Still Parenting Together
Major relationship changes, such as separation or divorce, can present challenges, as well as opportunities, for parenting together.
Even in the best of circumstances, it’s critical to be prepared and give consideration to how things will work when parenting together after a separation or divorce. It will not only help you and your child adjust but also to thrive in the new circumstances of your lives.
Given whatever legal circumstances may be involved, you and your child’s other parent will still need to start by addressing some basics for your new parenting situation.
- How will your roles change, if at all, now that your relationship has changed?
- How will your time with your child change and what will that mean for your relationship? What positive outcomes can there be from the change of time?
- More focused time with your child?
- More time for yourself?
- Less conflict in the home?
- If there is stress, anger or sadness about the change in your relationship, how will that affect your individual and collective parenting?
- How can you make sure both you and your “ex” have a positive relationship with your child and are able to respond well to her or his needs?
Writing things down helps to make clear agreements and gives you something to refer to when there is a lack of clarity or conflict. Create a specific co-parenting plan using a list, chart or Excel file to record both broad and specific needs and how they will be addressed. Your list can include items such as:
- House rules: Bedtime, sweets, computer or screen time, chores.
- Social time: Friends, family, texting.
- School: Homework, meeting with teachers, after-school programs.
Remember that, ultimately, you can’t control what happens at the “other parent’s” house. Your child can adjust to two sets of rules — don’t put them in the middle of your disagreements.
Lots of Options
Just as there can be lots of ways to parent effectively based on your family values and the individual personalities of family members, there can be many different ways to effectively co-parent after separation or divorce.
Talk with other parents in similar situations. Ask specifics.
- What decisions did they feel were most important to take care of right away and what could wait?
- How did they make decisions?
- What decisions did they make about handling emergencies, including what constitutes an emergency?
- How did they deal with discipline?
You don’t need to go by everything other people do, but picking and choosing from a variety of ideas and solutions can help generate fresh ideas and create a combination that works for your family.
Acting as Adults
You don’t need to be friends with your “ex,” but getting along, listening and being accountable to each other around parenting issues are essential. It will not only be helpful to your children directly but will also be a great example of the importance of respecting others, even when you have differences.
- Some children may hear that parents in divorces will say “mean things” about the other parent. Reassure them that won’t happen and see that it doesn’t.
- When you have a conflict with the other parent, don’t bring your child into the middle of it. Work out what you need to as adults, apart from your child.
- Remember and encourage the positive things your spouse does as a parent – are they great with getting your child to open up, can they make your child laugh? It will provide some balance for the challenging times and help your children get the most benefits from each of their parents’ strengths.
- Make sure you are getting the support you need from friends and family. Remember the need all parents have for self-care – eating and sleeping well, having time alone and social time.
Children are Children
- Be honest with your child about what is happening in age-appropriate ways. Reassure them it is not their fault. Children may think they did something to cause the change in their family.
- Encourage your child to share feelings. Listen without judgment.
- Give your children lots of love and support.
- Maintain your children’s support system.
- As your relationship with your ex-spouse or partner changes, so may your relationships with family members, such as in-laws, mutual friends, or others. Your child’s significant relationships need to be maintained. They may be even more essential now as your child goes through this transition.
If you can’t work out the details you need to, look for outside help. Counselors, lawyers, mediators all can provide an outside, calm and needed perspective. There are even “co-parenting coordinators” in some communities that specifically address these issues.
If there is any history of family violence, sexual abuse, substance abuse or other serious issues, you will need to seek assistance and information from professionals about how to approach co-parenting issues and if co-parenting is a viable option. The Oregon Judicial Department has put out a Safety Focused Parenting Plan Guide found at http://courts.oregon.gov/OJD/docs/OSCA/cpsd/courtimprovement/familylaw/sfppgentirever04-091003.pdf
If you need to report abuse or neglect you can call this toll-free number for reporting to the Oregon Department of Human Services 1-855-503-SAFE (7233).
With mutual respect and focusing on the needs of your child, you and your child’s other parent can provide a healthy, loving environment and a strong family they can rely on.
This article is brought to you by Parenting Now! Parenting Educators and authors, Tova Stabin, Claire Davis and Lynne Swartz and consultant Jay Thompson (andupdatemywebsite.com). Parenting Now! is passionate about happy, healthy families. For more information about Parenting Now! contact us here.
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