Category Archives: Co-Parenting Coordination

Statsitics Say Kids are Happier

Years ago I recall talking with a friend who was in a very unhappy marriage. Each time we met she would tell me how many more years, months, weeks she had to endure her marriage until she could finally get out. She was staying for her daughter. Innocently, I asked, “Don’t you think your daughter would rather see her mom happy and divorced than in a marriage that makes her miserable?” She thought about it and the next time we met she told me she was leaving. I had no idea that my question had so much impact.

My friend, like many others, believed her daughter didn’t know that she and her husband were miserable. But, she came to find out, that a child’s perception often overrules our ability to camouflage. It then occurred to her that although her daughter was merely eight years old; she wanted to provide her with the role model of a strong and happy woman and that was no longer possible while married to her husband. I won’t go into the details, but in time they were divorced, learned to parent together from two households and their daughter has acclimated to the situation.

Curious, having read a recent poll claiming that 82% of those aged 14 to 22 who have endured family breakups would prefer their parents to part if they are unhappy, I asked my friend if she ever talked to her daughter about the differences from then to now. At eleven, her daughter clearly articulated that it was so much better this way. “Everyone is happier.”

That same survey revealed that adults and older children of divorced families say that they realized later on that it was for the best. This does not mean, by any means, that divorce is easy on anyone, but it does somehow attest to the long standing notion that staying together for the children is not the answer.

The answer is (drumroll please)…making divorce and co-parenting work…which again is not always an easy feat, but is certainly possible and leaves open much more opportunity for everyone involved.

That First Holiday after the Divorce

It is possible that this will be your first holiday without your children. Most likely this is what you agreed to in the parenting plan part of your divorce, but that may not make that impending day(s) any easier. Regardless of financial or marital status we all experience stress around the holidays. Depending on how good the relationship between you and your ex is, children of divorce approach the holidays with feelings ranging from mild uncertainty to absolute dread. As parents, we must learn to focus on the children’s needs and try to put our own sadness aside. Of course, this does not mean denying or ignoring one’s own feelings, but rather learning to deal with them in a way that does not make things more difficult for the children.

The divorced or separated family is generally aware of the pain it has suffered and the holidays may magnify this pain. Reminiscing might be part of the holiday tradition, but instead make it about creating new traditions. Try not to show the children how sad you may be that they will not be at your table this year by assuring them that you have some place to go and that they will have a great time with their mother/father. It will be difficult for them to enjoy themselves if they are envisioning the absent parent alone and sad. The ability of the children to adjust not just to the holiday visitation schedule, but to the divorce in general, is directly affected by how well the parents have learned to adjust to their new roles as co-parents and ex-spouses.

Some families avoid splitting the holidays by alternating times for family meals and traditions. This may be what you and your ex have decided will work best for your family, but most likely alternating major holidays yearly is the plan, therefore it is important to prepare yourself and your children for how the holiday will play out. Perhaps, having a second celebration when your child returns or before she/he leaves will work for you. Remember holidays are about families and good feelings not the day the calendar dictates.

For young children, the decision of where and when to go should be decided by the parents. Having to choose to spend time with one parent, over the other is a tremendous burden for the child, which may result in the child feeling guilty. It also gives the child more power than is appropriate. Remember too that older children are not immune to the stress. Adult children who live on their own may still find it difficult to choose. Young adults returning home for the holidays have the additional stress of wanting to spend time with their friends. Try to make it easier for them by alternating holidays or creating new traditions. Once again, assure them that you will be fine.

Holidays, while fun and festive, can also be stressful. Adding a new divorce or separation to the season can further complicate things; dialing up emotions and ambivalence. Do your best to create and stick to the plan that you and your spouse have created. If there is difficulty in devising a plan, that will make it easier on all involved, particularly the children; consult a parenting coach, who can help you work through things and make the future for your family easier and brighter. None of this is meant to diminish how difficult it may be celebrating those first few holidays without your children, but finding ways to make it palatable and even joyful for yourself, is one that should not involve the children. Keeping busy and spending time with compassionate friends and other family members often helps.

Adjusting to Shared Custody

Adjusting to shared custody during or after a divorce can be one of the most difficult parts of starting a new life. The periods of separation can be tough and even challenging, particularly when the wounds of divorce are still fresh. Letting go of trying to be a part of the children’s every moment is probably one of the most arduous parts, but for the sake of both the parents and the children; it is beneficial.

Children, who may be used to spending more time with one parent or another can also experience some form of separation anxiety. Try to find positive and creative ways to communicate with your children while they are visiting your former spouse without stepping on the toes of the other parent. It is important to allow him or her to parent; which is why co-parenting and communication is so important.

Rather than waiting for your children to call you whenever they feel like it, which may make kids worry about making the other parent feel betrayed or jealous, you can initiate a call. Arrange to ring at regular times, so you both can look forward to catching up, and your ex can arrange for them to be available when you call.

Do keep the calls brief though. Do not take a lot of their time away from the other parent and certainly keep your conversation positive. Although you may miss them terribly and feel sad; do not tell them as this may make them feel badly for the absent parent; sparking feelings of guilt. Tell them a funny story. Smile, even if it is forced.

Do not use your children as messengers. Keep adult business between you and your ex. Also, do not interrogate them about what your ex-partner does. You will have to learn to trust that he or she loves them as much as you do and therefore is doing his/her best to parent them.

When the children are away for longer periods of time; sending a letter or card can be a great way to stay in touch. Tell them all about your daily activities and plans for when you see them again. Emails work too and may allow them to write back, but don’t be offended if they don’t. Text messages are also a great way to keep in touch with older kids.

Skyping or Facetime is always a great option. You can chat with your children about daily activities or just blow them a kiss over the webcam. This is where that forced smile may come into play, but it will come more naturally with time. Once again, do not monopolize their time.

Children often sound distant or feel shy when they are with the other parent; as they may believe they are betraying the other parent. Don’t be offended. Rather, explain to them when they are with you that it’s okay to love both parents.

Remember, if your kids are immersed in activities with their other parent, that’s a good thing. It means they’re having too much fun to miss you. Let them be carefree and happy; they’ll still have plenty of love for you when they come back.

Co-Parenting with Laughter

Every once in a while I get a few minutes to page through a magazine and today, in November’s O Magazine, I came across a letter in Lisa Kogan’s column called, “May We Help You?” that made me literally laugh out loud at an issue that rarely has a funny side. A woman wrote in claiming that her boyfriend speaks to his ex-wife almost daily to schedule activities for their three children, but what bothered her is that she often hears them “laughing together instead of arranging carpools.” She goes on to say that he has dinner with the ex-wife and the kids every Tuesday.

While I understand that she may feel left out, and one really has to read Ms. Kogan’s response, as she is candid and comical, the part that struck me was how fabulous for these children. Of course Ms. Kogan addresses all the reasons why the girlfriend needs “let it be,” but my favorite line was when she pointed out that those Tuesday night dinners “might be sacred to the kids.” I have said it before, and I will say it again, a divorce or separation does not preclude anyone who has children from being part of a family. A parent will always be family to a child; therefore if a child’s parents can get along…and even laugh together; so much the better.

Not all parents get along well enough to co-parent with laughter; actually some can barely be in the same room, but this does not preclude anyone from the reality that it can only be easier and healthier for children when there is calm and compatibility particularly in their regard. Not every family is meant to have Tuesday night dinners, but there are multitudes of ways co-parenting can work. Sometimes just learning to have a civil conversation can be an improvement. Parent coaches can help. Remember, you are not just doing this for yourself, but most importantly for the children.

I often give examples to dueling parents that regardless of the fact that they may never want to see each other again they still have graduations and weddings to contend with and there is no doubt that they will be more happy and less stressful occasions if everyone learns to get along. Yes, it is possible to learn such behavior. Parents are forever tied together as long as they have children. And what in life isn’t better than a little laughter?

But, How Will it Affect the Children? 

One of the biggest worries many parents considering divorce have is how it will affect the children. Obviously no child wants to see his/her parents separate, but only you know what is best for your relationship. Sometimes one must contemplate whether having children grow up in a home filled with turmoil and fighting is a worthy environment as opposed to living in two homes where a peaceful existence is a more earnest possibility.

It is feasible to co-parent effectively; making the option of having children grow up in two households the better choice in some situations. Parents must remember that it is healthy and works best for children to learn to be flexible and be exposed to different perspectives, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Maintaining a sense of consistency between your home and your ex’s avoids confusion for children.

Learn to openly and honestly discuss important issues such as medical needs, education and financial issues privately. Try to present a united front and never disparage the other parent to your children. There are various ways to communicate with one’s ex; whether through meetings, email or by learning other methods with the help of a parent coach or coordinator.

Maintaining a common stance in both houses provides children with a sense of stability and steadiness. Living with the same basic set of expectations is helpful.

  • Discipline. Try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction. The same can be done for rewarding good behavior.
  • Rules. Rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Important lifestyle rules like homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.
  • Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedules. Making homework, meals and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to living in two homes.

It is possible for children of divorce to grow up happily in two homes. Just remember; they still have two parents that love them. By removing the triggers that were part of an unhealthy marriage two healthy homes can be better than its alternative.