As a divorced parent, I find few things more annoying than someone proclaiming, "Divorce is never an option. I'll always put my kids first." Generally, the people who make these statements have never been on the brink of divorce, have never known what it's like to be in an irretrievably broken marriage, and have never lost their self-worth at the hands of their spouse. And in my experience? These are the same people that could use a list of tips for co-parenting after a divorce because they have no idea how that works either.
Divorce sucks. Plain and simple. But sometimes it's necessary, and when there are kids involved? So is co-parenting. No matter how much you dislike your ex, no matter how much they hurt you or how distraught you are over the situation, you still have to co-parent. And it's hard. It's really, really hard. Divorcing someone you thought you would spend the rest of your life with is no picnic, and all of those emotions and stressful feelings are still there, except now you have to put them aside to figure out who's taking little Tommy to baseball practice.
But when you master co-parenting, you can make your relationship with your ex even better than it was when you were married. Hey, you might even want to celebrate National Ex-Spouse Day on April 14. Don't worry — you don't have to buy them a card or send them flowers. Instead, implement these 13 tips for co-parenting after a divorce and you can give them the best gift of all — happy kids.
1. Try To Stay Out Of Court
Greg Frank, CEO of DivorceForce and a divorced father of two, insists that staying out of court is a much better idea for you and your ex when it comes to co-parenting battles. "It's the most negative place on earth," Frank tells Romper. "Court rooms are an incubator for hostility and controversy, and a long, drawn-out litigation will certainly have long-lasting negative effects on your children." Try to convince your ex to discuss things outside of a courtroom with you to make it easier on both you and your children.
2. Ask For Help Communicating
Communication is key when it comes to co-parenting, but it's not always easy. "If you are having issues communicating with your ex, enroll the help of parents or a trusted source to mediate," Frank suggests. "It may help you both overcome the hostility so you can move towards an amicable resolution to your problems."
3. Don't Use Your Kids As Messengers
Everyone is guilty of it, but your kids should never relay messages between you and your ex. "The most common abuse of this is discussing parenting schedules," Frank says. Even if it seems simple enough, communicating with your ex through your child just puts a lot of unnecessary stress on your kids.
4. Remind Yourself That Your Ex Is Your Child's Parent
Don't think of them as your ex-spouse, think of your ex as your child's other parent and let that influence your co-parenting relationship. "Remember that person is your child's other parent," Frank says. "Say it out loud a few times. As hard as it may be and as emotional as you are, always keep in mind that your ex is a crucial part of your child's life."
5. Don't Disparage Your Ex
Even if you're not talking poorly of your ex in front of your children, think about the rumor mill that can start when you publicly disparage your ex in any fashion. Frank warns that when you rant about your ex, you could harm your friendships, your child's relationship with you and their other parent, and your gossiping may even make its way to your ex.
6. Listen To Your Children
You're not the only one going through this divorce — your kids are, too. So listen to what they have to say. Just like it's OK for you to be angry, upset, or confused about the situation, it's OK for your children to have those same feelings. They need to feel safe communicating with you and should be allowed to share what they think.
7. Find A Communication Tool That Works For The Whole Family
With today's technology, there's no reason for there to be misunderstandings about schedules. "Kids don't need to relay information about practices, school events, and visitation, not when you have a host of calendar and scheduling options. Sync your phone up with your ex's and alleviate the back and forth over simple items. Less conversations with your ex could lead to a smoother relationship," says Frank.
8. Stay A United Front
"You two share the most valuable possession in the world and are responsible to raise your kids to the best of your ability," says Frank. This includes standing as a united front to your children. There shouldn't be different rules at mom's house or dad's house. Kids need structure and they need the same boundaries from their parents, no matter where they are or who they are with.
9. Check Your Attitude
You are the only one that can control your attitude and it's up to you to keep it in check. Having a bad attitude with your ex just makes your children upset and worried about the two of you being around each other. Frank suggests thinking about the kind of person you want to be through this divorce and make a conscious effort to be that person.
10. Recognize That You're Emotional
Divorce is extremely emotional, especially with kids involved. You have to remember that you're emotional and that letting your feelings dictate your decisions isn't good for a co-parenting relationship. "While you may be angry and upset at your ex today, you have to learn to communicate as your children grow," Frank says. "Bite your tongue and ask yourself if what you're emotional over is really worth it in the long run."
11. Remember That Not Co-Parenting Is Not An Option
"On paper you may be divorced, but you have children. They will keep you connected forever," Frank says. It's not an option to ignore your ex or refuse to involve them in co-parenting your children. "Being able to co-parent is paramount to your kids' happiness."
12. Keep Your Kids Out Of It
No matter how mature you think your kids are, they are not your therapists. Don't talk bad about your ex to them, don't ask them to handle communication, and don't let them know your true feelings about the divorce. It's OK for them to see you be sad or frustrated, that's just human, but they should never know the ins and outs of your divorce, custody battle, or co-parenting woes. It's stressful enough for you — imagine how a child feels.
13. Don't Fuel The Fire
No matter how hard things may be when you're co-parenting with your ex, you're in control of how much better or worse it can be. "Don't fuel the fire," Frank says. This includes stalking your ex on social media.
Move on with your life, handle things that need to be handled for the sake of your children, and don't give in to arguments that are unnecessary or let your ex get under your skin.