Joint Custody arrangements, especially following a contentious divorce, can be stressful and exhausting. It is asking a lot of parents to put aside their differences and put their children first in an effort to make life better for their children. However, with the right tools, you have the power, as co-parents, to meet your needs and, more important, the needs of your children and to provide them with the stability and consistency they deserve.
The following are five tips to think about as you practice your co-parenting skills:
1. Communication. Communication. Communication. It is not going to be easy. You are doing this for your child. Repeat out loud if necessary. Communicate with maturity and lead by example. Not only will your former spouse appreciate it and hopefully follow suit, but your children will undoubtedly pick up on the mutual respect and your respective abilities to set aside differences.
It is also difficult for many parents to accept the fact they will not be there for every moment, good or bad, of their child’s life. Put yourself in the shoes of the other parent. If you would want to know a piece of information about your child, then most likely, your former spouse would too. With the omnipresence of email and text messaging, it is simple to send a quick note to your former spouse that your child, for the first time, went down the big girl slide or accurately identified the capital of Illinois. Communicating the good things is just as important as communicating a fever or a “boo boo” and helps to build trust between you and the other parent. Your children will pick up on this and benefit even more than you and your former spouse.
2. Listen. Agree to Disagree. Differences of opinion are ok and at times encouraged. Parents can benefit from second opinions and new ideas or approaches. Don’t think for a second that a difference of opinion would not occur if you were still married. Listen more than you talk, and if a conversation gets heated or stressful, agree to pause the conversation and address the issue again when emotions have subsided. Take space when you need it. Sometimes, parents too can use a “time out.” Both of you will benefit by the example you lead, as will your children.
3. Don’t Assume. Don’t Tell. Discuss. The best practices in co-parenting include open dialogue. So much more can be accomplished by discussing a certain topic or issue before making a decision. Children benefit from a united front, and a certain change or a way of hurdling a particular obstacle, if done in tandem, will be much more effective, especially in the long term. If both parents feel they have participated in the decision, as opposed to being forced into a particular spot, mountains can be moved.
4. Aim for Consistency. Plan with Flexibility. It is inevitable. Sometimes your former spouse will be late. Given that you are jointly raising your child, odds are good that you will, at some point, be late too. Be forgiving. Life does not always go as planned – especially when you have children. Children benefit from knowing what to expect and what is expected of them. Children benefit even more if they know how to maturely address an unforeseen curve ball. To the best of your ability, be on time. It is not just about punctuality. It is about respect. The respect you desire and deserve is the same respect your children will appreciate and learn.
5. Simplify Transitions. Transitions are not always easy, especially for your children. Having your life in two places presents numerous challenges. Do your best to have your children ready for pick ups and drop offs and communicate ahead of time, to the extent possible, about the need for a hockey stick or a special pair of shoes. This communication can actually help you to reduce the costs of having two of everything. Be pleasant at times of transition and do not use these occasions to talk about anything that may be controversial. Your children pick up on your anxiety. They will be less anxious if you are less anxious. Lead by example.