Committing to a conscious divorce means protecting your children from end-of-marriage related trauma. When the marriage ends in a cooperative manner, divorce can be transformed from a contentious event into one that can inspire healthy growth.
In fact, engaging in divorce with a positive focus can better prepare both you and your kids for your new lives. But getting the divorce finalized is only the first step. Where the rubber really meets the road is how you navigate your new relationship as a co-parent.
To this end, it’s vital you keep the same mindful, child-centered approach to co-parenting. Conscious co-parenting means both parents put aside any negativity they may have toward one another, so they can place their children’s needs first.
While this may sound simple, it can be challenging. To help you get started, we’ve outlined six steps that are crucial to a collaborative approach to co-parenting.
1. Establish a “professional” relationship with your co-parent
Your marriage with your ex may done, but your relationship as co-parents will last a lifetime. Think of your new co-parenting relationship as a business partnership, where your business is raising successful, well-adjusted children. This professional approach can not only help you become a more effective parent, but it also helps prevent unnecessary conflict over personal boundaries and past problems.
For example, if you schedule a time to pick up the kids, treat it like an appointment with a colleague; don’t blow it off or be late. Be as courteous to your co-parent as you would with any business colleague.
This can be difficult, especially in the beginning when emotions are still raw. Just keep in mind that most people you work with aren’t necessarily your friends, but you must still work together to get the job done. Your job as co-parent is no different.
2. Communicate clearly, cordially, and consciously with your co-parent
Effective communication is paramount to successful co-parenting. This can present a challenge if poor communication was a primary cause of the divorce. By setting a professional tone, however, you may find communication becomes easier, since it’s free from emotional baggage.
Stop blaming and finger pointing, and leave emotion out of your correspondence. Instead of accusing, think in terms of discussing. Co-parenting isn’t about one side winning and the other losing; it’s about teamwork, compromise, and conflict avoidance.
When communicating, make your kids and their healthy adjustment the focal point. Tailor everything you say in terms of shared responsibility, using terms like “we” and “us,” instead of “you” or “me.” Avoid anything judgemental: stick to the facts and how they affect your children’s well-being.
Never talk down about your ex in front of the kids, and don’t allow your children to be disrespectful toward your co-parent, either. You never want them to feel like they must choose a side.
Finally, don’t use your children as messengers. Speak directly to the co-parent yourself. With so many convenient ways to communicate these days, you should have no problem getting your message across directly. Indeed, there are special websites and apps, such as Coparently and Our Family Wizard, specifically designed to enhance co-parenting communication and allow you to easily share information and even upload joint calendars and schedules.
3. Create a comprehensive parenting plan
Every successful partnership requires planning, so sit down together and come up with a set of mutually agreed-upon guidelines and routines. This is essential for fostering security and predictability to help the children quickly and comfortably adapt to their new situation.
Even though they may despise it, kids thrive on structure, so be consistent. If the rules and schedule are different when they’re with mom than when they’re with dad, this can cause conflict and confusion. Children develop best when parents present a united front, so make sure they understand rules will always be enforced.
The more details the plan includes, the better. Try to anticipate potential problems ahead of time. How will holidays, birthdays, and vacations be shared? How will you resolve major disagreements between co-parents? How will new romantic relationships be handled? Be sure to revisit and update the plan regularly as the kids mature.
Developing such a comprehensive plan with an ex is challenging, so it’s often helpful to have a third-party present for advice and dispute mediation. A Personal Family Lawyer® can either help you develop and maintain conscious co-parenting arrangements or refer you to trusted colleagues in the community who can do so and make sure that your estate planning reflects your custody wishes.
Next week, we’ll continue with part two in this series, discussing the key steps in conscious co-parenting.