knot has lots of helpful information to help you get through your divorce!

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6 Tips for Parenting During and After Divorce

Parenting after a divorce can feel like walking through a minefield. Not only does a divorce result in changes in family structure that can complicate kids’ lives, but it can also cause kids to experience intense feelings of anxiety and anger. Furthermore, a loss of support and their own feelings of anger toward their ex can make it difficult for many parents to navigate the challenges of parenting during and after a divorce.

Here are some tips to help you as you adapt.

1. Keep negative remarks about the other parent to yourself.

One of the best ways to help kids cope with divorce is to help them maintain positive relationships with both parents. Conversely, “bad-mouthing” the other parent in front of a kid is extremely damaging to a kid’s well-being. No matter how angry you may be with your ex, talking badly about him or her in front of your children will ultimately cause harm.

2. Remember that your kids are not your confidants.

Losing an adult from the household causes a shift in family dynamics, which often puts kids in the difficult position of taking on more adult responsibility than they should. This frequently manifests when parents begin to confide in their kids, instead of talking to other adults. However, remember that your problems aren’t your kid’s responsibility. If you find yourself tempted to share your frustrations with your kids, then take a step back and call a friend or a therapist instead.

3. Do your best to keep your kids’ lives consistent.

If you have joint custody with your child’s other parent, then your kids will probably be spending time in two different households that have two different sets of rules. In order to keep your kid’s lives as consistent as possible, do your best to come to an agreement with your ex about which important rules to enforce and how to maintain consistent discipline in both homes.

4. Give kids space to adjust when they first get to your house.

Transitioning from one house to another can be emotionally draining for kids. One way to help your children cope with the divorce is to give them time to adjust when they first get to your home. Instead of expecting them to immediately jump into the household routine, consider scheduling quiet craft time or giving them time to read a book or listen to music.

5. Avoid bringing kids into the middle of the conflict.

Children of divorced parents should have no role in their parents’ disagreements. In order to keep your kids away from the conflict, make sure not to use them as a weapon or means of controlling the other parent. Similarly, don’t use your kids as a messenger, even if the message is neutral.

6. Address your kids’ anger and anxiety about the divorce.

During a divorce, kids are experiencing enormous changes that they have no control over. This often results in high levels of anger and anxiety, which kids may not know how to handle. Furthermore, if you yourself are dealing with strong feelings of anger or anxiety, it can be difficult to find the wherewithal to support kids’ emotions without feeling overwhelmed. If this is the case, consider finding a therapist for your child. Speaking to a therapist will give your child an outlet for expressing the difficult emotions that he or she is feeling.

If you find yourself struggling to cope with the challenges of parenting during or after a divorce, don’t hesitate to seek professional help for yourself. A licensed therapist will be able to provide you with emotional support, as well as personalized suggestions for how to best help your kids cope with the effects of divorce.

At Untangle The Knot, we know how complicated and challenging divorce can be, and parenting is just one aspect of that. Whether you’re in the process of going through a divorce or you’re struggling to adapt to life after marriage, we have the resources and tools to help you reach the other side in one piece. Contact us to learn more about how we can support you with parenting and all of the other challenges throughout your divorce journey.

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Putting Your Kids First While Sharing Parenting Time

Your former spouse, no matter how difficult they were to live with, is still your children’s other parent. The kids weren’t the ones who decided on the divorce; in fact, they didn’t get a choice in the matter at all. Even if there are lingering hard feelings toward a parent who made some poor choices, your kids are going to be visiting with that parent on a regular basis for years to come. Learning strategies for effective co-parenting is critical to lessening the negative effects of divorce on children and keeping them happy during this difficult transition. This means preparing yourself to handle a number of unexpected situations that can (and will) come up and interrupt the normal parenting schedule.

Consider Some Potentially Difficult Scenarios

As you’re working out visitation schedules, remember that it’s never as simple as, “Oh, the kids will spend every other weekend with their father.” There will always be activities, special events, and holidays that shake up the routine and make it difficult for everyone to stick to it. Decide in advance how you’re going to handle a wide range of different events. It’s not just about holidays; it’s also about:

  • Birthday parties, sleepovers, and other invitations to go with friends
  • Kids’ birthdays and holidays—For example, what happens if Mother’s Day or Father’s Day falls on the weekend that the opposite parent has the kids?
  • Big sports games or extracurricular activities, especially away games and trips
  • Illnesses and injuries—What happens if the kids are sick on their weekend to go to Dad’s? Should they stay with Mom, or do they go anyway? What would the kids prefer to do in this scenario?

Think It Through

Keep in mind that it’s going to be necessary to make compromises along the way. It sounds easy to say, “Well, it’s Dad’s weekend, so the kids are going to go there. She can spend the night with her friend next weekend.” It’s harder when it’s a best friend’s “special” birthday sleepover or a major event that your child has been looking forward to for weeks: a big Girl Scout sleepover; a school trip that stretches over the weekend; a sports competition that requires being gone overnight. Developing a plan ahead of time gives you a template for how to handle these situations when they arise, preventing any emotional, knee-jerk reactions that may spoil the kids’ fun.

Be Fair to Both Parties

Whether the custody arrangement states that Dad has the kids every other week or he only gets them every other weekend, it’s important to consider the needs of both parties as you’re developing your plan for those unexpected interruptions in your schedule. For example, if Dad only has the kids every other weekend, a slumber party or away game that prevents his child from coming to his house may mean that he goes a month in between visits—and that’s not fair to him. On the other hand, completely disrupting the visitation schedule may also not be an option, depending on the circumstances. Consider options that will help everyone meet in the middle, such as:

  • Dinner out with the parent who doesn’t have primary custody one evening next week. This will give them a chance to visit and spend time with the kids without completely disrupting everyone’s schedule.
  • Swap weekends if schedules permit. Is one of your children headed to her friend’s house on Friday night? See if the other parent is amenable to taking the kids next weekend, instead. It doesn’t have to be a permanent switch, especially if you’ve already made arrangements for vacations and other major events.
  • Look for ways to salvage the weekend. If it’s one night away, it might not be such a big deal. There’s still plenty of weekend left, and that means plenty of chances for fun!

When considering the unexpected events that can quickly take over your parenting time, the most important thing is to put the kids first and keep your egos out of the equation. Your children likely aren’t choosing one parent over the other or snubbing the noncustodial parent because an important event simply happens to be on “their” weekend. They’re just living their lives in spite of the divorce, and that’s exactly what you should both want.

Lessening the negative effects of divorce on children requires patience, understanding, and total support from both parents. If you’re looking for more information about co-parenting strategies that will make coping with the aftermath of divorce easier, click here to see how we can help.