Co-operative Co-Parenting: is it even possible?
Even if you and your partner have parted on very less than amicable terms, there is still one thing that you both have in common – your children. And for their sakes you will need to figure out how to put a brave face on it and, in this last area of your lives where you have a shared responsibility, you are going to have to work together. As much as you might like a clean break and never to set eyes on your ex again, you have created a new life together and that will be your joint concern for the rest of both your lives. So here are some things you will have to think about when it comes to jointly parenting your children.
Put in boundaries/rules as you ALL intend them to go on
Your children may not be slow in grasping the possibilities for an open season of demands that your split presents. Spoiling your children with gifts is an ill-advised way of placating your guilt, as is indulging your children by letting them do things the other parent wouldn’t approve of (or that deep down you know you shouldn’t). It can be tempting but it will backfire in the end. Children need to understand that the new set of circumstances that you all find yourself in are here for keeps and as such you will all have to settle down to living a ‘normal’ life sooner rather than later.
The rules that the children lived by when you were both together, with regard to their bedtimes, sitting up at the table to eat or not being on screens for too long have to be upheld in both homes. It is not good practice for your children to be going to bed as normal at home and then when they visit, staying up much later, or eating a pizza on the floor while playing an adult video game. However painful it might be, you will have to get your heads together over this one and make and stick to the ground rules. The areas you are most likely to need to discuss are: bedtime, diet, behaviour, discipline, supervision, treats and entertainment (e.g. video games).
It could be that you and your ex partner always had different ideas about successful parenting and one or the other of you might see this as their chance to implement or veto what they has always seen as vital or unnecessary for the children. Resist this at all costs! The main focus for you both at this time should be in ensuring that your children are not permanently scarred by the marriage breakdown. For that a new and clear routine needs to be established as soon as possible. If you do have differing ideas about bedtimes and other things, try to meet in a compromise. And then stick to it!
Do not argue in front of the children
Never make this area of your and their lives a battlefield. You have gone your separate ways but to the children you are both still the most important things in their lives. When you do come together for events that require you both to be there, then be civil! The last thing that your children want is to be on edge any time the pair of you meet, after all the split and all the heartache that has led to you living apart was supposed to have been the end of the discord stage – one of the reasons that you are better off apart. If you carry on bickering and fighting then your children will not be able to benefit from a new calmer environment.
Always make it a rule that you do not argue in front of the children and that includes name -calling of your partner, their parents and/ or their new partner. Do not pass messages back and forth between you and your partner through the children. If you have something to say then say it direct to your partner either in person or on the phone. The children just do not need to be involved in any adult business. It will make them feel very uneasy and may make them think that they should be taking sides.
In your joint parenting post divorce, make it a hard and fast rule not to argue or for there to be any unpleasantness in front of the children. They have suffered enough and while it might have been unavoidable for your unhappiness and rowing to spill over into family life when you were together, now that you are apart there is no excuse for it. Standing on the doorstep with them between you shouting the odds is absolutely a no no! It may take superhuman strength and determination to resist the urge to put in a few barbed comments but don’t do it.
Your children are 50% your ex’s
Equally, do not badmouth your ex in front of the children, no matter what they have done. Psychologically, children feel equally part of their father and their mother. So when you say something nasty about their other parent they feel the insult almost as if you were aiming it them. As a parent, that’s the last thing you want to do. Your relationship with your ex is very different to the children’s relationship with them and trying to remember that will perhaps help you be the bigger person when it comes to what you say about your ex to your children.
What if you and your ex-disagree on parenting?
Something you may encounter is that the children will try to play you off against each other. If one of you allows something that the other does not they will waste no opportunity to try to make you feel guilty that your partner let them stay up till ten and you are forcing them to go to bed at nine. Stay calm and stick to your guns. If your discussions with your partner have not led to the compromise that you had hoped they would, then this is not the time to be cursing their name and wishing the 10 plagues of Egypt on them. Just say:
“I understand what you are saying but in this house bedtime is 9 ‘o’clock.” Then take it up with them later. If they really will not budge then say to your children:
“That’s nice that you like going to bed at 10 ‘o’clock when you are visiting daddy/mummy and I am sure that will be something you can look forward to the next time you go there. Here, however, bedtime is 9 ‘o’clock”
Give your children love, stability and care
Your children will always be both of yours to influence love and nurture all their lives. Make sure that the influence you have and the parenting that they remember comes from a background of stability, love and concern for them and their future. As parents, together or apart, this is what you owe them, and this is what they deserve.
Lucy Davis is Co-Founder of www.divorceclub.com. She has been divorced for 5 years and is a parent to a 4 year old boy and step parent to 10 and 12 year old boys.