Divorce is a difficult and overwhelming experience and can be especially challenging for those who are co-parenting with their soon-to-be-ex (STBX). You want what's best for your children but you may have difficulty communicating with your STBX. You both may have hurt, angry, and resentful feelings toward each other. There are things you can do to reduce the stress of co-parenting and make it more effective.
1. Communicate with your ex as much as necessary.
It's critical to keep the lines of communication open for the sake of your children. Schedules, pick-ups and drop-offs, extracurricular activities, medical issues and other details should be discussed. The more you can agree on in advance, the less stressful things will be when they arise. And, if disagreements do arise, try to handle them calmly. You don't want your children to see you arguing or hear negative things about their other parent. But you don't have to communicate about anything unrelated to the children. If there's something going on that you'd rather not tell your STBX, it's ok to keep it private. You're navigating a new relationship with your STBX and you can decide how much you share and how much you keep to yourself.
2. Do not use your children to communicate.
Using your children to communicate will only harm your children in the long run. Your children should never feel responsible for things that happen between their parents. If they are required to communicate because you aren’t able to, your children can feel an incredible amount of stress. It’s best to find ways to communicate including text, email and phone calls.
3. Focus on your future.
You and your STBX’s relationship is changing. You’re no longer going to be married, you’re going to be co-parents. That means that everything that happened in the past doesn’t really apply to your new relationship. Let go of the past and focus on your future as co-parents who both care about your children. Be polite and respectful no matter what your STBX does. Eventually you’ll be able to develop a healthy co-parenting relationship. Make sure that you’re taking care of yourself so that you won’t be triggered by any inappropriate text or confrontational attorney letter.
4. Talk about feelings with your children
Divorce brings up so many emotions. It’s important that you create an environment where your children can express all of their feelings, even if it’s difficult to hear. Ask your children how they’re feeling and listen to what they say. Listening without talking is an essential skill that parents need to be effective at. When your child expresses a fear, ask them to tell you more. Then ask them, “Is there anything else?” When your child is completely done talking, then you can try to address some of their concerns without minimizing them. Empathize with them and say, “I can see why you feel that way.” Be honest with your children and let them know that it’s hard for you too but let them know that you’ll all be ok. Come up with ideas together on how you can make things better. If your children feel comfortable talking about their feelings, you can all move forward and have hope for a really good future.
Divorce is one of the most difficult things to go through in life. You have to take care of yourself to manage the stress of co-parenting. If you communicate effectively with your STBX, focus on your future and talk about feelings with your children, you will have an easier time managing the stress of divorce and co-parenting. If you’re struggling with any of this, reach out to a therapist or an experienced divorce coach.
Jill Barnett Kaufman, MSW, LCSW and Certified Parent Educator is an experienced clinician who helps clients discover new ways to resolve a variety of challenges and bring more happiness and peace into their lives.