If you and your estranged partner are sharing custody of your children, it’s integral to start shaping a productive, positive co-parenting relationship. Sure, they may drive you crazy and you wish you never had to speak to them again. But that’s not possible when kids are involved. So here are some ways to push past the BS in your divorce, and give your children the best shot at having happy co-parents.
Leave your kids out of it.
Speaking negatively about your co-parent is unproductive. Always remember that your children may be listening when you speak. What you choose to say about your spouse speaks about who you are as a person. Take the high road. Of course we all need to vent sometimes, but that’s what counselors and supportive friends are for. Vent to them as needed as long as your kids aren’t present. Saying the nasty stuff in your head to someone other than your ex works well to let it all out, without creating drama.
When there’s conflict …
Inevitably there will be complex things you need to discuss with your estranged spouse as you go through the divorce process. If you need to have a serious, or potentially contentious discussion with them, do it when your children are not present. You do not want any risk of them being exposed to conflict. Topics that should be off limits around your children include:
- Concerns about your former partner’s new partner.
- Child support amounts and whether they are getting paid.
- Explicit details of why the marriage ended.
- Concerns about your former in-laws.
In these tough conversations, do your best to stay calm and be fair. Don’t say things you will regret, attack or threaten. A stable relationship between you and your co-parent is the best situation for your children, and needs to be protected. Beyond these conversations, respect drop off/pick up times, and all other boundaries of the separation agreement. Treat your co-parent as you wish to be treated.
When a new partners enters the scene …
At some point, you or your previous partner will likely be ready to move on to other romantic relationships. It should take careful thought and consideration before introducing a new partner to your kids. The best case scenario is to establish common ground rules with your co-parent around what is expected if and when someone new enters the picture. One approach I recommend is:
- Agree that neither of you will introduce your kids to a new person unless the relationship has progressed to being ‘serious’.
- You will tell the other parent ahead of time before introducing a new person to your kids.
- You will not use the kids to gather information about the new partner.
When inviting new partners into the family, consider what their role will and will not be in your child’s lives. Sometimes, when a partner tries to be a disciplinarian, this can be highly problematic. You want the new partners also to be respectful of the role of the co-parent. Discuss boundaries with the new partner so they are clear on how they fit into your family.
Sometimes, a child might like the new partner but feel guilty about it, like they are betraying the other parent. Your child should not feel badly about liking your ex’s new partner. Inevitably, this new person will come up in conversation at some point, which is a good time to ask your child some positive, interested questions and practice being your mature and diplomatic self.
When it’s all too much …
If you are struggling with the separation, going to a therapist can be very valuable. It’s one of the most stressful life events, and anyone who is going through a separation or divorce can benefit from counseling during that time.
Need more insights into parenting through separation and divorce? Check this out.