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Making Co-Parenting Work

Your attitude about your ex-spouse is important when it comes to co-parenting after a divorce.

Making Co-Parenting Work

To make shared parenting time work for the kids, it helps if each parent is tuned in to his or her children's individual and developmental needs.

Here are some tips for making co-parenting work:

Silver Linings

You have a great deal of control over the way your children handle life after divorce. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future.

  • Cooperate with the other parent as much as possible.
  • Keep each other informed of what's going on when it comes to a child's schooling, medical care, and social life.
  • Establish a polite business relationship with the other parent.
  • Be responsible in maintaining the visitation schedule. If a change must be made, work it out with the other parent in advance.
  • Respect the rules of the other parent's household, just as you respect the rules of school and other public institutions.
  • Don't send messages to the other parent through your children. Business should be conducted only between parents.

It's All About Attitude

To co-parent successfully, you must maintain a positive attitude. If you see your ex as your children's parent, rather than as your archenemy, you stand a better chance of making co-parenting work.

For example, don't criticize the parenting skills of the other parent. Seven-year-old Melissa's father never failed to comment to Melissa about how wrinkled her clothes were and how messy her hair was when he picked her up from her mother's home. These negative comments about her mom's parenting skills always got the weekend with her dad off to a bad start.

Don't focus on every negative comment your children make about the other parent when they're with you. Check your attitude: Do you secretly relish these comments because you can't stand your ex and hope your kids support your view? Are you in competition with your ex for the kids' loyalty? Unless your children are saying something very disturbing about the other parent (physical or mental abuse, alcohol or drug abuse), any negative comments your children might make are often best taken with a grain of salt. Don't blow such comments out of proportion, and remember, your children might resent and distrust you if you cheer them on.

On the other hand, be realistic. Don't overcompensate for your negative feelings toward your ex by bending over backward to paint him or her as perfect. Nothing in life is all good or all bad, so how could it be that way for your children's experience at either home? Children should understand that there will be fun times and boring times, happy times and angry times, with each parent. In any case, portraying your ex as all good will have a false ring to your kids. (“If you like my dad/mom so much, why did you two split up?”)

Keep any angry feelings you have toward your ex-spouse between you, your therapist if you have one, and your friends or family. Try to put a lid on your anger when you're with your kids. Sometimes anger comes out indirectly through a negative attitude towards things related to your ex-spouse. This might be confusing and potentially damaging to your kids. It's important to identify unconscious attitudes that you might not realize you express, because your kids' radar will pick them up.

What's your attitude toward your ex? Here's a quick quiz to find out. If you answer “Yes” to two or more of the following items, you need an attitude change!

  • I hate my ex so much, I can't stand the thought of my kids being with him (her). _____Yes _____No
  • When my kids come back from seeing their other parent, I tell them to take a shower or bath to wash my ex's presence away. _____Yes _____No
  • When my kids tell me they had a good time with their other parent, it ties my stomach in knots. _____Yes _____No
  • Whenever my kids say nice things about their other parent, my lips start to purse, and I'm silent, or I get the urge to say something really bad. _____Yes _____No
  • If my kids report that their other parent is doing well and is happy, I get a sinking feeling in my stomach. _____Yes _____No
  • I “accidentally” say things against my ex to friends or family within earshot of my kids. _____Yes _____No
  • If asked, I can't come up with one good thing to say about my ex. _____Yes _____No

We hope this little quiz will tune you in to your feelings and bring them to the surface. Not only will this be beneficial to your children, but it might help you deal with some of the anger that is boiling inside you.

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