10 Tips for Coparents from a Coparenting Counselor

In Constance Ahrons 2004 book, We’re Still Family: What Grown Children Have to Say about Their Parents Divorce she states, “The thing that stresses children most, sometimes for many years, is lingering conflict between parents.” Research shows a compelling link between consistent parental conflict harming children physically and emotionally throughout their adult lives. I once had a young boy in my office and when I asked him how he felt about his parent’s divorce, his entire body tensed up, he rubbed his head, tears rolled down his face and all he could say is, “That’s a hard question…” His body was telling me he was anxious and sad, but he could not find the words to say it. Kids often feel pulled back and forth and caught in the middle of their parents.  A Coparenting Counselor can help parents find a new way forward, so their kids can have a different future.

10 tips for coparents from a Coparenting Counselor:

1. Its not about YOU.

Well, if it’s not about ME, who is it about? Your child. They come first. All the time. So, when divorced parents think they could NEVER sit down and do Coparenting Counseling, because they could not sit in the same room together, I say…”It isn’t about you. Its about little Suzy.” In the first session, I meet with parents separately to better understand their individual stories.  In that first session, I have one parent bring a picture of their child. I bring that picture out every time we meet jointly. It is a grounding force. When things get heated, tempers flare, and the past gets brought back up, I call "time out!" and point to the picture.  I often tell them their child is MY client. I want to work for little Suzy!  Honestly, when you begin to put little Suzy first, work on your own recovery by laying down your resentment you will gain peace and serenity, which is something that often gets lost in the process of divorce.

  • Click here to read my blog on how to talk to your kids about divorce.

2.Coparenting is messy, awkward and H-A-R-D!

When you brought your kids home from the hospital you were not given a manual on how to raise them. When you signed divorced papers, no one told you how to coparent. How do you go from being lovers to coparents? How do you set aside your pain, hurt and bitterness, so you can create a summer schedule with your coparent? It’s H-A-R-D. You will mess up. It is awkward. That is why I believe having a third party like a Coparenting Counselor normalizing your feelings and helping you work out that summer schedule is not only beneficial to you, it is beneficial to the kids. Both of you learn how to talk to each other...again, reason things out and move forward.

  • Click here to read my blog on What Coparenting is and what it isn't?

3. Let Go

Coparents often feel it is necessary to rehash the past over and over again with each other. This often leads to arguments and more resentment, but it is like divorce does something to you and you just can’t help yourself. You HAVE to send THAT text! Say that ONE more time! Make one more unkind comment that tears down your coparent, so you can hurt them, because you are hurt. A Coparenting Counselor is there to help you both let go of the past and move forward.  Once you have both decided to divorce the only thing left to do is to build your coparenting relationship. Tearing each other down will build nothing. Sending the text, email or leaving that angry voicemail will not change the circumstances of your divorce. Learn to let go and you will find peace on the other side.

4. Be teachable!

In my Co-Parenting sessions, I spend the first 20 minutes going through a coparenting manual and educating parents on HOW to coparent. Sometimes I get rolling eyes and tapping feet, because coparents want to get to THEIR parenting issue and don’t want to be reading from a manual and learning. Often times the craziest thing happens…the VERY thing we are reading about from the manual is the VERY thing they are essentially talking about in their parenting issue.  Coparents don't recognize it, but a good Coparenting Counselor does.  Be teachable.  You don't know how to do this.  Be quiet and learn.

5. Can you agree to that?

I am a new voice to your coparent.  One they have not hear before, as well as trained in this area. We decide in our sessions to make parenting agreements with each other. Therefore, if you tell me something like, “Every time Mom drops off the kids, it’s this long drawn out thing. She hugs them and makes them feel guilty when they say goodbye to her.” I can look at Mom and say, “Mom, stop doing that. Give them hugs when you leave YOUR house. Do NOT get out of your car. This is too hard on the kids. Tell them before leaving YOUR house this is how you are going to do it from now one. Can you agree to that?” She says "Yes" because she needs Dad to agree to something too.  Also, Dad assumes mom is doing this intentionally.  Sometimes mom had no idea what she was doing was hurting the kids, and she is more than willing to stop doing something when a counselor tells her to stop not Dad.

  • Click here to read my blog on handling pick ups/ drop offs

6. That’s none of your business.

Coparents often don’t have clear boundaries. What can they talk about and what can’t they talk about? A Coparenting Counselor can clarify those NEW boundaries to them. There are certain topics that are none of the coparents business like relationships with a significant other (unless this relationship impacts the children in some way) or how the other coparent spends their money. Learning what is no longer your business is hard, but also freeing. You don’t have to worry about the bill he will have to pay for that expensive new car he just bought or her five new pairs of shoes. That is their problem. You will have to make peace with the fact that their life is their life now and you need to let go and let God.

7. Judges, lawyers and courts doesn't help coparenting.

Instead of bringing your parenting issues to the court bring them into a session with a counselor that can help mediate a solution. Calling your attorney every time you have a parenting issue is no way to parent your child.   This kind of parenting sets NO example for your child on how to parent. We want our children to learn how to discuss, compromise and love one another even through our differences. We do not want our children to learn that they can be pawns used in litigation. I often like to meet with the kids of the parents I am working with. When the kids come in, I show them their picture their parent brought in of them. Their eyes light up, because they can’t believe mom and dad are sitting down and talking!  We can teach our kids parenting can be done through discussion and compromise or through anger and manipulation- that is your choice.

  • Think about a Divorce and Family Mediator instead. Click here to read my blog on Divorce Mediation.

8. Life can be so much easier.

If two coparents can figure out how to get along- LIFE CAN BE SO MUCH EASIER. Raising children is hard. It is everyday. 24/7. It can be overwhelming and it takes a LONG time.  Birthday parties, holidays, graduations, weddings and sharing grandchildren are just a few of things you will have to figure out together...forever.  Learning how to talk, draw boundaries, compromise and make agreements that both of you can abide by is just EASIER-for everybody. Those coparents that can’t do this are constantly battling either covertly or overtly with things like not returning phone calls or emails, showing up late for drop offs or pick ups, undermining the parent’s discipline, undermining the child’s schedule, verbally disrespecting the parent to the child, and not sharing important information about the child with the other parent. And this can go on for years…And who does this hurt the most? The child! But it also hurts each one of you. The amount of stress this kind of bitterness does to your heart can change you forever. It's your choice.

9. CHILL OUT! Stop being so afraid!

A Coparenting Counselor can help parents CHILL OUT. Divorce breeds of fear in parents. When parents are afraid they get angry and anxious and react quickly, rather than stepping back and calmly assessing. Divorce makes parents more reactive instead of proactive. Things immediately become black and white instead of gray. As a Coparenting Counselor, I want to help coparents learn how to not react so quickly. For instance, little Suzy comes home from a weekend at dad’s and casually tells mom that she had so much fun with dad.  On Saturday, they went to watch football with his family. Mom asks if he drank beer.  Suzy says, "I think so..."  Mom freaks out and calls her attorney on Monday accusing dad of drinking and driving and wants to revoke his visitation. Before calling the attorney, I suggest you call the Coparenting Counselor for a session. You sit down with the counselor and dad and describe your fear. Dad will be able to hear your fear better if a third party is there to help you describe how it feels for you.  You can also hear dad’s side of the story. If both of you were STILL married you would talk, but for some reason now that you are divorced your first thought is to react (because you are afraid), accuse, call the attorney and threaten that Suzy can’t see her dad again?  This really hurts little Suzy!

10. You are not lovers anymore, you are coparents.

Couples know how to be couples and parents. Coparents are different. It is more of a business relationship. A Coparenting Counselor can help couples redefine their relationship into a healthy coparenting relationship.  Often times, divorced couples have created a number of stories in their heads about each other and have not talked to each other about these stories, but believe them to be true. Coparenting Counseling can reveal these stories as fiction and NOT fact. This can be very helpful in building trust and healing to the coparent relationship. This healing can start the process of coparents redefining their roles with each other no longer as lovers but as coparents.

Coparenting Counseling will not heal the pain and hurt YOU FEEL from your divorce. You will need to do your own recovery and therapy for that to happen (and I hope that you do!), but Coparenting Counseling can be helpful in building a new relationship with your coparent. For kids of divorce, they have enough pain to deal with just getting over their family ending. Adding constant fighting onto that pain is just not fair. For their sakes, I urge you to get help if you need it, so your kids learn that divorce is NOT the final word to their family, as they knew it.  There is hope for a new future and while their parents are no longer married they can get along, so everyone can move forward and have a better future.

If you are stuck in your co-parenting relationship and not sure how to move forward, co-parenting counseling with me can help!   Please email at sara@sparrowcounsel.com or call me at 205-538-3978 or go online to schedule an appointment.

If you enjoyed this blog you might enjoy my other blogs on coparenting!  Click here to check them out!

Sara Dungan, M.Ed, LMFT, ALC, NCC, Certified Parenting Coordinator, Divorce and Family Mediator (Domestic Violence Trained) has her private practice called Sparrow Counseling in Birmingham, AL.  She specializes in Parenting Coordination, Co-Parenting Counseling and Divorce and Family Mediation.  Her passion is helping parents learn how to become successful coparents, so their children can thrive after their divorce.  Contact Sara at sara@sparrowcounsel.com.

Sara is an Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) under the supervision of H. Hobart (Bart) Grooms, M. Div, MEd, LPC-S, LMFT-S, Supervising Counselor.