Co-parenting a child following a separation or dissolution of marriage is often challenging for both parents and children. There are many factors that come into play including strong emotions, how the parents communicate, how they deal with important decision-making, finances, time-sharing, and more. Sometimes, even when parents try their best, co-parenting can prove stressful and exhausting and in many cases the children stuck in the middle feel every bit of this, frequently ending up suffering from anxiety or depression.
If you are a co-parent, there are some practical things you can do to avoid the common pitfalls of co-parenting; things that will help ensure your child’s well-being and enable you to enjoy a better, less stressful and more productive relationship with you ex. Here are 10 tips for successful co-parenting.
Tip # 1: Always Put Your Children’s Interests Before Your Own
There may not be a more fundamental or beneficial piece of advice than this. Just as Florida courts have recognized this principle as paramount, so too must you, as a mature adult, recognize this priority. Although difficult at times, it helps for both parents to understand how much the maturity and responsibility they demonstrate when co-parenting will benefit their child down the road. It will encourage better mental and emotional health, reduce stress and anxiety, improve the child’s self-esteem, and provide an example of adulthood that they can rely on when the times come for them to act with responsibility in the future.
Tip # 2: Don’t Let Your Emotions Interfere with Your Behavior
This is easier said than done. The end of a relationship is often wrought with negative emotions such as anger, rage and hurt. The key is separating those feelings from negative behavior. Remember that while a dissolution may mark the end of a personal relationship between two parents, it doesn’t dissolve the family. Stay focused on your child and try to do what is best for them. If you need to vent, consider talking to a friend, therapist or even your family law attorney, if they are active in your case.
Tip # 3: Don’t Put Your Kids in the Middle
It happens so often. A marriage is dissolved, or parents separate, and in short order their child finds themselves in the middle of a bitter, resentful battle, being forced to make false choices about who is wrong or right, what is true or false and who deserves their loyalty. Words get lost in translation, and a child is unfairly burdened with responsibility they never asked for and shouldn’t have to deal with. For this reason, never use your child to send messages to your ex. Speak directly to your former partner, and don’t put your kid in the middle.
Tip #4: Avoid Disparagement
Do not speak about negatively about your ex to your child. This may be one of the most common pitfalls of co-parenting, especially following a contentious dissolution or separation. It is one more particularly bad form of putting your kid in the middle. All these kinds of situations can result in feelings of anxiety, guilt, anger, and resentment in a child, and be detrimental to their emotional health and well-being. Never try to make children, “choose a side”, directly or indirectly through emotional manipulation. It is not in their best interest, nor your own.
Tip #5: Communicate Effectively with Your Ex
Effective communication begins with listening. Even when you do not agree with what your ex might be saying to you, giving them the opportunity to speak and letting them know that they were heard and understood, is a great way to foster productive communication.
Try to take a cordial, respectful approach and keep your discussions child-focused. Ask questions rather than make demands, and try not to overreact, even to provocative comments. The more you communicate with restraint, the better your chances are of gaining the respect of ex, and the more productive your conversations will be.
Finally, remember that not all communications must be in person. If face-to-face discussions are challenging, try a phone call or texting. The key is communicating with your ex in ways that enable you to stay calm and rational, so you can evaluate what is being said, make smart decisions, and get your own messages across clearly.
Tip #6 Work as a Team
This is a wise strategy when parenting a child as a married couple and it is just as smart when co-parenting following a separation or divorce. From establishing consistent schedules to assessing certain activities, to agreeing on how to respond to good and bad behavior, the goal is to present a unified front and make the best decisions for your child.
While at times this may be challenging, if you are consistent in this approach, you will find that your child is more disciplined, feels more secure and understands the rules and expectations when spending time with either parent.
Tip #7 Make Major Decisions, Together
Sometimes, a divorce decree will provide specific guidance for important issues in your child’s life, such as financial issues, education and medical care. But ultimately, situations will evolve that force you and your ex to make major decisions. When things like household budgets, class schedules, extra-curricular activities, and health care issues arise, avoid the temptation to make important decisions independently and instead make it a point to share critical information. If you cannot work together on the big decisions, it is unlikely that you will ever be able to do so on the smaller ones.
Tip #8 Manage Conflict with Compromise
Of course, you will likely experience disagreements when co-parenting, just as conflicts arise between married couples. When they occur, manage them by remembering a few simple rules. Show respect. This is a foundational principle of successful co-parenting and all healthy relationships. Just by making a concerted effort to do this, your odds of navigating conflict productively increase exponentially. Keep the lines of communication open. Do not shut down. This is common sense. Ceasing to communicate is not communicating effectively. If you feel unable to continue, consider bringing in a third party, such as a mediator or therapist, to assist. Choose your battles. Try not to let little issues become big issues. Assess what is important and relent on those things that are less significant. Compromise. It all comes down to working together with your ex to reach a middle ground. It can be hard but remember that it is for the benefit of your child. It will also make your own life easier when faced with conflict in the future.
Tip #9 Make Visitation a Better Experience
Every visitation is another transition. Your child is experiencing a reunion with one parent but saying “goodbye” to another. This can be hard on them. To create a better experience, keep them well-informed. Let them know schedules in advance. Give them time to pack appropriately, so they are not throwing things together at the last minute. A longstanding bit of visitation advice is to always try to drop off your child vs. picking them up, which can be perceived as “taking them away” from the other parent.
Once at your home, give your child a little space and time to adjust to their new environment. Be prepared with basic items- toiletries, some extra clothes and help them feel that their visitation is expected and well-planned for. It can also help to establish routines. Knowing what to expect helps a child feel safe and secure.
Tip #10 Always Put Your Children’s Interests Before Your Own
Yes, it bears repeating. This is the place where successful co-parenting begins and ends. A high-functioning co-parenting relationship will help foster conditions for the improved physical and emotional well-being of your child and their ability to learn important skills like resilience and adaptability that will serve them well throughout their life.
If you are getting a divorce in Jacksonville or navigating co-parenting and need legal assistance from an experienced, compassionate family lawyer, then call the family law attorneys at Parra Harris Law at (904) 900-1617 or email us at [email protected]