The Real Deal on Divorce and Co-Parenting
Divorce conjures up mental images of “War of the Roses.” A battling couple convinced that each will outdo the other and “win.” Many real-life divorces end up just this way, with the same finale too: self injury, hurt, bitterness, and chaos in a valiant attempt to avenge the Ex’s wrongdoing. That is dangerous enough for a couple without children, but wreaks multiplied levels of destruction when children are involved. No matter the stage of divorce you are in, the steps below will help enable a stronger co-parenting relationship. This is the real deal.
Couldn’t stay together? Regardless of reason, once you are divorced, you owe it to yourself and your children to find a way to be happy, healthy, and whole. At the very minimum your children deserve the best of the worst: a split family, on the same sheet of music, for the sake of the whole family to be an extended family. Just like the decision to get married, and the decision to divorce, moving forward also requires a commitment mindset. The success of a parenting team is really hinged on one single decision: to put any hard feelings aside to put the children first. To do this you must still be a parenting “team,” regardless of a divorce decree. Knowing the areas of impact can be useful as the “rubber” of your decision meets the “road” of actionable change.
KNOW YOUR ROLE
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.
Mastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.”
We all have “team” roles. There are four general areas where each of our personalities seek different levels of power: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness, and Conscientiousness. Getting to the bottom of this will provide invaluable insight, about you and your Ex, as you partner together to move into the business of co-parenting. Now that you no longer live together, taking a positive approach and teaming based on strengths will really help move forward on the right foot.
Dominance: Dominance seekers are typically head-strong and driven. They tend to display tenacity and strength.
Influence: These types, generally interpersonal people, are social butterflies, enjoy being around people and handling social functions. These people also have a natural knack for personal needs.
Steadiness: People who are stable and predictable typically fall into this category. They are fastidious at working through complex issues and will take the necessary time and steps to do it well.
Conscientiousness: Most conscientious folks like to be right. They are exact in nature and can put a lot of value on correctness, including process and presentation.
You can easily see how each of these four areas can be combined to form many different personality types. Most will have two clear front-runners, while some will have one trait that stands out more than any other.
Once you have both determined what “type” of personality behaviors you display, you will more easily be able to determine your parenting strengths. It will then be easier to decide, together, who will take care of these specific parenting areas for your children. Knowing this information will also allow you to clearly see how you can grease each other’s wheels (and areas of overlap where there will be marked tension) in a co-parenting partnership. For more information about specific personality strengths and ideal roles, please read more here.
Perhaps the most sensitive of areas, rules, is directly tied to power. In many relationships, power, which is hinged on trust, can be a scary topic. Remember, “running rules” are about your children and only your children. These are boundaries to be drawn to keep your child safe and having the same environment in both homes will be key in normalcy and structure.
- Who will have the final say in making the rules? What about big decisions?
In a healthy co-parenting relationship, rules will be developed together and will be agreed upon. But, every once in a while you will need new rules, modified rules, and to dissolve rules as children age out of them. These must be created and enforced in unison or your child will be in the dangerous position of creating his or her own rules and exploiting rules that have been made and enforced by only one parent. Keep in mind, if rules are created without buy-in from the other parent, odds are, they will lack enforcement. Children need two parents in agreement on child rearing.
- How will rules be made?
Generally, it will be enough to just have a quick chat and look for a solution together, but if your struggle as a couple was with communication, there might be a need to involve an attorney or mediator. Keep decision-making communication simple by omitting any personal comments about the partner and keep your child(ren) in mind and at the forefront.
The following sample communication might help:
“Dear Sue: I noticed that little Jimmy is really having a hard time getting settled at bedtime. I try to put him to bed by 8:30 and sometimes read a book or let him take a hot bath before bed if he is extra energetic. What time do you put him to bed? Do you have any nighttime rituals that might help? Any suggestions are appreciated.”
Keep it simple and brief; identify the challenge and make a suggestion. Leave out the blame, sarcasm, and angst. Remember, your Ex is now your business partner in the business of raising children. It is to both of your benefit if you keep that in mind and review all communication with this litmus test: Would I send that to my colleague?
- Rule Enforcement
While you lived together, there was likely an “enforcer.” Now that you both have your own homes and are synced up on the same running rules, you will both need to step up to the discipline plate.
Just behind commitment to partner, and knowing yourself enough to team well, comes the willingness and ability to communicate. Communication is the lifeblood of every partnership. It is also the first function to break down on the side of the road during divorce, and is usually augmented with divorce lawyers. Safely picking this back up will be important to the viability of co-parenting. Answer the following questions together and determine the best means for communicating:
- What is the easiest and most effective means for daily communication? In cases where talking via telephone or in person is stressful, consider email. This gives you both the opportunity to read through and even put something in a “saved” file, if some time is required to remove tension.
- What about communicating emergencies? Telephone calls seem like the natural answer, but if one or both parties travels often, texts might help. Also, if things need to be kept in writing or time-stamped, text messaging might be a good option. Texting also helps keep things brief and to the point, thwarting over-communicating and nasty mud-slinging.
- What will (and won’t) you talk about? The content of communication counts. Consider not talking about personal issues, unless impacting the children. Also, just as mentioned with writing, please strip verbal communication of sarcasm, nastiness, and hurtful sentiment.
- What is off limits to talk about with your children? Some might combat this questions with, “nothing is off limits.” But, there should a standard of communication conduct. Clearly let your child know that what happens with the other parent, as long as it is not illegal, immoral, or unethical, is off limits. If this is not clear from the very beginning, children will end up running between the two homes, whittling down communication and pitting parents against each other. It is very healthy to gently remind your child “If you and Daddy are having a problem, please talk to Daddy because he wants to be able to solve that with you.” Teach your child how to communicate, in safe ways like, “Maybe you can wait until you are not upset and ask Daddy if what you heard was what he really meant.” Your child will not learn how to communicate with his or her other parent if you usurp that, regardless of where they live.
Divorce does not give you a kitchen pass on respect. Regardless of the reasons for divorce, each parent should be respected by the other for partnership purposes. Your children are watching you for cues to how to be an adult. Any disrespect you convey to your ex, fundamentally normalizes disrespect and teaches your child to disrespect others and be disrespected. Sadly, the easiest concept to understand, is the hardest to keep in motion. Be very careful of even the smallest underhanded comments or slight miscommunications that can be misconstrued as ugly.
Your children will be counting on both you and your ex spouse to partner, and for a sense of normalcy. Working together and partnering as a team is the only way to raise children.
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