Last weekend, I was sitting under a tent at my 18-year-old son’s final swim meet for his summer league. My son started swimming at age seven and this was to be the last time his family would have the excitement of watching him compete. Joining me under the tent was my ex-husband, Bryan; his wife, Kelly; her sister; as well as Kelly’s niece and nephew; Bryan’s mother, Terry (my former mother-in-law); my current husband, Scott; and the 11-year-old son I share with him, Lucas. As we like to say, this was “dysfunctional family fun” at its finest! Fun fact…my 11-year-old also refers to Terry as “Grandma Terry,” because he has lost both of his grandmothers and Terry is happy to fill in.
Divorce can be a challenging and emotionally charged experience for all parties involved, especially when children are part of the equation. However, Bryan and I are proud of the way we have managed to prioritize the well-being and happiness of our children by establishing a solid co-parenting relationship. In fact, this is essential to children’s happiness, I believe. Co-parenting is not for the weak! It requires collaboration, effective communication, and a commitment to putting the needs of your children first, despite how you might feel about the dissolution of your marriage relationship. The following are some strategies we have used and practical tips to help navigate our co-parenting after our divorce:
- Prioritize Open and Honest Communication: I believe effective communication forms the foundation of success when co-parenting. Openly discuss important matters related to your children, such as education, health care, and extracurricular activities. Maintain a cordial and respectful tone, keeping in mind that your conversations are centered around your children’s best interests. Utilize various communication methods such as face-to-face discussions, phone calls, emails, or even co-parenting apps to ensure a consistent and transparent flow of information. One thing Bryan and I established early on was a spreadsheet where we tracked all child related expenses, so that we could ensure that we could “settle up” fairly at the end of every month.
- Develop a Co-Parenting Plan: A well-structured co-parenting plan can provide clarity and stability for both parents and children. Work together to create a comprehensive plan that outlines schedules, responsibilities, and decision-making processes. Cover essential aspects, such as visitation schedules, holidays, vacations, and the division of financial obligations. Be flexible and open to revising the plan as your children’s needs evolve over time. This has been especially true as our children entered the teenage years. My 24-year-old told me recently that she so appreciated that her dad and I never made it challenging for her by arguing in front of her or demanding that she spend time at one house over the other. Even though we did trade off major holidays, birthdays were always celebrated together and even now, when she travels to Denver from her home in Chicago, the entire family gets together for dinner.
- Promote Consistency and Routine: Children thrive on stability, so maintaining consistency across both households is crucial. Strive for similar routines, rules, and expectations in both homes, ensuring your children feel secure and understand what is expected of them. This is not always easy. Bryan and I have different parenting styles and would have whether we were married or not. There was an instance early in our divorce where my daughter wanted to get a lizard. I had told her “Absolutely not! I do not do reptiles of any kind!” She quickly said, “Dad would get me a lizard.” I picked up the phone and Bryan and I discussed getting our daughter a reptile and both decided that the answer was still “no.” She learned right away that her dad and I talk … frequently. No one could get away with “he said, she said” in our house!
- Respect Each Other’s Boundaries: Respecting each other’s boundaries is essential for fostering a healthy co-parenting dynamic. Recognize that your ex-spouse may have different parenting styles, and refrain from criticizing or undermining their choices. Encourage your children to develop positive relationships with both parents, fostering an environment where they feel safe and loved regardless of which household they are in.
- Keep Children Out of Conflict: It’s vital to shield your children from any conflicts or disagreements that may arise between you and your ex-partner. Avoid discussing legal matters, financial issues, or personal disputes in front of your children. Create a safe space for your children to express their feelings, assuring them that their emotions are valid and that they are not responsible for the divorce. Again, this is not always easy. Especially early in the divorce, you may have strong, negative feelings toward your ex-spouse. It is so important to find outlets to express those feelings, but I felt strongly that I could not “vent” to my children about their father, as they love him dearly and recognize themselves in him. Criticizing him, I felt, could feel like I was criticizing a part of who they are.
- Foster a Supportive Network: Co-parenting can be emotionally challenging, so it’s crucial to develop a support network. Seek guidance from family, friends, or professional counselors who can provide unbiased advice and perspective. Joining support groups or attending parenting classes specifically designed for divorced parents can also offer valuable insights and a sense of community. Early in my divorce, I ended up teaching a parenting class for those going through divorce for Adams County. I remember one thing from the course that stuck with me … “You will always be a family, even though it will look different.”
- Practice Self-Care: Remember to take care of yourself. Divorce and co-parenting can be physically and emotionally draining, so it’s important to prioritize self-care. Engage in activities that promote your well-being, such as exercising, pursuing hobbies, spending time with friends, or seeking therapy if needed. By taking care of yourself, you’ll be better equipped to support your children during this transitional period.
Co-parenting after divorce has been a continuous process between my ex and me for the past 16 years that has required effort, compromise, and dedication from us both, as well as our new spouses. By prioritizing open communication, respect, consistency, and your children’s well-being, you too can build a successful co-parenting relationship. Remember, the key is to put aside personal differences, focus on the needs of your children, and work together to create a supportive and loving environment that allows them to thrive. The statement I heard in that parenting class so long ago, “you will always be a family, even though it will look different” couldn’t be truer today. Bryan and I have managed to maneuver through many of life’s ups and down with our kids together. It hasn’t always been perfectly smooth, but we are proud of how far we have come, and I believe it has helped our children come out on the other side stronger and more resilient.