For years, mothers who were unhappy with their husbands were encouraged, even pressured, to stay in their marriages “for the sake of the children.” That blanket advice is no longer adequate; there are several situations in which seeking a divorce will have the best outcome for everyone involved. No child should have to watch one parent heaping abuse on the other, or experience the fallout that results from an unhappy union.
If you do decide to split from your spouse, it is imperative that both of you are committed to co-parenting the best way you know how. While there is no shame in being a single mother or constructing an alternate family, children who are close to both biological parents benefit from a continuing relationship with both parents — and with any other loving, supportive adults who enter their life as step-parents.
Stay Calm and Co-parent:
Divorce and shifting family configurations can lead to messy, even volatile emotions. Check out these 5 tips for staying calm and co-parenting.
1. Communicate Like Crazy
You and your ex may have had a hard time communicating when you were married — but if there was ever an occasion to do something “for the kids’ sake,” that time is now and that something is “learn to communicate openly and honestly.”
Agree on a primary and secondary method of communication with your former spouse. It doesn’t much matter if you talk on the phone, text, email, Skype, or use Messenger or another chat client, as long as you’re both on the same page. In the event of an emergency, you should be able to get in touch as quickly and easily as possible.
If you’re on amicable terms, a semi-regular IRL meetup to discuss sensitive or in-depth issues can really help avoid miscommunication issues and strengthen your commitment to the children’s well-being.
Depending on the age of the kids, consider giving them the tools to communicate with both parents, as well. Being able to call or text just to say hello is important, especially in the early days of a separation or divorce. Another option is to set up a standing phone or Skype date during which children can chat with the current non-custodial parent.
2. Use Online Co-Parenting Tools
There are several well-designed and -supported online tools that can help everyone stay in touch. These sites, and their corresponding apps, become especially useful once you start adding step-parents (or grandparents) to the mix. Most co-parenting sites offer tools like:
- Color-coded calendars and visitation schedules
- Shared expense management tools
- Document/record storage for medical records and forms, school forms, etc.
- Homework tracking
- Shopping lists
- Meal planning features
- Messaging options
- Reminders and lists
Some of these are paid services, while others are free or freemium. It might take a little experimenting to find the one that works for your modern family, so err on the side of overcommunicating until the dust settles.
3. Remember What (and Who) Is Important
The divorce is about you and your spouse. Custody agreements and co-parenting, on the other hand, are about making the best possible choices and arrangements for your children to thrive.
It’s difficult to stay detached, especially if the split is messy, but parenting experts and psychologists say that keeping kids’ welfare top of mind is crucial. Don’t let your gripes with your former partner affect your attitude or communication with the children.
Resist the urge to use them as pawns, go-betweens or foot soldiers in whatever battles you’re waging. And remember the number-one rule of divorce that everyone, from your in-laws to your divorce lawyers, will tell you: no bad-mouthing the other parent. Ever.
4. Stay As Flexible As Possible
Sharing custody brings with it many changes in the children’s lives. Some are exciting (two Christmases! No sharing a bedroom with a sibling at Dad’s!) and some are an absolute drag (remembering to take school bags and gym shoes from one home to the other, taking out twice the trash).
Especially in the early days, be patient when your child forgets their trumpet, their homework, or their lucky ball cap at your ex’s house. Be prepared to do a lot of back-and-forthing to fetch such things, feed the hamster, or just because your child wants to give Mom a hug.
5. Understand the Kids Might Be Conflicted
Children whose parents have recently split often suffer from a “greener grass” phenomenon. When they are at Mom’s, all they want is to be with Dad, and vice-versa. In most cases, they feel conflicted about their loyalties, and confused about how they’re feeling.
It’s up to you whether or not to indulge these desires. If you and your ex can roll with the punches in terms of schedule changes, such flexibility can reassure the kids that they’re the number-one priority for both of you. And showing regard for their emotional well-being goes a long way toward helping the child adapt.
But be on the lookout, lest this behavior turn manipulative. There will come times when you must be firm about staying at Dad’s or spending the weekend with Mom. Don’t allow your kids to guilt you into giving them whatever they want, whenever — that way madness lies.
At the End of the Day
Remember that you and your ex are both going to make mistakes and take missteps. That’s OK! What really matters is that the two of you are on the same team — your children’s team. If you stay positive, show them plenty of love, support them as well as you know how, and keep divorce issues and custody issues separate, then your kids will likely come through just fine.
Those of you who have been down this road — what’s your take? Do you have any words of wisdom or advice you wish someone had given you? Any recommendations for a good communication app? Please share your thoughts in the comment section!