Parenting is already difficult. You probably already knew that. Parenting when you and your co-parent (ex-partner) have a hard time communicating, or when there is conflict within the family, is even more difficult. This seemingly daunting task can be helped with successful co-parenting. First things first: separation and divorce are not the issue, conflict is the issue. When there is less conflict, there is less communal stress, more cooperation from children, and more stability in families.
The first question to ask yourself is: Where did I come from? What did I see growing up? How did my parents treat one another? How did they reward and discipline us? How did all of these things affect me?
Now ask yourself: What are your children seeing right now? How are they interpreting relationships? How are they understanding emotions and communication? What are you modeling to them? How will all of this affect them?
You and your co-parent are important people; your children are even more important, and I believe that you would agree. Children come first.
Here are just a few helpful co-parenting ideas to start using today!
Distinguishing between negative language and positive or productive language is a great first step to take! Switching negative and unhealthy terms to more positive, neutral, or productive terms will help your children’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. This will also help you and will improve the co-parenting relationship. Some examples include:
(old term = terms to start using instead)
“My ex” = “my co-parent”
“My kids VISIT their co-parent on weekends” = “My kids LIVE WITH their [mom/dad] on weekends”
“My kids have a broken home” = “My kids are lucky and have two households that love and adore them!”
“Court, custody, child support” = talk about this in private, there is no positive way to talk about this around children or teens
Can you hear the angst and anger change to healthier emotions in these phrases? What are some negative words or terms that you could change to be more positive and productive?
Another idea to try is more business-type communication. How would you talk to a colleague at work? Would you yell at, scoff, or criticize them? I certainly hope not. When talking to a colleague, you are also probably less emotional and more logical, succinct, and have boundaries. In a couples therapy situation, we would be talking more about emotions and understanding, but with co-parents, we will be talking more about “business type” communication, like with a colleague.
Use less emotions and use more logic (i.e. dates, times, locations), be cordial (i.e. please, thank you), and have boundaries (no hitting, no screaming, be able to walk away, and only talk of children, nothing from your old relationship as a couple).
A great way to treat your co-parent in a more healthy manner is to understand that you both love your children and have contributed to their upbringing. Understand that no one is 100% one parent, everyone is half Parent 1, and half Parent 2. Genetically, this is the case.
So, start to understand that if you insult your co-parent, you are also insulting your children, and believe me, they hear and understand you. Make a list of the positive things you passed on to your children, and make an equal list of the positive things that your co-parent passed on to your children.
Always remember that this process of conflict, separation, and divorce, no matter how peaceful (or detrimental) it is, there is still going to be a sense of loss from every member of the family. For you, the co-parent, you may feel loss of not only a partner, but help around the house, financial loss, and loss of self possibly; your children may feel loss of family, loss of home structure, loss of pet and neighborhood friends (if moving or going back and forth), and more.
The best thing to do is allow your children to feel loved, attached, protected, and safe. By spending quality time with them, always reassuring your love for them, and not placing them in the middle of conflict, children have a better chance at a healthier life.
Please try some of these ideas at home with your co-parent, and always keep in mind that while compromise with your co-parent doesn’t always feel good at first, it will help your children, and with compromise, the children always win!
Counseling for co-parents, children, and the family unit is a great idea! Please contact me if you liked what you read here and would like to set up a consultation and appointments. Good luck, you can do it!
Gianna Russo-Mitma, M.S., Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Intern
(702) 706-1811 - I practice in Portland, OR