It's true that divorce represents an ending of one relationship – but it also represents the beginning of another. Though you and your ex-spouse may no longer be husband and wife, you’re always going to be parents. You may be parenting from two homes instead of one, and it may look different than it looked before, but always, you’ll be two of the most important people in your children’s lives. As your children continue to grow, you’ll still be required to make decisions together for their well-being, to attend their important activities together, and to be present for the moments in their lives, big and small.
Regardless of the separate paths that your lives may take in other ways, you will always have this bond, and hopefully, the shared goal of continuing to be the best parents to your children that you can be. For the sake of your children, it is important to acknowledge the reality of this new relationship, and to do what you need to do to make it the best and most cooperative relationship that it can be. Though you may have feelings of animosity toward your spouse because of the end of your marriage, for the sake of your children, it will be important to work on dealing with those feelings and moving forward in a positive, and healthy way. That’s what this chapter is all about.
A Quick Look at the Co-Parenting Spectrum
Successful co-parenting - what does it look like, and how do you go about it? These are important and worthwhile questions to ask, and the answers will look slightly different for every family. For some parents, co-parenting seems to be relatively easy following a divorce, particularly if that divorce was low-conflict, cooperative, and amicable. These parents find it fairly easy to make the transition from one household to two. They are able to cooperate effectively, make decisions together about what’s best for their children, and generally manage the transition from one household to two with fairly minimal conflict.
In other situations, however, and particularly in high-conflict relationships, co-parenting can be very difficult. These parents may have struggled with a relationship that had marital misconduct of some kind - perhaps abuse, or addiction, or mental illness on the part of one spouse. In these cases, co-parenting can be very difficult and cooperating is not easy. There are these two ends of the spectrum and everything in between when it comes to co-parenting relationships. Wherever you find yourself on this spectrum, the good news is that with the right tools and a commitment to making an effort, you and your ex-spouse can find a co-parenting dynamic that works well for your family.
Failing to do so means that instead of co-parenting what you are effectively doing is “parallel parenting”. In a nutshell, this term refers to each parent raising the children in his or her own way without much communication with or cooperation from the other parent. Ultimately, while this may seem easier for the parents, it is not nearly as beneficial for the children. Making the effort to learn how to co-parent together is well worth it and in the best interest of the children that you love. Keeping that in mind, let’s take a look at what successful co-parenting looks like.
Elements of a Successful Co-Parenting Relationship
More than anything else, it is important to remember that the ultimate goal of co-parenting is putting your child’s needs first. Certainly, this is not always going to be easy. Divorce is difficult, and in almost every case, even those divorces which are amicable and go smoothly, there is some amount of emotional pain involved. It goes without saying then that redefining your relationship with your ex in this way for the sake of your children will mean putting aside your own emotional baggage and committing to focusing first and foremost on what’s important for your children.
With that in mind, here are some helpful tips for establishing and maintaining a successful co-parenting relationship:
Co-Parenting in High Conflict Situations
Certainly, any divorce is stressful for everyone involved in one way or another. Some divorces, however, are significantly more stressful than others. Those stressful divorces often, although not always, were precipitated by relationships that were difficult, stressful, and high-conflict long before the divorce itself occurred. There could be any number of reasons that this is the case.
It’s possible that domestic abuse existed in the relationship. In other cases, one spouse may have suffered from narcissistic personality disorder or some other mental issue that caused he or she to be particularly manipulative or controlling of the other spouse. It’s possible that one spouse committed adultery, or hid an addiction, or otherwise engaged in behaviors that were very damaging to the relationship, and ultimately, to the marriage. In still other cases, the conflict is not from any one form of “misconduct” by either spouse, it could simply be that emotions became so volatile and tense between the parties that even after the dust settled, it was difficult to truly put those emotions aside and cool down.
Whatever the reason, some co-parenting relationships are more high-conflict in nature. While this is unfortunate, the good news is that even in high-conflict situations, there are steps you can take to help ensure that you can still co-parent as successfully as possible. If you find yourself in a high-conflict co-parenting situation, if possible, try to:
The good news, though, is that in many cases, counseling can be very effective, for children, and for parents. Sometimes, those who go to counseling are pleasantly surprised to discover that a relationship which may initially seem very tense and unmanageable actually can become less tense and more amicable and cooperative over time. Moreover, even in situations where one spouse refuses to participate in counseling for whatever reason, it can still be beneficial for you, and for your children. Sometimes, no matter how much you might want to, you can’t change other people. You can change yourself, though, and you can take steps to ensure that you are pursuing the best for your emotional health and well-being.
If you have been involved in a high-conflict relationship for any period of time, counseling can be very beneficial, not only for your own healing, but also for continued growth. Sometimes, making a concerted effort to really explore the roots of a conflict and how it has impacted you can be extremely beneficial as you try to heal and move forward. A trained counselor can also give you helpful tools for establishing healthy boundaries, standing up for yourself when necessary, and maintaining your emotional well-being and strength so that you can be the best parent for your children, regardless of what your ex-spouse chooses to do.
Counseling can also be very beneficial and helpful for children whose parents are involved in a high-conflict relationship. Sometimes, children who find themselves in these situations have difficulty expressing themselves, and finding the right words and outlets for their feelings. A professionally trained child therapist can be very helpful to children in many ways, and making the effort to find one who is a good fit for your child’s personality is highly recommended.
While co-parenting in a high conflict situation will not always be easy, the good news is that it can be manageable. With the right tools and the necessary effort, you can find a situation that is manageable and workable for your family.
Leading by Example
Beyond simply being good for your children from an emotional standpoint, good co-parenting can also set a good example for your children. It can show them in a very practical and real-life way that even though people have difficulties and differences, they can still work together to solve problems and achieve goals and do what’s best for everyone involved. Particularly as your children get older, they will see this example and it will be very valuable to them in their own lives. Beyond giving them the gift of two parents who are invested and involved in pursuing their best interests, you are also giving them the gift of leading by example that they can carry into their own relationships later in life.
No matter what, making the transition from one home to two will not be without its difficulties, and it will certainly require some adjustment and adaptation from everyone. Although there may be some challenging moments and some growing pains, with a commitment and continual effort from both parents who want to co-parent successfully and work constantly toward that goal, you can do it. It is possible and likely that you can build a new relationship which, although different from the old one, will still be beneficial and special to your children. Making the effort is well worth it.
If you need to speak with an experienced child custody attorney in Huntersville, North Carolina, contact Adkins Law to arrange a consultation.