Co-Parenting After DivorceWhen Donna went through a divorce her children were ages 2, 7 and 9. Even though she and their father could not keep their marriage together, she hoped they would at least be able to work together as parents. With the exception of paying child support, her ex-husband has not been as engaged with the children as she expected him to be.

“My ex-husband has remarried and is busy with his new family,” said Donna. “Sometimes I have to call him and remind him that he needs to spend time with our children.”

“Parents have to remember and accept the fact that while they can end a marriage to someone, they will never stop being parents,” said Ron Deal, speaker and author of The Smart Stepfamily: Seven Steps to a Healthy Family. “While you may be relieved to be out of the marriage, your children have been in a transitional crisis. How well they recover from that crisis has a lot to do with you. The key to successful co-parenting is separating the dissolution of your marriage from the parental responsibilities that remain.”

According to Mr. Deal, children successfully adjust to the ending of their parents’ marriage and can fare reasonably well if: the parents are able to bring their marital relationship to an end without excessive conflict; children are not put into the middle of whatever conflicts exist; and there is a commitment from parents to cooperate on issues of the children’s material, physical, educational, and emotional welfare.

“I do realize that many ex-spouses have great difficulty cooperating about anything, let alone the nurture and discipline of their children,” said Mr. Deal. “That does not absolve you of the responsibility to try. Your children deserve your best effort.”

Co-parenting does not mean sharing all decisions about the children or that either home is accountable to the other for their choices, rules, or standards. Each household should be autonomous, but share responsibility for the children. It also does not mean that rules or punishment from one home cross over to the other home.

Mr. Deal believes effective co-parenting should look something like this:

  • Work hard to respect the other parent and his or her household.
  • Schedule a monthly “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters.
  • Never ask your children to be spies or tattle-tails on the other home.
  • When children have confusing or angry feelings toward your ex, don’t capitalize on their hurt and berate the other parent.
  • Children should have everything they need in each home.
  • Try to release your hostility toward the other parent so that the children can’t take advantage of your hard feelings.
  • Do not disappoint your children with broken promises or by being unreliable.
  • Make your custody structure work for your children, even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement.
  • If you plan to hire a babysitter for more than four hours while the children are in your home, give the other parent first right to that time.
  • Suggest that younger children take a favorite toy or game as a transitional object.
  • If you and your ex cannot resolve a problem or change in custody or visitation, agree to problem solving through mediation rather than litigation.

“The reality is, many parents who were poor marriage partners are good parents and their children enjoy them very much,” said Mr. Deal. “Give your ex-spouse the opportunity to be wonderful with the children, even if he/she wasn’t wonderful with you.”

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