Co-parenting is a skill that you need to learn
When a couple enters a marriage and starts raising a family, they don’t aim to divorce but when it does happen, co-parenting is a skill they need to learn.
Going through a divorce can make life feel unravelled on countless levels and no one in its sphere is immune to its effects. If you are co-parenting children with an ex, you know there will be adjustments as you begin to open your life to new love.
There are many reasons that previously happily married couples divorce. But, at the end of the day, you need to think about the children. And if you plan on remarrying, you will need the keys to co-parenting that support your children and allow you to move on with your life.
Research shows that children of divorce who spend at least 35 percent of their time with each parent have a better relationship with both parents. They also fare better academically, socially and psychologically.
The takeaway here is that shared parenting or co-parenting should be the goal of divorced parents committed to their children’s highest good. However, co-parenting isn’t always possible and sometimes it isn’t in the best interests of the children.
Successfully using the keys to co-parenting requires the commitment of the parents to behave like adults, whose primary focus is not on personal squabbles or lingering anger from their marriage.
If the biological parents can’t co-parent in a healthy way, adding a new spouse to the mix won’t make things any easier.
What are the important keys to co-parenting in a healthy way? Here is a basic list of what your relationship should look like, on behalf of your children:
- Clear boundaries: You don’t try to control one another or interfere in matters that don’t involve your children’s welfare.
- Open communication: You communicate with one another clearly via talking, email, text, etc.
- Consistent rules in both households: Granted, your homes and lifestyles will not be identical, but your children know that ‘homework before T.V.’ means the same thing at Dad’s as it does at Mom’s.
- A predetermined, predictable schedule: Any changes are discussed with one another before being discussed with the kids.
- Willingness to be flexible: Life happens and everyone needs some give now and then.
- No disrespect of the other in front of your children: Recognise the significance of the other parent in your children’s lives, and keep your adult issues out of their hearing.
- Amicability at social events where both you and your ex are present: This becomes especially important when one or both of you begin dating other people and including them in your children’s lives.
If the biological parents can’t co-parent in a healthy way, adding a new spouse to the mix won’t make things any easier
You were once probably happily married to your ex and no matter what happens, you share the responsibility of raising your children in a new and different way than before.
Before going deeper into the keys to successful co-parenting after remarrying, it’s worth looking at what a child experiences when a parent remarries. By stepping into your child’s shoes, you will intuitively navigate your co-parenting arrangement more compassionately and successfully.
3 Things your kids feel when you plan to remarry
1. A sense of loss
The child realises that they will never have their original family back. They may feel that they are losing the parent who is remarrying. They may feel jealousy toward the new step-parent and step-siblings.
Recognise that your child may feel like an outsider in their own home and be prepared to reassure them of their essential place.
2. Confused feelings
Underlying the keys to co-parenting after remarrying are the natural, perplexing feelings of the child who feels lost in the new dynamics.
Expect your child to be insecure about how to accept the new step-parent and still respect their ‘replaced’ parent. They will naturally make comparisons.
They may struggle with loyalty, especially if you have unresolved issues with your ex. This is why it is so important that parents never fight ‘through’ their kids.
Respect everyone involved. Behave like mature, responsible adults. Communicate. And, above all, prioritise your children
3. Adjusting to new rules and relationships
When someone new enters an established relationship, there are changes in routines and rules. A child may feel resentment toward a new authority figure. They may long for privacy that becomes more difficult to find with new family members around.
Younger children generally adapt to new relationships more quickly than older children. By studying and considering your child’s developmental stage, you can anticipate emotional and behavioural responses to your divorce and remarriage.
Welcoming love into your life can be a wonderful, triumphant experience after all the work of healing from a divorce. But the addition of that extra helping hands inevitably makes parenting and co-parenting more complex. There are challenges in even the best circumstances.
7 Keys to co-parenting
It’s important that all the involved adults follow these seven keys to co-parenting – a blend of healthy co-parenting and compassion for each child’s emotional response to your remarriage:
1. Healthy boundaries for the step-parent
It can be difficult to have a new spouse who must take a back seat in the major decisions of childrearing, but it’s essential that you protect your co-parenting relationship with your children’s other biological parent.
All the major decisions and important discussions about your children’s upbringing belong to you and your ex. This requires a delicate balance, as your new spouse will be living with your children and will inevitably play a central role in their day-to-day lives.
It’s important that they don’t simply assume a parental role, but respect the roles of the biological parents. And the biological parents should respectfully ease the new step-parent into the co-parenting roles.
2. Open communication among everyone
You have to retain your co-parenting communication with your ex. You also have to bring your new spouse into that dynamic, so all the ‘parents’ are on the same page regarding your children’s welfare.
Yes, the major decisions belong to the biological parents. But everyone is involved in raising and loving the children. And your new marriage also deserves respect and transparency.
3. Non-negotiable respect
No matter what you or your new spouse think about your ex or former marriage, you must never express disrespect in front of the children. This is especially true for the new step-parent.
Likewise, your ex should never speak disparagingly of your new spouse in front of the children.
How this new dynamic plays out depends, in large part, on how you protect the integrity of your co-parenting relationship with your ex
4. Naming the step-parent
Going back to the experiences of a child when a parent remarries, the new step-parent represents confusion in loyalty. Encouraging children to call a step-parent ‘mom’ or ‘dad’ just adds to the confusion. It is inappropriate and will anger and hurt your co-parent. In most cases, using the step-parent’s first name is the safest, most natural approach for children.
5. Setting everyone up to succeed
The keys to co-parenting after remarriage don’t disregard the new spouse. They will be involved in the day-to-day lives of everyone in your home, including any kids they bring to the marriage.
Find out what your new spouse is willing and able to do with regard to parenting. Give them room to include each child in activities they both enjoy and can share.
What role does your spouse want to play? And how can you support that role while protecting the integrity of your co-parenting relationship?
By allowing your new spouse to be another source of love and support for your kids, everyone will adjust with less fear and confusion.
6. Talking about feelings
Again, depending on where your children are age-wise, they will probably experience an array of feelings, from abandonment to guilt and anger.
Be open and honest with your kids about their feelings, and be willing to get professional help if necessary. Everyone should feel heard and validated.
Children need to know that their feelings are a natural response to the enormous changes in their lives. They also need to know that all of their parents have their best interests at heart.
7. Remembering your focus
It’s bound to happen – your ex will say or do something that makes your blood boil. Or you will disagree on a major decision. You will be stuck trying to co-parent with no apparent ‘co-‘ on board.
In these derailing moments, there is only one question that matters: “Is this about me or my kids?”
The addition of a step-parent to a child’s life can be wonderful or miserable. Despite a child’s natural feelings and behavioural changes during the adaptation, a step-parent can represent a huge bonus…
Extra love. Extra attention. Extra support.
How this new dynamic plays out depends, in large part, on how you protect the integrity of your co-parenting relationship with your ex.
The essential keys to co-parenting after you remarry echo the essential keys to co-parenting before you remarried. Respect everyone involved. Behave like mature, responsible adults. Communicate. Above all, prioritise your children.
Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, divorce and co-parenting has appeared on MSN, Yahoo! & eHarmony, among others. You can learn more about Karen and her work at drkarenfinn.com.