It may seem impossible to stay calm when dealing with a difficult ex-spouse who has hurt you in the past or has a real knack for pushing your buttons. But by practising quick stress relief techniques, you can learn to stay in control when the pressure builds.
Peaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex is essential to the success of co-parenting, even though it may seem absolutely impossible. It all begins with your mindset. Think about communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your child’s well-being. Before contact with your ex, ask yourself how your talk will affect your child, and resolve to conduct yourself with dignity. Make your child the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.
Communication with your ex is likely to be a tough task. Remember, that it is not always necessary to meet your ex in person, speaking over the phone or exchanging texts or emails is fine for the majority of conversations. In my case we have a contact book.
The goal is to establish conflict-free communication, so see which type of contact works best for you. Whether talking via email, phone, or in person, the following methods can help you initiate and maintain effective communication:
Set a business-like tone. Approach the relationship with your ex as a business partnership where your “business” is your children’s well-being. Speak or write to your ex as you would a colleague with cordiality, respect, and neutrality. Relax and talk slowly.
Make requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands or criticism, try framing as much as you can as requests. Requests can begin “Would you be willing to…?” or “Can we try…?”
Listen. Communicating with maturity starts with listening. Even if you end up disagreeing with the other parent, you should at least be able to convey to your ex that you’ve understood his or her point of view. And listening does not signify approval, so you won’t lose anything by allowing your ex to voice his or her opinions.
Show restraint. Keep in mind that communicating with one another is going to be necessary for the length of your children’s entire childhood, if not longer. You can train yourself to not overreact to your ex, and over time you can become numb to the buttons he or she tries to push.
Commit to meeting/talking consistently. Frequent communication with your ex will convey the message to your children that you and their other parent are a united front. This may be extremely difficult in the early stages of your divorce or separation.
Keep conversations child-focused. You can control the content of your communication. Never let a discussion with your ex-partner digress into a conversation about your needs or his/her needs; it should always be about your child’s needs only.
Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: Parenting as a team
Parenting is full of decisions you will have to make with your ex, whether you like each another or not. Cooperating and communicating without blow-ups or bickering makes decision-making far easier on everybody. If you shoot for consistency, geniality, and teamwork with your ex, the details of child-rearing decisions tend to fall into place.
Aim for consistency
It is healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives and to learn to be flexible, but they also need to know they are living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between your home and your ex’s avoids confusion for the children.
Rules. Rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Important lifestyle rules like homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.
Discipline. Try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction. The same can be done for rewarding good behaviour.
Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedules. Making meals, homework, and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to having two homes.
Major decisions need to be made by both you and your ex. Being open, honest, and straightforward about important issues is crucial to both your relationship with your ex and your children’s well-being. Personally, I am still trying to achieve this, but more about that later.
Medical needs. Effective co-parenting can help parents focus on the best medical care for the child, and can help reduce anxiety for everyone. Whether you decide to designate one parent to communicate primarily with health care professionals or attend medical appointments together, keep one another in the loop.
Education. School plays a major role in maintaining a stable environment for your kids, so be sure to let them know about changes in your child’s living situation. Speak with your ex ahead of time about class schedules, extra-curricular activities, and parent-teacher conferences, and be polite to him or her at school or sports events.
Financial issues. The cost of maintaining two separate households can strain your attempts to be effective co-parents. Set a realistic budget and keep accurate records for shared expenses. Be gracious if your ex provides opportunities for your children that you cannot provide. After all, it is for the children, not you.
As you co-parent, you and your ex are bound to disagree over certain issues. Keep the following in mind as you try to come to the consensus with your ex.
Respect can go a long way. Simple manners are often neglected between co-parents, even though they should be the foundation for co-parenting. Being considerate and respectful includes letting your ex know about school events, being flexible about your schedule when possible and taking his or her opinion seriously.
Keep talking. It might sound tedious, but if you disagree about something important, you will need to continue to communicate about the topic. Never discuss your differences of opinions with or in front of your child. If you still can’t agree, you may need to talk to a third party, like a therapist or mediator.
Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you disagree about important issues like a GP surgery or choice of school for your child, by all means, keep the discussion going. But if you want your child in bed by 7:30 and your ex says 8:00, try to let it go and save your energy for the bigger issues!
Compromise. Yes, you will need to come around to your ex-spouse’s point of view as often as he or she comes around to yours. It may not always be your first choice, but compromise allows you both to “win” and makes both of you more likely to be flexible in the future.
Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: Making transitions easier
Transitions represent a major change in your children’s reality. Every reunion with one parent is also a separation with the other; each “hello” is also a “goodbye.” In joint custody arrangements, the transition time is inevitable, but there are many things you can do to help make exchanges and transitions easier, both when your children leave and return.
When your child leaves: As kids prepare to leave your house for your ex’s, try to stay positive and deliver them on time. You can use the following strategies to help make transitions easier:
Help children anticipate change.: Remind kids they’ll be leaving for the other parent’s house a day or two before the visit.
Pack in advance: Depending on their age, help children pack their bags well before they leave so that they don’t forget anything they’ll miss. Encourage packing familiar reminders like a special stuffed toy or photograph.
When your child returns: The beginning of your children’s return to your home can be awkward or even rocky. You can try the following to help your child adjust:
Keep things low-key: When children first enter your home, try to have some down time together—read a book or do some other quiet activity.
Double up: To make packing simpler and make kids feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent’s house, have kids keep certain basics – toothbrush, hairbrush, pyjamas etc at both houses.
Allow the child space: Children often need a little time to adjust to the transition. If they seem to need some space, do something else nearby. In time, things will get back to normal.
Establish a routine: Play a game or serve the same special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine, if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it can help the transition.