When children are involved, a divorced couple is irrevocably linked throughout their lives. Highly contentious divorces will, without a change in mindset and a commitment to cooperation, lead to negative, stressful and ultimately toxic co-parenting arrangements. The key is to learn how to separate personal emotions and feelings of hurt or bitterness linked to the failure of the marriage from the ability of your former spouse to parent effectively.
Creating a positive, successful co-parenting relationship
Co-parenting doesn't start the moment the divorce papers are signed; it is an ongoing process throughout the entire dissolution process and beyond. Focusing first and foremost on your child's best interests - instead of your own emotions or desires - can help frame a custody and visitation schedule (a "parenting plan") that ultimately proves workable for the entire family.
To help your children thrive during and after a divorce, psychologists recommend trying to limit contention as much as possible between you and your child's other parent. Numerous long-term studies have shown a definitive link between divorced parents' ongoing hostility and negative physical and mental outcomes for children.
Other recommendations include:
- Try to, as much as possible, keep the focus of interactions with your child's other parent on the children; disengaging your personal resentments and biases is good for the kids and for your own well-being.
- Don't argue in front of the children. Disagreements can be handled civilly in most cases, but even if they can't, the children don't need to witness parents calling each other names, shouting or worse.
- Communicate directly with your co-parent about schedule changes, issues, concerns, etc. Avoid the temptation to use the children as a go-between, as it places an unfair burden on them.
- Remember the many benefits to having a relationship with both parents. Unless there are concerns about domestic violence, criminal activity, neglect or alcohol/drug abuse, children should be allowed ample time with mom and dad. Research proves that children unfairly restricted from seeing one parent have statistically higher rates of mental and physical health conditions and developmental delays.
- Don't give in to the temptation to "bad-mouth" the child's other parent in an attempt to curry favor. Parental alienation is negative for everyone involved, and it might even result in loss of custody or visitation.