I think that one of the most difficult things for a couple to do after they have divorced is figure out how they are going to co-parent their children. Often times the fights, resentment and misunderstandings that happen post divorce are a result of a couple's failure to communicate differently after a divorce. Learning how to be in a business relationship with your ex spouse can be difficult and sometimes, down right impossible if you and your ex spouse are not on the same page. However, learning to effectively co-parent is essential if you have any hope of raising happy, healthy, well adjusted children. Here are some tips that may help you along that path.
1. LOVE YOUR CHILDREN MORE THAN YOU HATE YOUR EX SPOUSE- No matter how much you dislike your ex spouse for what they did to you during your marriage, and your divorce, its important to always put your children first. Although it might feel good to agree with someone when they bash your ex, or you really need to know why your ex is now driving a brand new Lexus when they claimed they couldn't afford those basketball lessons for your son, always think about your children before you speak, act or fail to act. Loving your children more than you dislike your ex spouse will always be the right decision.
2. TAKE AN IN PERSON PARENTING CLASS RATHER THAN ONLINE CLASS- While it is surely easier, confidential and convenient to take your parenting class online, I'm a firm believer that you will get more out of the class if you actually go to an in person class. You are more likely to pay attention, listen to what you are being told and figure out what you have to learn about parenting after a divorce if you take the time to go in person. You will be happy that you did and most Judges will appreciate the extra effort.
3. NEVER PUT YOUR CHILDREN IN THE MIDDLE- No matter what the situation, never ask your children to relay anything to your ex spouse, never ask them to deliver funds to the other parent and never interrogate them about what goes on in the other parent's house. Your children should be as free from conflict as humanly possible and should never be the one to deliver information. If you are going to be late, owe the other parent money, wondering about a party you heard happened at their house, pick up the phone and communicate about the issue yourself.
4. TRY TO SAY SOMETHING POSITIVE ABOUT THE OTHER PARENT IN PRESENCE OF CHILDREN- This is easier said than done. After a divorce, negative thoughts, feelings and statements seem to flow much easier than the positive. If you consciously make the decision to say something positive about your ex, it will help you, especially when the negative tends to come to the lips more readily.
5. GIVE YOUR EX THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT- After divorce, its easy to immediately jump to the negative when there is a conflict, communication issue or problem. A lot of times there are two loving parents who just communicate, parent, listen and comprehend information differently. Not automatically jumping to the negative will help you get the benefit of the doubt yourself in the future when you need it. You will hear a lot of things from your children about what goes on in the other house, and you can assume that only about 1/2 of what you here is 100% accurate. Change the subject when things are offered up by your child, and if there is something that you are concerned about, don't take your kid's word for it, call the other parent and start with "I take this with a grain of salt because Joey offered it up, but Joey said you spanked him really hard the other day and sent him to bed without dinner. I'm just wondering what the real story is." Delivery is 1/2 the battle when you are trying to communicate with an ex after divorce. Accusing first gets you no where and not going to be met with any type of openness. I'm always amazed when I am sitting in a mediation, court hearing or settlement conference and listening to two (2) people tell the same story and have entirely different versions of what "really" happened.
6. DON'T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF- After a divorce, you really need to pick your battles with your ex so when there is a major issue that comes up in the future, you will be taken seriously. There will be plenty of little things that happen along the way in a post-divorce parent relationship and letting go of things that are minor annoyances, rather than big issues will help you be taken more seriously when a major issue arises. Think about the little boy calling wolf and really ask yourself "is this such a big deal"? While its easy to be taken advantage of if you always let the little stuff go, know when you should just let it go.
7. LIMIT COMMUNICATION WITH YOU EX- Many people are co-dependent on their ex and divorce does not make that relationship any less co-dependent. Limit communication, especially in the early years, for those things that actually need a response or to forward information that only you would have. Too much communication can cause drama, unnecessary conflict and misunderstandings. While its okay to be friendly, try to remember boundaries and keeping things simple.
8. IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING IMPORTANT TO SAY, DO IT IN PERSON NOT EMAIL- I'm astounded by what people put in emails and am constantly telling my clients that things "get lost in email translation". When your ex reads an email, they are going to interpret that email in the manner that they believe it is being delivered. Often times, that is the basis for misunderstandings and hurt feelings. Many people have forgotten that a simple telephone call is the best way to accomplish the delivery of information.
9. CONSULT WITH THE OTHER PARENT BEFORE MAKING ANY MAJOR PARENTING DECISIONS AND TRY TO AVOID MAKING MAJOR DECISIONS OVER THE OTHER PARENT'S OBJECTION- You would never want to be the last to know when your child gets a tattoo, drops out of school, gets a cell phone, gets a car, or gets a job. Therefore, even if you know that the other parent is going to have a differing opinion on a certain subject, consulting the other parent is the right thing to do and what is required of you in the shared parenting statute. Most major decisions should not be made unless both parties are in agreement with that decision. Remember that kids only have to look to you for 18 years as to what they can and cannot do, after that, they are on their own. When a kids wants something, they are always going to ask the parent who is more likely to say yes. Don't say yes or no to something major unless the other parent is on board. While there are exceptions to this golden rule, in my mind, they are few and far between.
10. NEVER ALLOW YOUR CHILDREN TO USE YOU AGAINST YOUR EX SPOUSE TO GET WHAT THEY WANT- Kids are smart and often times will figure out how to play their parents in order to get what they want. If your daughter wants to go to mom's house on your day, and you are okay with it, communicate with your ex first before you say yes, just to make sure she isn't really planning on being at her boyfriend's house when his parents are away. If your kids know that you and your ex do not communicate well, they will use that fact to their advantage to get what they want. Don't let them!