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Divorced Parents: How to Co-Parent Peacefully

You are divorced.  Your divorce was, as most divorces are, unpleasant at best.  However, your two children should not feel stuck in the middle between you and your former spouse.  Your job as a parent, now and always, is to ensure that you are guiding your children toward a happy, healthy, productive adulthood; emotionally scarring your children won’t accomplish that objective.  Here are some tips on how to peacefully co-parent with your former spouse.

1.      Be an adult; recognize that your children are children, not adults.  Do not put your children in adult situations.  Do not speak of your adult difficulties with your children.  Your children are not your peers.  If you need to “vent” about conflict with your former spouse, budgetary problems, or other adult difficulties, do so with another adult, not your children.

2.      Your children probably love both of their parents.  Just because you have divorced your former spouse, your children do not (and should not) have to “divorce” him/her too.  Unless your former spouse poses a legitimate risk of harm to your children, do not prevent your children from having a relationship with your former spouse.

3.      Just because your former spouse may not have been a good spouse, that doesn’t mean that s/he may not have been a good parent.  In front of your children, praise your former spouse for his/her parenting skills.  For example, you may say, “Tom is a great dad.  I know he loves our boys with all his heart.  He attends all their games and cheers them on.  He has attended each of their parent-teacher conferences.  He sees them regularly and does the neatest things with them.  Just last week, he took them hiking in the foothills.”

4.      Help your children recognize important events in the life of your former spouse.  For example, you can help them make greeting cards for him on Father’s Day and you can be flexible regarding visitation weekends so that your children can attend your former spouse’s subsequent wedding ceremony.

5.      If your former spouse behaves confrontationally with you in front of your children, politely ask your former spouse to delay the conversation until it can be held privately.  If you former spouse is unwilling to delay the conversation, “suddenly remember” something that takes you and the children (or just the children) away from the confrontation.  For example, you may say, “Tom, we sure can talk about this, but I just realized what time it is.  It’s later than I thought.  We need to get home because I promised to be home for the plumber this afternoon since our kitchen sink is not draining properly.  Let’s visit about this tomorrow.  Bye!”  Or you may say, “Kids, I just remembered that Spot hasn’t been walked since this morning.  Poor fellow!  Would you please take him for a walk around the neighborhood?  Don’t forget to take the scooper, ok?”  Once your children cannot overhear, you and your former spouse can have whatever discussion your former spouse feels it necessary to have.

6.      If your former spouse cannot behave properly toward you in front of your children, you need to make alternate arrangements for communication and transfer of children on visitation weekends.  For example, perhaps all communication should pass between your lawyers rather than passing directly between the two of you.  Transfer of children can occur in a place in which your former spouse is unlikely to create a scene.  Such places may include a church, the police station, or Grandma’s house.

7.      No matter how frustrated or angry you may feel, never “return fire” when dealing with an aggressive former spouse.  Keep your part of the conversation constructive.  When the conversation degrades sufficiently that it is no longer constructive, you may say, “I hear what you are saying.  I think you and I will need to agree to disagree on this.  I’m going to go now, because I think we are at an impasse.  Goodbye.”

8.      To help you address the hurt, frustration, and/or anger that you feel regarding your former spouse, you are well advised to rely upon your social support system.  A counselor can also provide you with a listening ear and wise counsel on handling your difficult situation.

By following the tips above, you can do your part to peacefully co-parent with your former spouse.

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