Healthy co-parenting following a divorce is the ideal to strive for. No debate there.
Not all divorced parents, however, are able to pull it off. Some parents experience too much acrimony and hostility during the separation and divorce process.
As much as they might both love their children and want what's best for them, they simply cannot be on civil terms with each other.
Regardless of the amount of conflict between spouses, children are usually still better off in some sort of co-parenting arrangement than one in which one parent is completely removed from the family equation.
However, when unresolved high conflict continues to exist between parents after the divorce and noticeably interrupts co-parenting efforts, children definitely experience emotional harm.
Instead of just accepting this negative situation as something inevitable, your goal should be to minimize opportunities for open conflict.
Reducing Conflict Through Parallel Parenting
If there’s just no way that you and your ex-spouse can cooperate without conflict, you have the option of parallel parenting. This approach minimizes the direct contact you have with each other while still allowing both of you to fulfill your parenting roles in a healthy manner.
Here are a few helpful steps:
Make rules for communication
Limit communication to texting and e-mail only. This way you can decide how and when to respond. Make sure you limit your communication to planning and organizational matters that directly involve the children. If your ex tries to harass you, tell them you won’t respond in kind. If they want to discuss legal matters, handle it through your attorneys or other legal channels.
Don’t play the hero
If your children complain about something going on in your ex-spouse’s house, encourage them to talk to that parent directly about it. It’s not your business to solve problems between your children and your ex. You can be supportive of your children and listen to their complaints, but it is best to refrain from involving yourself in a solution.
Plus, if you get involved and cause a flare-up of hostility, it may only teach your children that they can pit you against each other. Instead of rescuing your children, empower them to stand up for themselves.
Stick to a routine for your children – even if your ex doesn’t
There’s really not much you can do if your ex-spouse lets your children get away with late-night snacks, sugary foods, or not having a consistent bedtime. Nor can you control what clothes they should let your children buy, how much TV time they allow, or what person they hire for a babysitter.
So, don’t sweat it! Just keep providing a consistent routine in your home when your children are with you. They will adapt to the rest. And even though they might complain, they will respect you for keeping them safe with healthy boundaries and expectations.
Avoid going to child-related functions with your ex-spouse
Yes, it would be really nice if both of you could attend all your children's functions. That's the optimal condition, but it isn't your reality. Both of you attending at the same time is only beneficial for your child if you get along.
If that’s not happening, you're only creating anxiety for your children. Don’t be in the same place at the same time if you cannot be civil toward each other.
That means you have to schedule separate parent-teacher conferences and trade off hosting any parties. It also includes opting for curbside drop-offs when your children go to your ex-spouse’s house. There’s no need to expose them to the tension between the two of you.
If your child has a very important occasion coming up, e.g., a graduation, that you both want to and should attend, be clear about what the plans are preceding and following the event.
Don't leave your child wondering which parent they should approach when both of you are present. You might want to plan for one of you to be with the child prior to the event and the other parent to be with them after the event.
Reducing Conflict Through Additional Support
While parallel parenting is certainly an acceptable option, you might also consider ways to mend your relationship with your ex-spouse and contribute even more to the success of your co-parenting arrangement.
This intervention can come in the form of support and guidance from a professional counselor. As time passes and tempers cool, you might be able to let go of resentments and find a better understanding of each other.
The simple truth is that you will always be connected to each other through your children. You owe it to yourselves and your children to at least make the effort.
Here are some key elements of this kind of intervention:
Focusing on your children’s well-being
Sometimes your conflict before the divorce and negativity through the divorce are so strong that you need to learn to become attuned to your children again. A counselor can help you separate your pre-divorce hostilities from your post-divorce parenting responsibilities. They will also make sure you clearly understand the impact of your conflict on your children.
Negotiating a workable parenting plan
This includes helping you find ways to maintain a meaningful relationship between you both and your children. The counselor helps you provide a safe, structured, and predictable caregiving environment. They can also monitor the consistency of this arrangement.
Achieving stable mental and emotional health
Counselors who are well-trained in relationships can provide this much-needed support to the family. The counselor will help all members of the family gain an understanding and acceptance of the divorce and the new arrangements.
They will also help the children to see the good qualities in each of their parents as well as help the parents develop positive relationships with each other. Only through attaining emotional healing can a successful co-parenting environment eventually be created.
Finally, conflict is a normal part of life and it’s not inherently bad for anyone. But persistent, unresolved conflict is dangerous to young people. So, take the opportunity to do all you can to reduce co-parenting conflict for the sake and well-being of the children you both love.