How do you co-parent during or after a divorce when you’re not particularly good at ‘co’ anything? What can you do to align around your children? How can two loving, devoted parents who can’t get along with each other possibly do what’s right for their children?
Parents often suffer from guilt about putting their children through the divorce. They don’t want to rock the boat and upset the children for fear that their child will run to the other parent. They’re afraid to impose rules because they know how vulnerable the children are. Unfortunately, giving in to all your children’s wishes and not imposing any rules ultimately has a greater negative effect on the children than the momentary pleasure it brings them. In the case of young children, their routines are turned upside down as it is with divorce, the more you can keep things simple and regulated, the better they’ll do.
If you both want what’s best for your children except that your version of best isn’t the same as your former spouse, how do you go about setting rules and standards for your children when they may very well be growing up in two very different households?
If you are truly both wishing for the best for your children then you’re off to a good start.
1. Simply asking your ex-spouse (or soon-to-be-ex) something like this: “We may not agree on many things but the one thing I think we both want is for our children to be as strong and happy as possible. Can we agree on that?”
2. Discuss or list (if discussion is not a viable route) the most basic needs of your children. There’s no doubt that both parents want their children to have adequate food, shelter, clothing and education. Then discuss the rules you believe should be in place at both homes. What those mean to each of you may be very different.
3. Take your lists and compare them. If mom thinks eating dinner in a restaurant every night is reasonable and dad thinks shopping at Trader Joe’s and cooking is reasonable, you will have to negotiate. If dad is strict about screen time and mom is open ended, then perhaps there can be some middle ground that works for both.
4. Now that you’ve compared lists, close your eyes and visualize your child. Now look at the discrepancies between the lists and see if you can come up with some compromises that are in the best interests of your children only. It might mean you have to learn to boil some pasta instead of going to the neighborhood Italian restaurant, or that you have to allow mom’s punishment to stand even if you don’t necessarily agree with it.
It may not be possible to agree on all the issues but it is very important that you discuss those issues with your ex-spouse, NOT with your children. Keeping your children safe and minimizing their stress during a very tumultuous time for them is the most important thing you can do. By having consistency between the two households you have a better chance at successful co-parenting and ultimately a happier, healthier child.