By working together, divorced parents can help their children adjust to differences between homes.
- Respect the other parent’s household. Do not demean the other’s living circumstances, activities, dates, or decisions. We need to give up the need to control our ex’s parenting style. If we have concerns, we speak directly to the other parent. Don’t use children as a go-between.
- Schedule a monthly (more often) “business” meeting to discuss co-parenting matters. Address schedules, academic reports, behavioral training, and spiritual development. Do not discuss personal life; that part of the relationship is no longer appropriate. If the conversation turns away from the children, simply redirect the topic or politely end the meeting. If you cannot talk with your ex face to face due to conflict, use email or speak to the answering machine. Ensure the meetings are productive for the children.
- We never ask our children to be spies or tattletales on the other home. This places them in a loyalty bind that brings great emotional distress. In fact, be happy when they enjoy the people in their new home (“I’m glad you enjoy fishing with your step-dad”). If children offer information about life in the other home, listen and stay neutral in your comments, reserve judgments.
- Children should have everything they need in each home. Don’t have them bring basic necessities back and forth. Special items, like clothes, school supplies, or a comforting teddy bear, can move back and forth as needed.
- Try to let go of hostility toward the other parent, so that the children can’t take advantage of hard feelings. It’s much easier for them to manipulate us if we don’t cooperate with our ex.
- Do not disappoint children with broken promises. Do what you say, keep the visitation schedule as agreed, and stay active in their life.
- Make the custody structure work for the children, even if you don’t like the details of the arrangement. Update the ex when changes need to be made to the visitation schedule. Also, inform the other parent of any change in job, living arrangements, etc. which may require an adjustment by the children.
- Do special things with differing combinations of children. Sometimes it’s tempting to only do “special activities” when all of the children are with you. That may leave some children feeling that they aren’t as special as others. So, plan some special things to do with different combinations of the kids (it’s all right if someone feels disappointed he or she wasn’t able to go). Let the lives of those living with you remain unaltered, as much as possible, when other children come for visitation. Keep toys and possessions in a private spot where they are not to be touched or borrowed unless the owner gives permission (even while they are in the other home).
- If the two homes cannot resolve a problem, agree to problem solving through mediation rather than litigation. The legal system tends to exacerbate between-home hostilities. Use only as a last resort.
© 2012 by Ron L. Deal. All rights reserved.