It is critical for the well-being of children that their divorced parents find a way to work together. Jeanette Lofas, Phd, LCSW, President & Founder of the Stepfamily Foundation defines co-parenting and offers these tips for success:
What Is Co-Parenting?
Co-parenting is cooperative parenting by exes in the best interests of their child. Good co-parenting involves civility.
While this seems obvious, most divorced parents usually fail to cooperate in co-parenting their children. Many former partners habitually argue, belittle each other, or refuse to talk to each other. Such "acting out" of old angers and divorce wounds is dangerous for their children. When you behave badly toward your ex in front of your child, or bad-mouth your ex to your child, you diminish yourself, your ex-partner, and most of all, your child. Your upsets only serve to damage the child’s self-esteem. Uncooperative divorced parents must recognize that when they give voice to these feelings, their children may become anxious, upset, or act out their feelings of low self-worth.
Still, sometimes the very reasons parents divorced may create difficulties in post-divorce co-parenting. To have a successful co-parenting relationship that is healthy for your children, each parent must allow the other the freedom to parent in his or her own way. (This includes acknowledging that each of their new partners—the stepparents—will have a role.)
Key steps to successful co-parenting:
- Parents must talk to each other, plan, and cooperate on all issues regarding the well being of their children.
- Conversation should focus on the child, not personal resentments or recriminations. If there is unfinished business, such as discussions that involve grievances, these conversations should never occur in front of the children.
- Establish a consistent visitation schedule, formalize it in legal documents, and stick with it. Making adjustments in your schedules, allowing for circumstances (the car broke down, etc.), and honestly doing your best not to undermine or interfere with plans (who bought those hot concert tickets—on someone else’s weekend?) will ensure that your children will have positive predictability, and create less stress by minimizing any potential bickering between exes.
- Parents with new partners must define and agree upon the new family rules, responsibilities, and expectations in the new stepfamily. It is important to be consistent with the new rules.
- Parents and stepparents must accept that the rules of their family are not necessarily applicable to the other household, but that both sets of rules must be honored. It is their job to convey—and reinforce by their example—this message to their children.
Partner No More, But Always a Parent
Following a divorce, many former partners begin to rebuild their lives and create stepfamilies. One of the emotional transitions to be made during this period of time is to let go of the previous marital role—being a spouse—but to maintain the role of being a parent. It may be difficult to co-parent with someone toward whom you feel anger. However, our research shows that children of divorce tend to do well if mothers and fathers, regardless of remarriage, resume separate parenting roles, put differences aside, and allow the children to enjoy continuing relationships with each parent.