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Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents

Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents

When people separate or divorce, one of their biggest challenges is coparenting their children together. As a Marriage and Family Therapist in Chicago, I often see divorced parents struggle with how to raise their children together.

One parent has a certain set of rules, and the other does it completely differently. It can be a real challenge to navigate this part of the divorce process.

Yet over the years, I have seen couples successfully raise their children together after a divorce. It takes a little attention and focus, but there are number of key strategies that these divorced couples employ to make coparenting much easier.

1. Communicate clearly.

When couples who are able to communicate coparenting items easily and without much emotion, they get a lot of the work of parenting done quickly. Yet when their discussions about parenting items are filled with emotion, then it muddies the waters.

If you find yourself fighting with your ex about all sorts of coparenting issues, you might want to set up a method of communication which reduces the emotion.

Perhaps a dedicated email thread that only has parenting items might keep the channels of communication more clean.

2. Clarify rules.

Many families we see here at our practice in Chicago have different rules at different houses for their children. This can certainly work, but the rules need to be clearly defined by the parents.

Where children struggle is when they are unclear about what the rules of each house are, and then try to manipulate the rules to get their way.

Clear communication of what the expectations are at each house can go a long way towards creating balance and stability.

3. Get out of the past.

It is important to be sure that any lingering items from your marriage stay as much in the past as possible.

Of course there will by dynamics from the marital relationship that persist in the coparenting relationship, but couples benefit by bringing their relationship out of the past and trying to create new ways of interacting around parenting items.

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4. Don’t triangulate.

One of the more difficult dynamics that we see in Family Therapy is when couples triangulate their children.

Triangulation is when whatever is unresolved between the parents gets transmitted through their interactions with the children.

In other words, the parents hostility and tension gets absorbed by the children and the children start acting it out. It can be very confusing when this happens, and Family Therapy can significantly help when this dynamic occurs.

5. Bless and release.

One thing that troubles a lot of people after a break up or divorce is that they continually hold on to old grudges or complaints.

In order to coparent more effectively, it can be helpful to bless and release your ex. This mean wishing them well and letting go of old hurts.

Can you hope for our ex that they have all good things and find the life and love that they are looking for? This sort of neutrality can go a long way with coparenting from a more balanced place.

6. Practice mindful parenting.

Many experts will tell parents to try to stay more calm than their child. If you are anxious, stressed and angry, then your child may become those things too.

Coparenting with an ex adds another layer of difficulty and potentially upsetting emotions. It is important to practice being mindful of your anxiety, stress and anger levels when parenting, and also when interacting with your coparent.

Finding ways to stay relaxed and put things in perspective can help.

7. Develop a support network.

Having a good team of trusted people in your corner can help to make sure you don’t feel alone in the process of coparenting. Talking with other parents who are divorced or separated might help you feel less alone in the process.

Additionally, having a trusted counselor or therapist in your corner who can help you look at your blind spots, can make a big difference.

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8. Practice presence.

Staying in the moment when parenting can be a useful thing whether you are coparenting, doing it alone, or alongside your partner.

Our minds can race all over the place when we are managing a lot of things in our family life. Yet taking time to stay in the moment and be present with your child will help calm and stabilize the situation.

If you are worried about future events, or stressed about what happened before, it takes you out of the present, which can be full of opportunities for meaningful experiences with your child.

9. Practice “I” statements.

A lot of couples will get in trouble by blaming their ex in front of their child. It can be difficult for them not to criticize their ex, or say something disparaging. Yet this can have a negative impact on the child.

Instead of pointing the finger, it helps to practice “I” statements. Talk about your frustration and how you get overwhelmed by difficult situations rather than commenting on how your ex made mistakes or is selfish.

Talking about your own experience helps you own your own power in the situation.

10. Learn to compromise.

If coparents are constantly arguing about their schedules, money, or what the rules are, then it can cause a very hostile and chaotic environment for the children.

Yet couples who learn to work together and compromise on the endless, daily family items that need to be negotiated, end up creating a more stable and calm environment for their children.

Even if you insist that you should have the children on a particular holiday because your ex had them the previous year, being willing to compromise and make alternate arrangements can pay off in the long run.

11. Give a little.

Coparents who are generous with one another, even if they are still upset about their breakup, help create an environment of wellbeing in their family.

If your coparent asks for a random extra weekend with the children, and you know that it is your turn that weekend, being generous and giving a little can go a long way towards generating good will.

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Withholding and counting each fairness and unfairness creates a less generous and more stingy family environment.

Of course you don’t want to compromise yourself and give over too much, but keeping on the lookout for when you can give just a bit more, can help the wellbeing of everyone involved.

12. Talk with your children.

Parents who worry about the potentially negative influence that their ex will have on their children do well by talking more with their kids.

If you are worried about what your ex might say to your child, it helps to have a good, open line of communication with the child such that you can better understand how they see the world.

It helps if they can talk with you about their confusion or any conflicting messages that they hear from their other parent.

13. Leverage your relationship.

Your child is hard wired to want to connect with you. Parents do well to know that the greatest influence that they have on their child is their relationship with them.

Your children are attached to you, and even if they act as if they want nothing to do with you, they are still wired for your approval and care.

Finding ways to leverage the inherent attachment can help create the sort of life that you’d like for your child.

14. Attract, don’t pursue.

Don’t overly pursue a connection with your child, but instead attract their interest to connect with you. When parents are too eager to chase a child who is distancing, then the child will often distance more.

Building on the inherent attachment that your child has with you, try to find ways to create harmonious and connected moments rather than asking them tons of questions and trying desperately to create closeness.

15. Open up.

Share more with your child about what you love, and what you are passionate about. Children who hear more about what parents care about tend to follow their own passions.

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Think about how many famous athletes or musicians children are also athletes or musicians. Children tend to follow the lead of their role models, and if you share what you love, then might emulate that pursuit themselves.

This can go a long way towards creating a lasting bond that can withstand any tension in a coparenting relationship.

16. Embrace change.

A lot of coparents have hidden regrets or live in the past. They wish their family situation could be different, but don’t know how to make it better.

Embracing change can help us move out of past hurts and regrets and find new ways to create the sort of changes we are looking for.

Perhaps you can find new ways to interact with your ex that might foster new family dynamics.

17. Make room for new possibilities.

A lot of divorced or separated couples that I work with tend to become hopeless about anything new happening in the family dynamic. They see patterns of interaction repeat themselves over and over, and they anticipate it will continue this way forever.

Yet if there is one thing we can count on is that things will eventually change. Making room in your mind for new possibilities can alleviate some of the hopelessness that sometimes comes with difficult coparenting situations.

Yes you are divorced, but It is indeed possible to be good coparents. Communication and patience go hand in hand if you want to raise happy and healthy kids as a divorced parent.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

More by this author

David Klow

Marriage and Family Therapist and Author

Coparenting 101: 17 Helpful Strategies for Divorced Parents Look Forward to a Lifelong Bond with Marriage Advice from This Expert Signs You’re in a Healthy Intimate Relationship (and What to Do if Not)

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Published on April 3, 2020

How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

How to Strengthen Family Bonds When You’re Staying at Home

Now is a perfect time to work on making some memories with your closest family members. When situations call for social distancing outside of our home, we need to do the opposite within home.

Now, more than ever, we need to engage with those living in our home. We may be together for a while, but look at it is way, it is a wonderful opportunity to create some good family memories and positive interactions together.

Staying home can be isolating, especially when we hole ourselves up in different rooms than our other family members. Make an effort to spend quality time together. Sitting in the same room on different electronic devices is not quality family time. Put down the elections, join together in one room, and do activities together.

Your family bonding becomes stronger when you spend time doing activities together. Below are 10 ideas you can do with your family and loved ones.

1. Create Photo Albums

If you are like most of the population, you probably have lots of photos and very few physical albums. My parents generation always had photo albums. I can go to my parents’ home in Florida and find at least 20 albums from the lives of my parents and my childhood that I can flip through and reminisce. Physical, tangible photo albums are always cherished.

Look back at the past five years of your life. Were there meaningful trips that you took as a family or major life events such as a Baptism, marriage, or birth of a child that happened in the past few years? Do you have photos of the event stored somewhere digitally such as social media, on your phone, or on a computer? If you do and you want to savor those memories for years to come, then you may want to think about creating some photo albums.

This is a great activity for family of all ages. You can approach the project in one of several ways. You can print the photos and put them in your own physical photo album (the kind our parents used and you can still buy), you can scrapbook, or you can create an online photo album.

Whichever choice you make, the family can be involved in the process. I like the tangible photos and traditional albums or basic (no frills) scrap-booking, as do my kids. We have albums in all three formats. Whichever method you decide to do you can involve the whole family in the creation process.

Scrap booking as a family can be fun too. It does not have to be over the top either. We do it with scrap booking paper (12 by 12 inches), photos, and bits of paper to write captions for the photos. The family uses photo safe glue to secure the photos to paper that each person selected and then we slide the pages into the clear page holders of the album. Albums are easy to create using this method and this method still allows for personalization of each page.

    To do a photo album project, I simply print out the photos that I want to use for the album. Many albums will ship printed photos directly to your home. For example, we did a National Park trip this past summer and visited seven of them in the United States over a three-week span.

    I printed all of the photos from the trip that I thought we could use for the album. Then I cut strips of colored paper. I use these strips to write a sentence of two. I usually put a strip with details on each page, but not every photo because that becomes more tedious.

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    Having everyone select and do a page or two and write the details about what the photos they selected makes it even more meaningful. For example, my son Charlie writing “This is Glacier National Park where we camped and Max got bit by gobs of ants at the dog run and we had to find a vet to help him” makes it memorable. His handwriting and the thing that captured his memory about that particular day are special. It adds his touch to the memories from the trip. Having every family member participate in putting the photos into the book and writing a few sentences for the photos that they are putting into the book helps to make it a shared family experience.

    It is also a wonderful time for revisiting the occasion that you are creating the album about. For example, doing an album as a family for a trip you all took together provides us with plenty to talk about as we go through the photos. My kids always get excited and say “look mom, remember when….” about a hundred times anytime we do an album together. The photo album activity is a bonding activity, as is the reminiscing over special time you spent together in the past.

    2. Indoor Camping with Sheet Forts

    What kid doesn’t love a good sheet fort? Sheet forts are the kind of memories that make a childhood great. If your kids don’t have any sheet fort memories, then now is the time to start making them!

    All you need are some sheets. The bigger, the better. Flat and fitted work just fine. Fitted sheets can be helpful to secure under legs of tables since they have elastic corners and are gathered. We like to use tables, chairs, and sometimes couch cushions too. You create a space using the furniture and then cover the furniture with sheets. You are essentially making indoor tents.

    My kids like to play inside their forts for hours once they are created. I help with the creation, to ensure that things don’t fall over and hurt anyone, but once that is done, I let them play. They will take books, little action figures, and their stuffed animals into their fort to play. Feel free to climb into their fort with them too! They will think you are the best parent ever!

      3. Bake or Cook Together

      Staying at home is a great opportunity to cook or bake together as a family. If you have special recipes that you would like to teach your children, now is a great time to do that.

      If you have grandma’s apple pie recipe that has been passed down for generations, it would be a nice time to make it with your children. You can use the time to talk about your grandparents, the heritage of your family, and perhaps the meaning of the recipe to you.

      After you make the special dessert or dish with your children, it will then have special meaning to them too. They will be able to recall the time that they made that special concoction with you and the memories you made from that day.

      Here’re also some ideas for you: 15 Easy Recipes for Kids That Don’t Require an Oven

      4. Play Board Games Together

      I come from a family that plays games together. Even as adults, we love to play Boggle, Scrabble, Rummikub, and a variety of card games.

      My kids have caught the game bug too. When we go camping or are home over the weekend, we will play Uno, Connect Four, Dominoes, and Memory. These board and card games are inexpensive and provide hours of entertainment. It is also a great way to bond as a family and create memories.

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      Some of my favorite memories from childhood are sitting at the kitchen table playing games with my siblings and parents.

      For very young children, you can start with games like Candy Land and Chutes and Ladders. From there, you can move onto slightly more challenging games for their minds such as Uno, Monopoly Junior, Memory, War (basic card game), and Connect Four.

      My kids started playing Candy Land at the ages of three and four. From there, they have been hooked on family game time ever since. They ask often to play together and now is a great time to teach them to play even more games. The entertainment, laughs, and memories are priceless!

      5. Put on a Show or Play

      Family talent shows, putting on a play, and putting on a musical show do not require an audience. Your family can do the show and record on your phone or other electronic device. It doesn’t need an audience other than you all to make it memorable. It is the experience of collaborating, planning, and executing the show together that make it special.

      My kids began making their own hat creations out of our various art supplies. I have been helping them in the process. We have art class daily as part of our new home school curriculum (I am one of those moms who never wanted to home school, yet I am doing it because our schools are closed indefinitely).

      Art class daily has become hat making time. Once they have made enough hats for a fashion show, I said we would put on a show and record it. It has spurred on their motivation to create elaborate works of art. They are excited about each hat and the show that is to come to fruition.

      You can find free plays and scripts on Free Drama. You can act them out as a family and record just for fun. You can also use a script from the website to create a puppet show. Each family member can then play multiple roles and it opens the door to more characters.

      If you don’t have puppets, then make some! You probably have a basket of mismatched socks like we do. It is a great way to use them at this point. Go to Pinterest for ideas on how to make sock puppets. Creating the puppets together is also a great bonding activity. Once you have your characters made, then you can act it out.

      Don’t forget to video it, because I can guarantee that your kids are going to be interested in seeing their own performance. Such a great way to make family memories and it doesn’t cost much, if anything at all!

      6. Reading Aloud

      Reading a book aloud is a great way to create some bonding time and memories. It is a much better alternative than everyone isolating themselves doing their own activities. Being pulled into the same imaginative world through a book creates a shared experiences.

      I remember reading The Old Man and the Sea to my mom when we were on a car trip when I was a kid. I recall talking about the premise of the book and our opinions about it. It obviously left an impression on me, as I remember this over 25 years later.

      I have read aloud books to my kids too. The first chapter book we read aloud together was Charlotte’s Web. After we read the book together, we then watched the movie. It is sweet how my kids will still point on the book or movie if we see it somewhere in public. They will say “remember when we read the book together and watched the movie?” They say it with such sweetness and innocent pleasure, it is a good reminder that the simple things in life are sometimes the best.

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      Some other good books that we have read aloud together that my kids personally enjoyed were The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, The Secret Garden, and Little Women. I know several friends that have read the Harry Potter series with their children who are slightly older than my six and eight year old children.

      Medium shares a list of 20 great books to read aloud with your kids. Their list is helpful because it has descriptions along with recommended ages for each book.

      If you can’t get out of the house to go to the library, you should look into the digital software that your library utilizes. Visit your local library’s website to find out what apps you will need for you to borrow from their digital library.

      Our library offers a multitude of free e-book downloads. You borrow the materials much like you would a physical book. Usually, the downloads can be kept for 2-3 weeks at a time, depending on your library rules. They also have audible books available for download from many libraries as well. For example, our local library subscribes to Cloud Library. To use it, I simply downloaded the app and entered my library card information requested from the app. I was instantly given access to thousands of audible books free!

      7. Plant a Garden

      This tip only applies if you have a yard, however there are options for creating patio gardens and indoor gardens too. Planting a garden and teaching your child how to tend to vegetables is a wonderful bonding opportunity. You are teaching them real life skills, you will have real food to eat from your own garden, and you are creating memories that will last a lifetime.

      If you ask a person if they had a garden when they were a kid, everyone knows the answer. It is not something you have to think to hard about. Why? Because gardening is an experience. Why not experience it with your family too?

      If you don’t know much about gardening, then you can learn with your child as you go through the process. Here is an article from Bonnie Plants on how to plant a garden.

      If you don’t want to leave your home, then you can order gardening supplies online like I did. Lowe’s dropped off our raised garden bed kit on my doorstep and I ordered a variety of seeds from Amazon. Just look online at the garden stores that are closest to you and see what they ship to doorstep if you don’t want to leave the house.

      8. Host Your Own Family Party

      Just because you are home and can’t have a big party with lots of friends doesn’t mean you can’t still have a party. A party with your family is fun if you decide to make it fun.

      Pick a theme to really make it an event. An 80’s themed dance party is sure to get the whole family laughing and smiling. Pull out your best 80’s looking clothing, rat your hair to get that special 80’s look, put on some 1980’s tunes, and teach your kids some dance moves from the 80’s.

      Having a dance party doesn’t require many people. A party of two is still a party! Make some memories and perhaps show your kids what things were like when you were a kid. They will certainly remember an 80’s themed dance party for many years to come.

      Weekends spent at home don’t mean that they can’t be fun. Make the weekend special even if you have to be home. For example, Friday can be family movie night or family game night. Then Saturday night can be your 80’s dance party. Let your creativity go to work and if you need a few ideas check out this blog article that has 32 Party Theme Ideas .

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      9. Learn an Instrument Together

      No time better than the present to start learning to play that instrument you have always wanted to play.

      Have you always wanted to play the guitar? Then, look online for a basic learning guitar that isn’t expensive, yet has good reviews. We did that for my daughter and purchased a decent quality ukulele from Amazon that was intended for beginners while still having a quality sound (it wasn’t some trinket from a tourist destination that wouldn’t hold a tune.)

      We found lessons online from an instructor who would conduct lessons one on one using Skype. Many instructors use this technology or other free software that allows quality video communications from their home to yours.

      The website we happened to use to find an instructor was TakeLessons.com. You can find instructors that will teach anything from drums to cello to saxophone. Prices vary too. You pick your instructor from their pool of instructors available. This website is basically a service that connects people with talent (some with really good music education too) who can teach to students who are looking to learn.

      Learning to play an instrument together and you are creating memories together! You are also learning a new skill that you can enjoy for years to come. Playing music together is good for the mind and soul!

      The TakeLessons.com website also has language lessons. You can learn a new language as a family. All from the comfort of your own home. I am sure there are many different website that offer lessons on learning another language. Do your research and compare prices before committing to anything.

      10. Plan Future Travels

      While you are learning a new language you can begin planning future vacations. You can do a family meeting and discuss where you would like to go and why.

      It would be even better to have each child research where they would like to take a trip. Each child and/or family member can present a pitch on why your family should travel to that location in the future. They can use their research to tell about the area such as its historical value, recreational features, and the learning experiences that can be had from such travels.

      This doesn’t mean you need to book any travels. It more about learning and finding hope in the future. If we can’t plan for the future, then there is no hope. Make mental plans now, as a family, for what you want to do and where you want to travel someday.

      Make Memories Today!

      There is no time better than the present to start making memories together and bonding as a family. In these times when many people are having to stay home for extended periods of time, it is a great opportunity to bond and connect as a family.

      You have a captive audience with your children at home. Don’t miss out on this time by holing up in separate rooms doing your own activities. Make it a point to chose group activities and engage your family during this time at home.

      Every day alive is a blessing. Every day having your family is blessing. Don’t take your blessings for granted. Love on them and create great memories in spite of the circumstances.

      Featured photo credit: Marisa Howenstine via unsplash.com

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