Though divorce can be difficult for the whole family, it’s generally toughest on the kids. In the midst of all the changes they’re experiencing, it’s critically important to do everything you can to make things as smooth and stress-free as possible for them whenever possible. One of the best, but not always the easiest, things you can do is to try to maintain a healthy shared parenting relationship with their other parent. Because this person is also either your soon-to-be ex or has been your ex for quite some time, this relationship is one that can be the most difficult to transition to in a healthy manner. Here are five easy ways to encourage a healthy shared parenting relationship with the person you might not like very much anymore.
1. Communicate Effectively & Only about What Matters
Keeping communication centered on what matters to the children’s issues and ensuring that communication is complete and accurate are the most important rules to remember. Effective communication also means being respectful and timely with notifications about kid issues, keeping an open mind when your ex shares their opinion on the issues, and being willing to compromise when the two of you have different opinions on how to handle those issues.
Avoid communicating when you’re angry and never use your children as a means of communication between you about anything. Don’t throw verbal darts about unrelated issues into the fray, either. If you have something you need to discuss with your ex, set up a time to talk when everyone is calm, the children won’t be within earshot, and there won’t be any unnecessary interruptions. Sometimes email is the only way to accomplish this fully, so if this applies in your situation, make sure your emails are clear and snark-free to avoid misunderstandings that may make a simple issue spiral out of control.
2. Put Your Child’s Needs First
One of the best things you can do for your child is to put their needs above your own. This may mean making some sacrifices on your part but it will be worth it in the long run. It also means that you shouldn’t use your child as a way to get back at your ex or make them feel guilty about the divorce. This will only serve to confuse and hurt your child, which is the last thing you want.
If you’re having trouble putting your child’s needs first, try to take a step back and look at the situation from their perspective. How would they want you to handle it if they had a choice? What would make them feel the best about how their parents are working for their best interests? In some situations, if your child is old enough to have an opinion, ask them what they need from you in this situation. They may be surprised, especially if they are used to having little control over their situation, but you may find they are also very relieved that you asked and it could open up a good line of communication between the two of you moving forward.
Let me be clear, however, this is not an opportunity to ask your child to choose between his or her parents. Doing this will backfire on you one hundred percent of the time. But knowing how your child would like their schedule to be structured and where they place priority for how their time is spent is good to know as you and your ex discuss how to put their needs first.
3. Work Together as a Team
It’s important to remember that you’re both on the same team when it comes to parenting your child. This means that you’ll need to be able to work together, even if you don’t always see eye to eye.
It’s also important to avoid making decisions out of spite or in an effort to one-up your ex. This will only serve to further alienate the two of you and make it more difficult to work together when it comes time to discuss important issues or make decisions about your child’s future. It will also show your child that the two of you are far more focused on your dislike of each other than on what is best for him or her.
Instead, try to approach every situation with the goal of finding the best solution for your child firmly focused in your mind. The end result may not necessarily be the solution you would have chosen yourself if the decision was solely up to you, but by considering all options and not demanding to be in total control all of the time will set a wonderful example for your child. Yes, this may mean that you have to give up some control you’re used to, especially if you are considered the “primary” parent, but it will be worth it in the long run if it means that your child is happy and is given a healthy example to follow from his parents.
4. Be Flexible
Life happens to all of us. Schedules get delayed. Work events last longer than they should. Things change, and sometimes those changes can’t be helped no matter how much we want to control them. When something comes up that requires a change in plans, try to be as flexible as possible. Try to think about how you’d handle things when you were still together.
Don’t be the spiteful parent who makes the child be the last one to be picked up from school or left in a situation that becomes awkward for everyone just because you’re mad your ex’s last-minute schedule change causes an inconvenience in your day. And definitely never allow your child to see that their other parent’s schedule change makes you upset. This will only be interpreted as you being mad that you must spend extra time with them (your child). Let your flexibility and willingness to help with “life happens” be evidence to your child that there’s nothing more important to you than them, no matter what unexpected challenges come up along the way.
5. Seek Professional Help if Necessary
If you find that you’re struggling to communicate or work together effectively and without constantly bickering or pulling the kids in the middle, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor specializing in co-parenting following divorce cases. These experts can provide invaluable guidance and support during this difficult time and offer insight that may be difficult to see for yourself initially.
If you want your child to have a healthy, happy, and well-adjusted childhood following your divorce, it’s important to put aside your differences with your ex and focus only on what’s best for your child going forward. Keep the lines of communication open, work together as a team, be flexible when necessary, always keep your child’s best interests at heart, and don’t be afraid to seek out professional help when the going gets too tough. Doing these things will not only make post-divorce life easier on everyone involved but will also ensure that your child grows up feeling loved, supported, and secure in knowing that both of his parents are there for him no matter what.