By Rachel Jackson MFTC
Co-parenting after divorce can be complicated. Divorce can be messy. Divorce can be confusing. Most of all, we have to acknowledge that no matter what divorce can be, it is painful, and it is a major transition, with or without children.
Nevertheless, getting divorced while having children adds another layer of challenge that is of importance. As parents and as children, it is a confusing time filled with emotion and change.
5 Steps for Parents to Best Co-Parent
1. When in Doubt, Focus on your Children versus your Partner
There may be anger, hurt, frustration, betrayal, sadness, distance, and/or unmet expectations between you and your partner. These circumstances, rightfully so, may make you want to direct your attention toward your partner – what went wrong, what they did wrong, what could have, should have, would have happened if __.
However, when it doubt, stop. When in doubt, remember your children, first. When in doubt, turn toward your children’s needs, emotions, and circumstances. In the heightened transitions of divorce, one can validly get caught up in the distress of the loss of a relationship and a marriage, from the way it used to be and maybe you desired it to remain. However, you have children depending on you, hurting, potentially confused at what this divorce means for them and their idea of their family. Turn your attention toward them.
Hold space for their questions and their emotions: both sadness, anger, frustration, distance, and all. They need their parents to show them love, even during this time. They do not need to hear fighting and disagreements; and they do not benefit from taking sides of one parent or the other. Innately, they desire love and stability. So when in doubt, give them your attention. Focus your positive emotion on them, rather than negative emotion toward your partner.
2. Co-Parenting Plan: Consistency, Consistency, Consistency
Consistency must be the bottom-line during divorce. Navigating how to co-parent is challenging and scary in many ways. Sharing the parenting responsibility as separate people, rather than together under one roof is difficult. As stated before, when working toward how to co-parent, set your personal emotions aside to focus on what is best for your kids. Sit down with your co-parent and write a plan that is centered around how consistency and stability can be created for your kids.
Consistent schedule. Consistent presence. Consistent love. Consistent listening. Consistent support.
For your children, they are likely fearing that their life is changing. Who is in their home may be changing. Potentially where their home is or how many homes they have may be changing. Overall, their normal is changing. As much as possible, they need a sense of consistency and stability to ground them during this major life transition.
3. Strive for Open Communication with your Co-Parent
Communicate, above all. As much as you potentially do not want to talk to your co-parent, it is crucial to diminish miscommunication, create a foundation of understanding and expectations, and maintain a healthy relationship with the least amount of resentment or manipulation as possible. Talk. Process. Find the best ways to work together as a team now, even when the team’s relationship looks different. Find teamwork built on a positive team culture, listen to each other’s wishes, desires, and emotions. Hold the innate care for your partner and bring care to the forefront to all conversations.
4. Ask our Children what they Need from You
You may not know what to do. Sometimes you may think your kids don’t know what they need. However, open the conversation. Allow your kids voice(s) to be heard and encourage their voice to be shared. It is common for kids to either react in outburst or react by shutting down. It is vulnerable to ask your children what they need from you. Ask and see what unfolds. These conversations allow both you and your children to share your heart and emotions and bring you closer during these times of hard transition.
5. Heal yourself and Practice Self-Care: Be Present for your Kids
Lastly, and potentially most importantly, listen to your own needs. If you don’t heal your pain regarding your divorce, or other pain for that matter, you cannot be fully present for your kids and their needs. Create time for yourself. Go to therapy. Take a walk. Connect with a listening friend. Explore your emotions. Explore forms of self-expression.
Remember, you can do this. Your needs are important too. Your happiness is important too. Sometimes, divorce is the best option for both you and your children. It might feel like the floor under you is crumbling. Find ways to mend those cracks so you can stand on a stable foundation again so you can be present in your life and your kids.
5 Steps for Children During & After Divorce Bottom Line: It is NOT your Fault
It is common for children experiencing divorce to believe the divorce is happening because of you. It is not your fault. Parents may fight about kids but that does not mean their split is because of you. Not much more needs to be said but if no one has told you yet, you need to hear this: it is not your fault. You are loved.
1. Advocate for Yourself: Tell your Parents what you Need
You deserve to be heard. When you are experiencing all this change, you know what you need best. You may be experiencing divorce differently than your siblings and definitely differently than your parents. Your unique experience is valid. Your story is yours. No one can tell you that how you are experiencing this divorce is wrong. No one can tell you that how you feel is wrong. If your parents aren’t advocating for you, advocate for yourself. Speak up. Listen to your heart. Share what’s on your mind. If something, a schedule, a home, an interaction, doesn’t feel good or right to you, tell someone. Your needs need to be prioritized right now.
2. Find a Person or Environment Where you can Express yourself and your Emotions
Talk about it. You are supported even if or when you feel alone. There are people out there that will listen to how you are feeling and what this divorce means for you. Whether it is a friend, a therapist, a sports team, a community, a group – use or find a space where you can be in the moment and enjoy yourself. Find people you can talk to. Find places that make you feel good and supported.
3. You are NOT the “Middle Man”: Set Boundaries
If your parents are trying to communicate to each other through you, it is often best to create a boundary and say no. Encourage your parents, as much as possible to communicate between each other. That is their job as parents. It is not your job to be the one standing in the middle. Hold your ground being a child. Live your life. Listen to your needs. Let your parents do the work to parent you, negotiate, and communicate. Whether it is about finances, who you stay with, scheduling, school, friends, events, and more, do not stand in the middle of your parent’s discussions. It will be okay. You don’t need to be the “middle man,” you need to be you. That is what matters.
4. Walk, Don’t Run: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping
Move slowly. You may want to run from these changes, run from these emotions, run from the discomfort. Allow yourself to feel, to cry, to talk, to process, to laugh, to be silly, to express yourself. Try to not push down your emotions. Allow them to flow through you.
Listen to yourself
Spend time with people you love and care about
Spend time with people that love and care about you
Suppressing – being silent
Hurting yourself or hurting other
Divorce is hard, painful, complicated, confusing, and a time filled with change. Whenever possible, turn toward your family and find a foundation of love and support during this change. The more you can create a space of open communication with everyone’s best needs in mind, the better. Seek help when necessary. Listen to yourself. Remember, your feelings are valid. Take each day, one at a time.