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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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