There’s nothing worse than a divorced couple using their children as the rope in a game of tug-o-resentment.
They love their kids, of course. They have the best intentions. But ten out of ten parents who fall into this trap do so because they forgot the most important thing: It’s not about them!
And when it comes to fighting and kids, even when you win, you lose.
Most parents want their children to feel safe and loved, to experience healthy relationships in all of their evolving forms, and learn productive communication skills. Most parents only need to recognize that it starts with them.
Over the last two decades we’ve worked with thousands of divorcing couples to create, execute and evolve and their parenting plans. Below are our top tips for becoming successful co-parents, from the architecture of the parenting plan, to the intricacies of execution.
LET IT GO:
You are divorced. From this point forward your primary relationship with your spouse is for the benefit of your children. While emotions may bubble up, those emotions won’t do anything to help your kids feel safe, or loved, or sure about who is going to pick them up on Wednesday. Successful co-parents do not bring the old resentments into their new lives. They recognize that both they, and their children have been through enough, and focus their energy on healing and better days to come.
THINK IT THROUGH:
Your mediator will help guide you through pertinent questions and all the nuts and bolts of parenting time, transportation, activities, child support, college funds, down to the doctor’s appointments. But it also helps to consider the time and experiences with your children that are the most important to you. Is it extended time for vacations? A particular holiday? Knowing what is important to you will help you make smart compromises, and come to a more satisfying agreement. Likewise, it’s important to take the time to consider your own needs and where you might desire some flexibility. Are you interested in a job that would require travel? Do you see yourself going back to school? You are about to embark on a whole new life, outside of your role as a parent. Consider this in your plan, and where you might give to get what you want.
WIN AN OSCAR:
Great co-parents play the role of great co-parents impeccably. They speak well of each other in person and behind each other’s backs. They treat each other as friends and do their best to accommodate within reason and for the good of the children. They show up at games and recitals, birthdays and graduations and leave other people awed by how civilized they are. Perhaps you and your ex are these people and you function beautifully as friends. But if not, rest assured that faking it eventually leads to feeling it. It’s better for the kids. And it’s better for everyone around you.
Two homes, ONE set of rules. Maintaining a united front gives children a sense of security and familiarity. Despite the changes in the physical family unit, they sense their parents communicating and collaborating on their behalf. This will save your kid thousands of hours aggressively manipulating you with “But dad lets me… But mom lets me…” Two houses, ONE set of rules. Of course, rules and standards evolve as children grow, and kids are great at putting you on the spot with their big eyes. Make a rule not to make rules on the spot. When something new comes up, check in with your parenting partner and agree on one approach.
TAKEOFF AND LANDING:
Watching your kids leave home can be incredibly emotional, but it’s imperative that you don’t make them feel like they’re hurting you or betraying you by leaving. It’s okay to let them know how much you love them and miss them when they’re gone, but balance that by telling them about a project you’re excited to work on or a friend you plan to see, so they can enjoy their time away knowing that you’re okay.
Likewise, remember that each time your kid lands back home, it takes a moment to adjust to the altitude. If they need some space to re-acclimate to their surroundings and to recall which toys and sneakers are where, try not to take it personally. Establish takeoff and landing rituals. When your kid lands, maybe it’s always taco night, or you catch up on a show that only you watch together. It doesn’t have to be Disneyland, just something to look forward to. For takeoff, consider a packing ritual. It’s difficult to be spread between two homes, and constantly forgetting this or that can cause unnecessary stress and a feeling of being in limbo. Take some time to talk through all the happenings of the upcoming week, make a check-list and pack accordingly. Bonus: it offers you time to share some really nice quality time with your kids.
You give up almost everything to be a parent, and you may be surprised by how much you appreciate having regular breaks from the kids, and a little grown-up space in your life. Do not waste a second feeling guilty about that. Instead, occupy yourself with creating the next glorious phase of your life. The more fulfilled you are, the more you have to give and share with your kids. Know that your physical, mental and spiritual health directly affects theirs, and that a little radical self-care might be the best thing you can do for them.
NOTHING IS SET IN STONE:
Your kids will get older. Their needs and schedules will change. You or your co-parent may change jobs, relocate, get re-married, all of which will affect your original parenting plan. It’s normal to grow out of a plan as your lives naturally evolve. The more you practice good communication, and good co-parenting along the way, the easier it will be to revisit and renegotiate. Contact our Denver office to start your plan for the future.