No one ever told you how to transition from being a married couple, a husband or wife, a parent with children, to being a divorced co-parent.
Your marriage did not work out, so here you are somehow being "expected" to magically know how to co-parent with your ex-spouse, whom you more than likely had a difficult time communicating with, hence your divorce.
What is a "co-parent," anyhow? It is a parent who is parenting with the mother or father of his or her child or children. No one gives you a play-by-play or a "how to" book on this significant new title. Somehow, you are supposed to know how to do all the right things. Teamwork, and slowly learning how to co-parent, are essential for your well being, and the well being of your children.
Here are some tips to help you ease into your new role as a co-parent:
Become the best co-parent you can be.
Now that you are a divorced parent, there should be nothing more important than becoming a teammate with your ex-spouse in parenting your children together as co-parents. Your children deserve to have your genuine, unconditional love and support. It starts with you being fully present emotionally, and committed to your new role as a co-parent, and being the best mother or father you can be to your children.
Establish a co-parenting goal.
Your main goal as a parent or co-parent is to raise happy, confident, secure and healthy children. This begins with being respectful of your new co-parent, your teammate who is now your ex-spouse. You may think it's impossible, and sometimes, in some situations, it may be. No one's situation is the same, so if it is absolutely not possible to create this new relationship called a co-parent with your ex-spouse, then choose to be accepting of this reality, and focus on doing your part to be the best parent you can be to your children. Whether or not you can truly "co-parent" with your ex-spouse, it still begins with you and your own attitude. Believe me, it is possible to do your part, because we are all responsible for ourselves, and how we choose to co-parent our children with or without the cooperation of our ex-spouse. It's the best thing you will ever do for your children, and for yourself, in this newly defined role. Your children will thank you someday. You will see the positive consequences from being a #1 co-parenting teammate!
Recognize the part you play as a co-parent.
Your children will benefit greatly if you can have a positive, proactive attitude in co-parenting your children. Work hard to do your part. Remember, it is not about you; it's about your children and their childhood. "Parents remain the major influence in their children's lives, and they are seen as providing essential assistance, advice, and direction." (Furman & Buhrmester, 1992, p. 352) I know there are situations where it is nearly impossible to co-parent with ex-spouses. You can only be responsible for your own behavior; do the best you can. You can do this!
Identify your children's father or mother.
Your next important step in being a successful co-parenting teammate is to be aware of how you introduce people to your ex-spouse in front of your children. For example, instead of saying, this is my ex-spouse, say, this is Sally's dad. This way, you are positively acknowledging your children's father or mother, which gives your children reassurance and security that they very much need after divorce. You are moving into new territory as a co-parent. It's time to align your identity with your child, not with your ex-spouse. You are your child's mother or father; you are now a co-parent with your ex-spouse.
Focus on one main goal together.
Now that you are a co-parent and teammate with your ex-spouse, it's time to make sure you are both on the same team. It's not about you or your ex-spouse when you are co-parenting; it's about what's best for your children. Don't try to be the “best" parent. You don't want to be self-serving and selfish; rather, you want to be cooperative, showing mutual understanding and respect toward your ex-spouse, your new co-parent. Your main goal needs to be working with your ex-spouse to meet the needs of your children in a positive and peaceful way, together. Remember, it's about your children and their childhood.
Cheer your children on.
Choose to be committed to cheering your children on in the activities they are involved in, the talents they wish to pursue, and the interests they have as they grow up. Take time out of your busy schedule to be there for their performances, programs, and games. Keep setting a good example as a co-parent. Enjoy every moment cheering your children on. They grow up so fast; it never comes again! Remember the importance of socializing for children's overall development and well-being. Be a supportive and proactive co-parent when it comes to your children's social life. Choose to cooperate and work together with your ex-spouse as you co-parent your children and cheer them on!
Protect your children.
It comes with being a parent; you have an obligation to protect your children. Not all divorce situations are equal, and you most likely have a lot of healing to do. Your children deserve your commitment to them, no matter what. This includes being supportive of their relationship with their mother or father, your co-parent. Make sure your priorities are in order. Who matters to you most? Your children, and being the best co-parent you can be should be at the top of your priority list. You only have one chance to raise your children.
Written by Lisa LaBelle, MSC, ACMHC
Lisa LaBelle, MSC, ACMHC, is the founder of Hope After Divorce, HopeAfterDivorce.blogspot.com, and HopeAfterHealing.com. She is a licensed Associate Clinical Mental Health Counselor. Lisa has a B.S. degree in Education and a Master of Science degree in Counseling. Her counseling work centers on families, individuals, and children experiencing divorce, grief, and loss. Lisa is a family and child advocate, and a published author. Her work includes Hope After Divorce, Hope After Divorce Support Group Program, and Hope After Healing Support Group Program for Youth. She has been an educator for over 25 years and a divorce consultant for over 15 years.