Co-parenting — or shared parenting — is usually the best way to deal with custody of your children after divorce, but it isn’t always easy.
Nobody heads down the aisle with the intention of getting a divorce. Yet we constantly hear that about half of all marriages will eventually end in divorce. When a marriage ends, whatever the reason, there are bound to be hurt feelings and bitterness. If you have children, can you work past these feelings and come together for the sake of the kids? We spoke with a few moms who say you can.
Divorce is intended to sever ties between two people who no longer love each other. “Very rarely is a divorce amicable,” shares Dr. Fran Walfish, Psy.D., who is a child and family psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent. “Each partner in the marriage has their own individual complaints about the other including infidelity, control, lack of communication and so forth.” She says that many couples direct their grievances toward battles regarding money and the children, which benefits no one. “My advice to all parents who are co-parenting with joint custody after divorce is to set aside their anger, disappointment, hurt and rage,” she adds. “Those feelings are for you to deal with in a therapy office and with your supportive friends and family.”
Patsy Shelton is a teacher and mother of two boys. “No marriage ends easily,” she says. “There were tears and anger and blame when my marriage ended, but we were both able to see our roles in its ending.” Both Patsy and her ex-husband shared the desire to protect their boys from the pain they felt. “It's not about our history anymore — that's why we got a divorce! We are free to let all of that go. Now we are friends who look to the future and what it holds, not for us, but for our sons,” she adds.
“We've worked hard to make sure our kids see us together, through occasional meals together, birthday parties, sports and school events,” shares Tracy Jensen, writer and mother of two. “It reassures them that although we don't live together, we're still working together to make sure they're OK — and that it's OK for them to love both of their parents.” Changing your relationship to meet the needs of your kids takes patience and a lot of work, on both sides. “It doesn't mean that anger and hurt don't exist,” adds Jensen. “It means that the needs of our kids are more important.”
While you shouldn’t expect your ex to suddenly become the father he never was, you can appreciate the differences that he brings to your children’s lives and roll with them. “Let your ex develop his own parenting style,” advises Jensen. “He's never going to do it the same way that you do, and that's OK. Kids benefit from a different perspective. Take the opportunity to enjoy what your kids learn from him.”
Many divorced parents wind up trying to make things harder for the other parent, whether subconsciously or on purpose. When you choose a difficult path, it only hurts the kids. “Make it easy for your ex to spend time with your kids,” says Jensen. ”I see a number of friends enveloped in this battle, where time with the kids becomes such a weapon. I have always told the kids' dad if he wants extra time with them, to simply ask.”
By having a regular, consistent routine — that also has room for flexibility — your kids will feel that their lives are more stable. “The boys stay three days with me and then three days with their father,” shares Shelton, “but if I need him to keep the boys, he does! And if he needs me to keep them, I do!” The give-and-take is what makes this feel more like a partnership than a battle. “In the best interests of your children, be friendly, kind and respectful to your ex in front of the kids,” shares Dr. Walfish. “Swallow your pride for your children's sake and never fight in front of the kids. That includes no hostile grimaces or remarks, no sarcasm and no unbearable silences you could cut with a knife,” she adds. “You will make your kids' lives easier and they will be more resilient.”
Dan Clifford is a partner in the family law practice at the law firm Weber Gallagher. He sees firsthand how struggles with divorce affect the children. He offers us five tips for success with co-parenting.
By doing your best to work with your former spouse, you are providing your children with a family safety net — and showing them that they really matter to both of you.
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