Co-parenting following a divorce can be complex, frustrating and confusing. However, every day, parents around the world are coping with the challenges and raising happy, well-adjusted children. As founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network I’ve found there are many factors that can have a positive influence on your effectiveness as a co-parent. All of them begin from the inside out.
In this article, we review eight major keys to insuring a more successful co-parenting outcome for you and your children during, and long after, your divorce. Remember that co-parenting is a life-long endeavor. But when you master the skills suggested here, life will be better and more rewarding for everyone in the family. And that’s a goal worth attaining!
- Watch Your Attitude
Attitude plays a big part in the success of any child-centered divorce. If you approach your divorce with a commitment to making it as positive an experience as possible for the children you love, you are on your way to succeeding.
What attitudes are you conveying about your divorce? Try to catch your thoughts and the way you speak about the divorce. Are you filled with negativity? Are your days consumed with a “poor me” state of consciousness? Are you attracting and spending time with others who share these sentiments? If so, it’s time for an overhaul in your thinking and attitude.
A child-centered divorce is created over weeks, months, and years of attention to positive parenting. It’s never too late to start regardless of how long you have been divorced. The decisions you make today will affect the relationships within your family tomorrow and for decades to come. Co-parenting is a life-long experience. Why not approach it with a positive attitude for the sake of your children?
- Evaluate Your Perceptions
The world is what we perceive it to be. Whether you believe your lot is good or bad—you will be right—and create an outcome to justify your belief.
If you perceive yourself to be a victim in your divorce, you will focus on evidence to prove that to be true.
If you instead take your divorce as a life experience to learn from, you will derive many benefits and value from the divorce, no matter how much pain is also involved. You will also accept responsibility for the part you played in the process and be more willing to contemplate new ways to live your life in the future that will bring more positive results.
Sadly, it’s through challenging experiences that we grow and learn the most from life. Are you discovering meaningful lessons for yourself? Are you role -modeling effective decision-making and cooperative co-parenting, despite the challenges you face?
- Look For The Gift
There are always lessons to be learned from painful experiences. If you perceive those lessons as “gifts” to you—wisdom and opportunities you will never have otherwise experienced—you can move on from your divorce a better, stronger, wiser person. There is always a gift to be received if you look for it.
Take your lessons to heart. Get support in making better decisions in the future. Know what to do and not do when dealing with new relationship issues. If you’ve learned from the past, be grateful for the gift of understanding so you don’t repeat old patterns and instead make smarter choices.
- Be A Respectful Co-Parent
Moving on after divorce is but a small piece of the puzzle if you are a parent. Working through the challenges of creating successful communication with your ex is a goal that must be worked on continuously. Keep your children in mind before making any decisions related to their well-being and you will stay on course.
Because you and your former spouse will be parenting your children for many years—and decades—to come, it makes sense to start off on the best possible course. The first step is to develop a respectful co-parenting relationship with your ex. Remember that your ex is your child’s other parent, whom they love. Treat your former spouse with that level of awareness and dignity in all your communications and he or she will be more likely to return that same level of respect to you. Changes may not happen overnight. But with patience and persistence things can and will improve.
- Learn To Let Go
If you truly want to transform your life after divorce you must learn to let go of negative emotions that hold you hostage. Negative emotions include anger, resentment, blame, jealousy, hatred and anxiety. There is, of course, a time and place for experiencing those emotions. Feel them; mourn the dream that turned sour. Then make a decision to let them go. Do this for your benefit—not on behalf of your former spouse.
Negative emotions can hold you in limbo and suck the life out of you. When you experience negative emotions, you get stuck in a place that’s painful to experience and it makes you unpleasant to be around. For the sake of your children—if not for yourself—decide to let it all go. Be determined to move on.
It’s not always easy to do, but the contrast of living in your pain is not an easy place to be either. Which state would you prefer? Which state will give your kids the better opportunity to enjoy the innocence of their childhood?
When you’re stuck in emotional turmoil your children feel it and are helpless to change it. Reach out for professional support if you can’t release the anger, hurt, grief, and other emotions that hold you hostage in a doom and gloom mindset.
- Practice Forgiveness
The big step after letting go of your negative emotions is learning to forgive. This begins with you. Forgive any mistakes you made related to your marriage or divorce. Forgive your poor choices, immaturity, or naiveté. Acknowledge yourself as someone who is open to personal growth, change, and transformation. Feel your worth and start doing things that express self-love.
Next take the big step of forgiving your ex. This does not mean condoning his or her actions or hurtful behavior. It means you are determined not to let them affect you any longer.
You are cutting the emotional chords that bind you and keep you from enjoying the new possibilities in your life. Behind forgiveness is freedom. Don’t you want to be free of the pain, hurt, insecurity, and rage that holds sway over you? Cut the chord and be free! It’s a gift to yourself and to your children as well!
- Make Time For Yourself!
One of the healthiest things you can do in creating a positive attitude is to make time for yourself! This is a choice that will pay off on many levels in your life. Think about reinventing yourself in new ways that excite you. Take a yoga, meditation, or exercise class. Pursue a new hobby. Volunteer at an animal shelter or hospital. Start a craft or business enterprise that excites you. Make time for strolls in nature, sports activities, watching your weight and diet. Treat yourself to a message or facial. Get a new hairstyle. Indulge when you can.
By nurturing yourself, you make it possible to give your children your total attention when you are with them. During and after divorce your kids need you more than ever. You can’t be there for them if you’re not there for yourself to renew your spirits. It’s all part of the child-centered divorce formula and it works if you play your part.
Do the best you can. Be the best parent and co-parent you can be. Take it day by day. If you need help, reach out for it without embarrassment or shame. You’re not alone. And the help you need is out there for you!
- Handle Your Conflicts
Disagreements are inevitable between divorced parents from time to time. Develop good communication skills and you will minimize the damage that results.
When a conflict with your ex arises, be a good listener. Most disagreements come about from misunderstanding. Clarify what you heard to make sure that was the intention. Mistaken assumptions can cause hurt feelings.
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of paraphrasing what you think your ex said and ask for clarification. Apologize if you misunderstand or leave out something critical. Be understanding if your ex is the one to make the error. Try not to put your ex on the defensive or jump to negative conclusions.
Find a middle ground with which both of you can live. Take turns getting to “win” the debate or issue at hand. Agree to disagree if necessary. Learn to move on.
Try one of the co-parenting scheduling tools available online. They help reduce conflict, simplify communication and coordinate all co-parenting decisions and activities for a better, happier outcome. If talking on the phone results in frequent arguments, choose instead to put all communication in writing. The goal is to make co-parenting smoother, easier and more positive on both sides.
Your children will thank you when they’re grown.
Co-Parenting Bonus: Take The High Road
Dr. Phil often says, “Every relationship needs a hero.” Be the one who can step up and look beyond the ego gratification of being right or getting your way. Why? Because it’s in the best interest of your children for you to minimize conflict.
That doesn’t mean you become a doormat. Stand up for your values. If an occasional concession won’t harm your children’s overall wellbeing, consider whether you can let it go. It’s not about being “right.” It’s about being the best parent you can be for the kids you love.
If you must stand firm, do it without using “I told you so” putdowns. Make your points using “I” language and stating your feelings. Avoid “you” language that’s insulting or insensitive.
It takes a mature, aware adult to take the high road when a conflict is taking place. Be that person. Be the catalyst for behavior you can be proud of. In the future your children will remember who made them feel secure, protected and loved. They’ll acknowledge you for it.
Wait and see!