As a Co-parenting Counselor, in Birmingham, AL, I help coparents find better ways to communicate. I help them redesign their old marriage relationship into more of a business relationship. As I do this work, I have come to realize something. Many coparents seem to believe that divorce puts them in a different category of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. My problem with this way of thinking is parents act contradictory to how they are expecting their children to act as kindergartners. We try to teach our children from a very early age that there are rules in how we treat people. If our kids follow these rules they will be happy. But coparents give themselves permission to act differently than these rules because they are getting a divorce. This is confusing to children. I love Robert Fulghum’s 1988 poem called “Everything I really need to know I learned in kindergarten”. I have applied these essential rules to a co-parenting relationship.
1) Share Everything
Divorce puts us against each other. The divorce process is essentially set up to protect yourself, your assets and your relationship with your children. In that process, coparents often lose their way about what “sharing” means. Of course, it would not be wise in a divorce to share everything. That would be confusing and chaotic. However, this is a rule we try and teach our children but seem to think it doesn’t apply in divorce. My hope is that coparents can compromise. Give and take as they move through the process for the sake of themselves and their children. Digging your heels in with rigid black and white thinking about what you think you are owed or deserve will cost you a lot of money (think attorney fees) and loss of peace. It also promotes a double standard to our kids (hint: the WHOLE point of this blog).
2) Play Fair
We teach our kids early when playing Candyland, there are rules. You can’t just jump to the top of the Candy Castle and win the game. You have to play by the rules. Often coparents think that is OK to break the “rules of decency” when going through a divorce. For example, a common practice I am seeing now is recording conversations without consent of the other coparent just so they have a record for the court. When we don’t play by the rules and say “mean” things about our coparent to our kids, this is confusing to children. And when we say mean things about the other coparent, you are essentially putting 50% of your child down. What good parent wants to do that?
3) Don’t hit people
Doesn’t this go without saying? Of course! But we may not use our fists to hit, we use our words or our body language to show the contempt we feel for our co-parent. 90% of our communication is our body language. If we show disrespect to our coparents through rolling our eyes, mocking them or using sarcasm, we are showing our children how to disrespect the other parent. This may feel good in the moment, but will come to hurt you in the future when you need your coparents influence over your child or their help in guiding your child through life. For example, your daughter may be 5 years old now, but when she is 16 and dating a guy, I believe, it is important to have both parents (especially fathers) involved in the process of dating.
4) Put things back where you found them
Like your past marital relationship. Keep the past the past as you move through your coparenting. Bringing up your relationship wounds with your coparent over and over again does not help you move into the future. Those wounds need to be worked out (for sure!) but not with your coparent. They need to be worked out with your therapist.
5) Clean up your own mess
The last rule (put things back where you found them) is a nice connection into this rule (clean up your own mess). Basically, clean up your junk. In other words, clean up your part in the relationship, so you don’t take it into the next relationship. Start being honest with yourself about what your part is and how you were part of the breakdown of the marriage. Do your work. Period. Take time to figure out who you are without your former spouse. Grieve. Be mad. Heal. Then take time to find your own passion and what makes you tick before you go out on your first date!
6) Don’t take things that aren’t yours
It is easy to get greedy and selfish during the divorce process and afterwards. We can get greedy with material possessions, our kids time or our kid’s affection. Don’t be greedy. Allow your children to love both of you. Give them the freedom to love both of you and to have relationship with both of you. That is a gift. Sometimes it can be difficult to give it to your coparent and it can become a competition, but holding your tongue and not saying critical things to your children about your former spouse is a gift that they will enjoy for a lifetime.
If you need help learning how to better coparent, email Sara at email@example.com for a free consultation.
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 parent’s divorce. Contact Sara at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Sara is an Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) under the supervision of H. Hobart (Bart) Grooms, M. Div, M.Ed, LPC-S, LMFT-S, Supervising Counselor.