You just finalized your divorce, but it’s never really over because you have children together. What are the best ways to co-parent? How can you do what’s right for the kids but keep the peace with your ex?
Joryn Jenkins, a divorce attorney specializing in collaborative divorce and author of War or Peace: Avoid The Destruction of Divorce Court, offers this advice:
– You can’t really co-parent until you’re done getting divorced. People don’t always decide at exactly the same time to get divorced. It’s not unusual that one is ready to divorce but the other is not. When that happens, if the final judgment is entered and he is still not acclimated to the idea, co-parenting will be difficult. The one who wanted the divorce has to wait for the slower one to catch up. If you’re too nice, you send the wrong signal. So be patient, and be nice, but be firm. Until he’s over it, don’t talk about anything except issues involving your kids.
– Understand that a parenting relationship is hard work. Just as you should commence your marriage with the idea that you will both work together on “being married” every day, so, too, you should commence your divorce the same way, committed to working on parenting your children together. Being parents together is not a state of being; it is a work in progress. And it is work.
– Eat a meal together once a week, or at least monthly. Breaking bread together is a great way to make peace. After all, it’s hard to yell at someone in a restaurant. Setting this regular meeting up is a time to discuss what’s going on in your children’s life and parenting issues. If you’ve remarried, include your new spouse, your children’s stepparent, as well, in order to ensure that she, too, is on the same page.
– Understand that your ex will not change. He didn’t change during the marriage and he won’t change after it, either. Now you know that you can’t live with his character flaws, but you do have to accept that they exist and work around them if you want to co-parent your children successfully.
– Be nice. You’re not married to him anymore. Treat your ex like you would a friend, or, if not that, then someone from work. He’s your children’s father; she’s your children’s mother. Be polite and be respectful.
– Understand that you will disagree on somethings. Hopefully, you share most of the same views on parenting. But every once in a while, you won’t. Pick your battles. Try to address each one, working through your disagreements with solid communication and problem solving skills. If you can’t agree on anything at all, seek the help of a specialist or a counselor.
– Don’t take it personally. You might be tempted to translate everything he says or does as criticism of you. Remember, his world no longer revolves around you; it’s therefore quite possible that his comment, as critical as it may sound, or his action, as painful as it may feel, has nothing to do with you. Don’t let his opinion rule you. Don’t let it rattle your confidence in your ability to parent.
– Bite your tongue. Don’t blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. It’s not always wise to speak your mind. When you want to say something that may be offensive or hurtful, unless you can achieve a greater good in saying it, why do that? Especially when you know that it’s not about what you say; it’s about what he hears. Sometimes it’s best for your co-parenting relationship to say nothing.
– You can be each other’s friends or worst enemies. This is the most important advice. If you realize this, then you can make being friends (and ideal co-parents) your goal. Envision that as a reality and you can make it happen. Nobody wins, especially the kids, when you are enemies with your ex.