If you and your spouse have decided to divorce, for your children’s sake, you must cooperatively parent them through your divorce as a team. Even if it seems like one day your spouse announced to you he or she wants a divorce, you can be certain your spouse considered it for a long time. Divorce is rarely an easy snap decision, especially when kids are involved.
There are three things that will help you work together for the well-being of your children and they each involve creating a healthy mindset.
- Whatever happened to spark this divorce, do your very best not to take it personally.
Of course, a divorce feels personal. You may be asking yourself the questions, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why couldn’t I make this work?” “How could my partner want someone else?” “What did I miss?” “What could I have done or what can I still do to prevent this from happening?” This is what I call taking it personally. Whenever a relationship ends, there’s probably blame to lay at each of your feet, but how does that help you? How does it help your children? If your goal is to help them through this process with the least amount of damage, then you must stop taking things personally.
- Whatever led to the divorce, stop blaming the other person.
When you aren’t taking things personally, you might begin blaming your partner for all the problems in the marriage. This will not help you recover, and it will definitely not help your children. Anything you say about your spouse, you say about your child’s father or mother. Children are both emotionally and biologically connected to their parents; when they see your pain and hear you blame the other parent, they may start to wonder if this egregious behavior will become their own since they share genetic and family history. Before saying anything about your ex, ask yourself, “Would I want my children to hear this? Would I ever want my children to think they could be capable of what I am accusing their parent of?” If the answer is no, then stop, say something else, or walk away before you say something you will regret. Whatever happened was between you and your ex—do not involve your children in those details.
- Don’t allow the ending of your marriage to negate everything else about your relationship.
When a divorce occurs, it often causes a historical rewrite that isn’t helpful. Whether it was a sudden event or a gradual erosion of your marriage, something happened, and you’re likely to reevaluate the authenticity of the entire relationship. You begin to doubt you ever had anything real, though you likely had a wonderful relationship at one point. Why did you agree to marry this person in the first place? Even if you married because of a pregnancy, there was something there for you share intimacy with that person. You created your children together. There were good things, memories and emotions you shared during the marriage. Do not allow the ending to have you questioning whether or not those good things were real. They were real. Remember the good and harmonious times in appreciation, not wistful longing, whenever you want to blame your ex.
The truth is… relationships end sometimes. You know this from your friendships. Sometimes you have a lifelong friend, but more often you have people passing in and out through different times in your life; people come and people go. Sometimes it’s just a matter of course and sometimes it’s excruciating, but it’s part of the ebb and flow of life. When you hold someone to a lifelong promise to love you no matter what, it can be unrealistic. People change, people grow in different directions, and people want different things. It happens—fighting it, blaming yourself, or blaming your ex will not change anything. In fact, it can cause irreparable harm to your children.
Communicate to your children that you are divorcing each other, not them. Explain to them that a parent’s love and support is forever, but sometimes parents stop loving each other. It has nothing to do with how you both feel about them. Though their life will definitely change, they will need to be reassured that both parents will be involved in their life. You and your ex will want to co-parent in a cooperative way.
Cooperative parenting means:
- You are not trying to outdo one another.
- You are not trying to get your child to love you more than your ex.
- You are not trying to buy their affection.
- You are not bending and breaking rules with them to make their other parent look bad.
- You are not attempting to get them to “take sides” in the divorce
As painful as it may be to you personally, you will want to:
- Support each other and the job he or she is doing as a parent.
- Emphasize that being divorced does not mean you no longer work together to make decisions about your children’s best interests.
- Work together to purchase things for your children. Never make it seem like one parent is the sugar daddy or mama.
- Work together with each other and your children to decide on and implement the rules and expectations for their behaviors. Create full buy in. Do not say, “Well, I thought it was ok but your mother said no,” or “I can’t believe your father allowed you to do that! We agreed you wouldn’t.” This undermines the other’s authority and sets up the “mean” parent and the “cool” parent.
- Remember that there are no sides when it comes to your children. Your children will benefit most from seeing their parents working together to complete the job they started—raising them. When it comes to raising your children, the one side everyone should be on is what is best for those children.
The goal is not to get your child to love you the most, but to work together to create happy, well-adjusted children by putting their welfare above your emotions and petty jealousies. In a future article, I will talk about how to help kids through your divorce when it’s clear your ex has no interest in co-parenting cooperatively.