Divorce rates are exploding, and filings have steadily increased since the onset of the pandemic in 2020. More than a third of couples, most of whom have young children, contemplated divorce just three months into the pandemic. But as former spouses move into post-pandemic life and adapt to a new way of living, many are left with the lingering task of reassembling their severed family unit.
Cultivating a respectful environment requires you to remain flexible, not for the sake of giving in, but because your kid's emotional well-being depends on it. When a relationship takes on a new identity, such as transitioning from marriage partners to co-parents, good intentions don't always result in a positive outcome. The back-to-school season often presents further challenges. More collaboration is needed to help children successfully navigate the school year.
Redefining Your Partnership
For families navigating the aftermath of divorce, co-parenting has become a buzzword used to describe a relationship between former spouses with children. While the name implies a level of cooperation is involved, not all parents abide by this. To foster a flourishing co-parenting relationship, view it as child-centered decision-making, where you work as a team to prioritize your kids’ needs.
Reasons for Unhealthy Co-Parenting Relationships
An unhealthy co-parenting relationship doesn’t usually stem from differing personalities or conflicting opinions. The leading cause of turmoil between two parents is simply this: putting the focus on themselves rather than their children.
The end of a marriage can feel like an emotional seesaw. One minute you're in control of your feelings. The next minute, a discussion with your ex-spouse over something seemingly insignificant like a school field trip can cause you to spin out of control.
Recognize that anger, guilt, and anxiety are a part of the process. You may have spent years or even decades hinging your hopes and dreams on a situation you thought would last forever. It can feel like a considerable loss on both ends when things don't work out. Therefore, learn to exercise compassion for your ex-spouse and yourself.
How High-Conflict Parenting Affects Your Children
Parents teach children how to resolve disagreements through observation. Ongoing exposure to intense parental conflict can cause your child chronic stress as they constantly anticipate the next fight. Arguments between you and your ex can also drain your physical energy and emotional resources, which can strain interactions with your kids. The focus then shifts from your children's needs to sealing up your own emotional wounds, perhaps leaving them to fend for themselves emotionally.
Transforming Your Co-Parenting Relationship
Like any other skill, cultivating a healthy co-parenting environment requires practice and, more importantly, patience. Implement the steps below to transform your co-parenting relationship from unhealthy to thriving.
- Share special moments. From your child’s first day at school to scoring a winning play on the field, there will be times when a parent will want to be a part of the action but won’t be able to attend due to work demands or distance. You can still make them a part of these cherished experiences by sending pictures or doing a video call. This will support your child in their endeavors and foster a supportive co-parenting environment.
- Prioritize communication. Without proper communication, your co-parenting relationship will continue to suffer. For instance, if you are concerned your ex is abusing alcohol during parenting time or you’re the one struggling with or being accused of substance misuse, this can impact communication and make way for heated arguments. In these situations, utilize Soberlink’s remote alcohol monitoring system’s real-time results for improved peace of mind and communication. Further, consult the other parent before making decisions involving the kids, such as modifying the days you pick up your kids from school or visitation. If a disagreement arises, select a neutral space to hash out your differences instead of arguing in front of your children.
- Never talk negatively about your ex. Whether there was infidelity during your marriage or your ex refuses to show up for your child, it’s vital to maintain a positive attitude. Any negative statements made about the other parent in your kid’s presence can cause them to question their self-worth and self-esteem, as they view that parent as a reflection of themselves.
One of the first things you must do to progress in your co-parenting relationship is release emotions of pain. Break up with hurt and anger. Accept the fact that the marriage is over and take responsibility for your role in things falling apart. The longer you hold onto resentment and feelings of betrayal, the more negatively it impacts shared parenting, causing every conversation to become a battlefield.
- Get clear on the rules. Despite living in separate households or different parenting styles, your expectations and rules for your children should remain consistent. This prevents children from pitting one parent against the other. A clear set of guidelines also teaches your child responsibility. It can boost confidence, preparing them for returning to school.
Divorce is hard, but co-parenting can be even more complicated – especially if alcohol abuse or alleged abuse is involved. There are no set rules aside from the ones you establish for your situation. And while your emotions may at times taint your interactions with your ex-spouse, a bit of patience and a lot of effort can create a successful partnership that will support your kids in having a productive school year.