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Divorce and separation can be emotionally
traumatic, particularly when children are involved. Though the relationship has
dissolved, both parents remain forever connected. And if they share custody of
the children, they must form a new relationship that revolves around
co-parenting despite the emotional turmoil that surrounds them.
Many parents worry about how such a turn of events will impact their children. The truth is that when the family unit ruptures, nobody is immune. In theory, both parents may want what’s best for the children. But what happens if they don’t share the same vision? What happens if communication breaks down? It may be daunting for parents to deal with the many issues that can surface when raising children in two separate households. For this reason, many professionals advise drawing up a co-parenting plan regarding key issues. Topics such as visitation schedule, education, finances, holidays, and medical needs should be addressed in clear ways.
Yet despite reaching an agreement on paper, emotions can sometimes get in the way. Family Therapist Vikki Stark states, “The biggest challenge in co-parenting is learning to separate the hurt and angry feelings left over from the divorce from the new role you have as co-parents.” Feelings like anger, resentment and jealousy may become obstacles. Parents can sometimes get derailed as they try to navigate their way through the pain.
The most essential aspect of effective co-parenting is placing and keeping the focus on the children. Children should know they are more important than the conflict that ended the relationship. They should feel that the love of both parents is always there, despite challenging circumstances. When parents manage to cooperate and communicate with minimal conflict, children will feel secure and will adjust more easily.
John McMurray, a resident of Laval, has been divorced for 5 years. He himself is a child of divorce and draws experience from both his childhood and his own experience. He states, “It is important to make sure the child does not feel that they were the cause of the split. The confidence that you can instill in the kids of a separation will go a long way in promoting their own self-awareness.”
So how does one co-parent effectively? Here are five tips to keep in mind:
Step outside your pain
As stated earlier, it is essential to step outside your own feelings. One strategy is to approach the communication as a business transaction, void of emotion. “I suggest that parents be extremely disciplined in order not to drag the kids into the mess of the marriage by thinking of co-parenting as a collaboration you might do at work,” says Stark. “You may have to work with someone you don't really like, but in the interest of doing a good job and not getting fired, you have to hold your nose and behave appropriately. Raising kids together is the most important job you have to do!”
In other words, don’t take anything personally and remain as objective as possible. Remember to breathe and think before you speak. Try to react less. When both parents constantly react to one another, the vicious cycle continues.
Communicate effectively and remain child-focused
Since the wellbeing of the children is the top priority, all conversations should remain child-focused. Talk about your children’s needs, not yours. Try to leave any unnecessary drama out of it. It can get particularly challenging because parents need to communicate fairly frequently when raising their children in separate households. They will need to find the method of communication that works best for them. Some couples are able to talk, while others limit themselves to email or text when things get heated. There are even digital applications that help with communication and keeping things organized. Yves Poirier, a resident of Laval, co-parents two children with his ex-partner. He says, “We use the app 2houses. It makes the communication about the kids easy, especially when a change to the visitation schedule is required.”
It’s about respect
Another important rule is to treat the other parent with respect. Never say anything disparaging about the other parent in front of the children. Never blame or demean them, and certainly don’t allow yourselves to fight in front of the children. Children of divorce and separation are already dealing with enough emotional turmoil, so it is primordial that they be protected from further conflict.
Maintaining heathy boundaries is also crucial, as is respecting the children. Do not vent to your children and certainly never use them as messengers. And as difficult as it may be at times, parents need to respect their children’s relationship with the other parent.
Being flexible will benefit everyone. No matter how detailed your co-parenting plan is, life happens and changes can occur. Both parents need to be willing and able to let go of control. They need to not only cooperate, but also, compromise at times. Neither parent can have things their way, every time. It’s a give and take.
Stark says, “It's important to be flexible, in spite of having clear boundaries. If Father's Day falls on a day the kids are usually with mom, switch the schedule so the kids can be with their dad.” Effective co-parenting is a continuous and ongoing job. Life is full of changes, and both parents need to take these into account. In addition, the needs of the children will vary and evolve as they grow, so remaining flexible is vital.
Divorce can be cataclysmic. It can turn your whole world upside down. In the midst of co-parenting challenges, both parents also need to deal with their own pain. Feeling sad, angry or hurt is completely normal. It is healthier to acknowledge your feelings rather than repress them; however it’s essential to find positive ways to navigate through those emotions. Seek professional help, talk to friends, take up a new hobby, keep a journal- do whatever you need to do so you can work through it.
Nurturing yourself is especially important when your child is with the other parent. You may feel a sense of loss or you may feel lonely. In those moments, try to maintain a positive disposition. Take that time to rest, pursue some hobbies or interests, or be in the company of friends. Above all else, be patient and gentle with yourself.
If you would like to learn more about how to co-parent effectively, there are numerous resources available. You can read books, see a therapist or a CLSC worker. There are also many online forums for single parents to share their experiences and seek support. As with all things, it will get easier with time. Let the love you feel for your children guide you, and things will eventually fall into place.
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