My divorce was not one of these peaceful, fluffy parting-of-ways where both parties give each other a hug and agree on everything. It was about as contentious as divorce proceedings can go. It was a year-long custody fight riddled with blaming, name-calling, immaturity, fear, lies, tricks, mud-slinging, and quite possibly hatred. That said, we have come a long way in just under five years, and if we can do it, you certainly can too.
Going into this, despite an overwhelming disdain for my ex, I made the conscious choice to do right by my children. Logically, it works like this:
Your children love you and your ex. You love your children. Hurting your ex will indirectly hurt your children.
If you look at it from your child’s perspective, it’s not difficult to understand. They want both of you to be happy. They don’t want you to fight with each other. For your child’s sake, you will need to move on from expressing any hurtful, unproductive emotions for your ex. Don’t say or do anything to your ex that will interfere with your child’s desire to see you both in a positive light. Save your bitching and complaining about your ex for a time when there is no chance your children will overhear. Pay attention to your nonverbal cues too; you may be surprised at just how perceptive your children are. They will see and feel the negativity.
You may be insisting that you have the worst of circumstances. That what your ex did was unforgivable. That there is no way to co-parenting is possible. Barring few extreme circumstances, if you are saying or thinking these things, you are undoubtedly the part of the problem. I’m sure that I haven’t made it onto my ex’s favorite people list, but we don’t talk about that sort of thing. To this day, if we allowed it, there would be contentious arguments about who did what wrong to whom. We don’t talk about our past relationship, that’s over and done with.
In a National Institute of Health study, Predictors of Supportive Co-parenting After Relationship Dissolution Among At-Risk Parents (Claire M. Kamp Dush, Letitia E. Kotila, and Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan), the authors describe the context of supportive co-parenting as:
“A co-parenting relationship exists when individuals have overlapping responsibility for parenting children, and its quality can be characterized by the extent to which parents support (or fail to support) each other’s parenting efforts (Feinberg, 2003). Key ingredients for a supportive co-parenting relationship include joint investment in the child, valuing the importance of the other parent for the child’s growth and development, respecting the judgments of the other parent, and ongoing communication regarding the child’s needs (Cohen & Weissman, 1984).
Maintaining or forging a supportive co-parenting relationship after the dissolution of a romantic relationship is especially challenging. Effective co-parenting requires parents to set aside differences in their previous personal relationship, but often their relationship remains strained.”
So what does it take to make this work? What qualities and behaviors will you and your ex need to model in order to be effective co-parents? These are the qualities that are required:
- Respect – Treat your ex respectfully, as you would expect to be treated.
- Understanding – Know that your ex is loved by your children, honor their relationship and expect your ex to do the same in return.
- Communication – Your only communications with your ex should pertain to your children. There is no need to discuss anything else. Clearly communicate important information about your kids, and keep no secrets.
- Flexibility – Display a willingness to adjust your plans when possible. A time will come when you will need your ex to do the same for you.
- Cooperation – Like it or not, as parents, you and your ex are on the same team. Work together as teammates with the goal of raising healthy, well-adjusted children.
There are no requirements to be a pushover or to avoid confrontation when it is necessary. Just keep the confrontation respectful and away from your children. Your ex needs to be as committed as you are to making things work. The good news is that if you are both displaying the qualities listed above, you will experience a minimal number of confrontations.