The divorce is finalized. You and your former spouse have split all of the assets. You each have moved into your own home. The dust has settled and life is moving forward. You now have a new family unit, one in which you and your former spouse share time with the children, and still see each other at extra-curricular activities, religious events and at other activities involving your children, but you don’t reside together and maybe you or your former spouse is living with or spending significant time with someone new. Your divorce settlement and parenting plan detail when the children spend time with each parent for holidays and vacations. However, your divorce settlement and parenting plan do not detail how to co-parent with your former spouse.
Learning to co-parent with your former spouse is like building muscle. At first, it is difficult and you are not really sure what to do or how to react to a new romantic partner or your children’s complaints about a new romantic partner, or the changes to the children’s schedules and homework not being completed in a timely manner. You have to build that muscle. The best way to co-parent build your co-parenting muscle is to start by being open minded about your former spouse’s new life, or about the challenges your former spouse faces because of the new family unit format and new responsibilities. There is no need for judgment. Maybe you don’t like her new boyfriend or maybe his new girlfriend dresses inappropriately, or maybe you think your former spouse is unorganized, but this should not stop you from putting your children’s needs first through a good co-parent plan.
So, how do you put the children’s needs first? Start by meeting the new romantic partner and welcome that person to the family. If that person is temporary, it is not likely you or the children will be introduced, but if that person is important to your former spouse, they are important to you, too. They will be assisting your former spouse in the parenting responsibilities and attending the children’s events. You want an open, friendly line of communication with that person. Maybe that person will help you and your former spouse coordinate events and timesharing exchanges and act as a buffer between you and your former spouse. It is likely that the new romantic partner will end up taking care of your children for your former spouse after school or on weekends when needed. If you are lucky, that new romantic partner can help you in a pinch if you have a last-minute meeting and can’t pick up the kids after school. Being a helpful resource to the new romantic partner will help your children. If your youngest cannot sleep without a specific blanket or toy, purchase that blanket or toy and give it to the new romantic partner with the secret that if the child cannot sleep, this will do the trick. Listen to that person’s opinion and observations about your former spouse and your children. His or her perspective might be exactly correct and help you and your former spouse co-parent and solve problems regarding your children.
Your children view themselves as half of you and half of your former spouse. If you have a criticism about how homework was completed, or that your former spouse was late or forgets important dates, keep that to yourself. If you call your former spouse lazy or unorganized or uncaring to or around your children, they will internalize that they are lazy or unorganized or uncaring. You do not want that for your children. Even If your child has a criticism about the other parent, do not express an opinion about that criticism. Ask how your child feels about it. Talk to the child about what responsibilities he or she can take on so they feel more in control. Help your child solve problems and remind the child that your former spouse loves him or her.
Mistakes will happen and both you and your former spouse will mess things up. Do not fall into the blame game with your former spouse. That is a ticket to nowhere quickly. If you each thought the other was bringing the snack for soccer practice and nothing was brought – pool some cash and one of you run to the store to remedy the situation. If it was your former spouse’s turn, and he or she forgot again, instead of being frustrated, offer to provide all snacks for soccer practice that are assigned to the family and ask your former spouse to split the cost with you. This creates a win-win situation. Snack will not be forgotten, you will share the cost, and your children will see you and your former spouse working together to make their lives easier. Further, you will not fight or feel frustrated with your former spouse over an inconsequential issue.
Fights will happen after the divorce. Maybe you and your former spouse do not agree on which school to enroll your children in. Set aside time to speak to your former spouse when the children are not around, and discuss the pros and cons of each person’s opinion. Be openminded. Maybe the school closer to your former spouse’s home has a higher rating, or a great aftercare program that would really suit your children. Unless this is an impossibility for you, you should consider their school. By listening to your former spouse’s concerns and airing your concerns, most parents figure out a way to compromise. Discord happens when you decide not to listen and instead choose to dig your heels in.
Sometimes your former spouse will want to talk to you about an issue he or she is having with one of the children. Listening to the problem without placing blame and without trying to find a solution may be the best thing you can do. If your former spouse is looking for help, he or she will ask you if the situation is happening in your home or what you do when it happens. Only then should you share how you handle that particular issue. Do not offer any other advice regarding any other parenting issue. Express your support for your former spouse or commiserate and let him or her know you are on the same side.
Learning to co-parent with your former spouse may be difficult at first, but the rewards for your children are worth the effort. If you are interested in learning more about resolving child related issues after your divorce, you can call Angela R. Neave, Esquire, at Neave Family Law at (954) 981-2200 for a free consultation.