Going through a divorce is never easy. Even if things end amicably, it’s still a difficult process and it’s normal to feel grief over the relationship you’ve lost.
When you have children, divorce presents an entirely new set of challenges.
Having children with your former spouse means you’ll always be connected somehow. You’ll need to be able to establish a new sort of relationship with them that allows you both to effectively co-parent without causing or fueling unnecessary drama.
So, how can you be a positive co-parent? How can you ensure you’re putting your kids first after your divorce so their lives don’t feel completely uprooted? Let’s cover a few tips you can use to do your part as a co-parent.
Map Out a Plan of Action
If you can still get along with your former partner and your divorce ended on “good terms,” it should be relatively easy to co-parent without arguing or disagreeing on every decision.
However, that’s not always the case.
If it’s difficult for you and your ex to get along or agree on things, one of the best ways to be an effective co-parent is to create a plan or strategy you’re both willing to follow. When you have a concrete plan in place, you won’t have to meet as often to discuss things, because you’ve already agreed on them.
Your plan of action should focus on solving any problems that might arise, including everything from scheduling to how to handle discussions about serious issues or situations in your child’s life. You can create a problem-solving flowchart to make it easier to visualize, address, and solve these issues. During this process, you’ll need to take the following steps:
- Define the problem.
- Brainstorm solutions.
- Pick a solution that works.
- Implement your solution.
You can then reconnect with your co-parent to discuss the results of your solution and what you might want to do differently next time. Not only does this type of plan keep you on the same page, but it also helps reduce the chances of an argument over any little things that might come up.
Put Your Children First
If you have a hard time getting along with your ex or you’re just struggling to deal with the differences in your life after a divorce, the best thing you can do is to make decisions with the well-being of your children in mind.
That requires effective communication.
Of course, it’s not always easy to communicate with a former spouse, especially if there’s contention in the relationship. The worst thing you can do is put your children in the middle of that contention. They shouldn’t serve as a “go-between” for communication.
Instead, sit down with your ex and discuss how you can communicate and make decisions with your children’s best interests in mind. Some of the best co-parenting communication techniques you can use to keep things productive include:
- Staying respectful
- Practicing a cooperative approach
- Providing necessary information
- Trying to stay on the same page
There’s no one single way to communicate. Figure out what works best for you, as co-parents, so you can maintain consistent communication without overwhelming yourself. It’s okay for your conversations to occur via email or even through a co-parenting app if that’s what you’re most comfortable with.
In addition to effective communication, being on the same page means deciding what’s best for your kids in every situation. It’s tempting to be “selfish” and fight back against every decision. However, when you both let go of your pride and pain, it will be easier to make decisions that help your kids feel secure. Offer them consistency and safety, and set a positive example they can carry into the future and use as they develop their own relationships.
Manage Your Mental Health
One AARP study found that up to 28% of people experience depression following a divorce. Even if you don’t receive an official diagnosis, it’s not uncommon to feel down, stressed, or even anxious about the way your life is changing.
When you have kids, those feelings can often be amplified. You might worry about what their lives will look like now, how your schedule will change with them, or you might even dread the fact that you’ll have to split your time with them evenly with your ex.
Protecting your children’s mental health is crucial. However, as long as they know they are loved and safe — and they maintain some consistency in their lives — they’re less likely to experience many mental hardships. Managing your own mental health is just as important, though it may not be as easy.
You can’t effectively take care of your kids if you’re overwhelmed with stress, sadness, or grief. Find ways to practice self-care every day so you can reduce your stress levels and keep moving forward. Things like exercise, mindfulness, meditation, growing a garden, or journaling can all benefit your mental health and make it easier to manage symptoms of sadness or anxiety.
Having a strong support system can also make a big difference. It’s not uncommon to feel alone after a divorce. Leaning on the people who care about you can make it easier to fight that feeling and stay strong for your children. In some cases, you might even benefit from seeking out professional help from a therapist or counselor.
Co-parenting after a divorce might seem stressful now. However, by putting your kids first and committing to a drama-free relationship with your ex, it’s possible to successfully raise your kids together – apart. Keep these tips in mind as you move forward, take a deep breath, and know that as long as you commit to being a positive co-parent, you’re giving your kids the best chance at a normal, happy, healthy life.
Guest Author Bio
Jori Hamilton is a writer and journalist from the Pacific Northwest who covers social justice issues, healthcare, and politics. You can follow her work on twitter @HamiltonJori, and through her portfolio at Writer Jori Hamilton.