As a Divorce & Parenting Coach I’m often asked “What is the key to successful co-parenting after divorce?” That’s the million dollar question. And while there is no simple answer, I believe most professionals will agree the smartest strategy is learning how to co-parent respectfully. That means remove anger, hostility or vindictiveness from your interactions with your former spouse.
Of course, that’s not always easy to do. But it is doable. Learning to hone your communication skills, showing empathy and finding areas of agreement whenever possible go a long way towards diffusing tensions and cooperating as parents. The benefits you derive will more than make up for the sense of satisfaction or ego gratification you get when you hold on to those damaging emotions. Remember, your goal is not to re-establish your adult relationship. It’s to become peaceful co-parent of the children you both love!
If you’re intent on creating a child-centered divorce that strives for harmony between you and your ex, you need to initiate the conversation and model win-win solutions. If your ex doesn’t want to cooperate, that’s when your patience will certainly be tested. Look for opportunities to clarify why working together as co-parents as often as possible will create far better outcomes for your children. Over time hopefully your ex will see how much more peaceful the family interactions become when you’re not focused on “winning” or butting heads.
In some cases, this just won’t work. If your former spouse is totally hostile and unapproachable, you may have to work on your acceptance skills. You’ll likely have to let go of the idea that child-centered parenting will occur. At this point, the needs and protection of your children must take precedence over trying to engage your ex.
Sometimes it may be necessary for you to keep the other parent at a distance for the well-being of your children. In other cases it might be your ex who is trying to create the distance from you. These challenges are not easy to resolve, but are certainly worth the effort.
If your extended family is excluded by the less enlightened parent, there are ways to try to work around the situation. If visits have been deterred, encourage your family members to express their love and attention through alternative means: telephone calls, emails, video calls, social networking chats, letters and other creative resources. The key is not to give up. Continue with any means of communication until the family gains access to the children, even if it is a considerable time in the future.
There are no magic wands when one spouse is out to spite or hurt the other through the children. But behaving in the same hurtful way is rarely a viable solution. Focus your energies on discussing the well-being of your children in the short- and long-term. Demonstrate patience and determination while containing feelings of anger and ill will. Should your case need legal action to be resolved, your mature parental behavior will be regarded positively when you’re trying to make your case in court. If for no other reason, consider the judge’s perspective before you take actions that will reap undesirable consequences.
Don’t hesitate to consult professional counselors, mediators, coaches or others who can provide objective guidance on how to restore or create harmony for the sake of your children. Often they can offer perspectives you had not thought of or wanted to consider which can lead to new options for all concerned. The more open and flexible you are, the better the possibility of turning a difficult situation into a more cooperative one.
Remember, your goal is always what’s in the best interest of your children – even when it’s not your own first choice. Don’t forget, the divorce was a parental decision, not one the children made. Give them a life after divorce that’s worth living. When your children are at peace, everyone wins!