Hello and thank you for joining me. My name is Michelle Magida. I am a licensed clinical professional counseling in the state of IL and the proud owner of Therapy Etc, where we empower teach and connect. Although our clinical team does treat individuals across the lifespan, we are passionate about supporting children, teens, families and parents. Most of the time that work takes place primarily with the child and parents are brought in. However, there are times when the work needs to start with supporting the parents first.
The family systems theory states that a family functions as a system wherein each member plays a specific role and follows certain rules. For example, have you ever noticed your youngest child tends to remind everyone in the family that they are the baby of the family and they need everyone to take care of them??
Divorce situations are complex because two people are making the choice to change the family system. This may cause roles and rules to change. Change is hard. That is because humans do best when they know two things: what to expect and what is expected of them and when life is in flux it can be hard to navigate our emotions.
Unfortunately, divorce can bring out the worse in us. Obstacles to successful co-parenting are emotions like anger, resentment, and jealousy. Those kinds of emotions make the challenge of co-parenting with your ex more difficult. Despite all of that, your kids still need their mom AND their dad – despite where they are living.
I would like to discuss some tips to help promote healthy co-parenting, especially during this time when emotions are already running a bit high.
Please remember it is not about you, it is about the kids.
Let’s do a little experiment. Close your eyes for a moment and picture your ex. Notice all of the negative emotions that arise within you when you hear their name and picture their face. Take a deep, cleansing breath and open your eyes. That rush of emotions is what complicates things and makes making logical and rational choices hard to do. The truth is that while you and your ex and no longer a unit, your children will more likely than not, benefit from having both of their parents in their life. If the adults involved would take a moment to remind themselves that it is about the kids, I bet there would a lot less challenges in your co-parenting relationship. Commit to putting your children’s well-being ahead of your feelings and any issues you may have with your ex. It takes maturity and dedication to let go of past wounds and bitterness, but it will make a difficult situation much easier. Remember that attitude and effort count.
Always treat the other parent with respect.
Our children look up to us. As the parent we are their role model, their shining example of what to do and how to do it, so regardless of how difficult this may be, it is imperative that you treat your ex with respect, despite how your ex may be treating you. There is no woman or man that your children love more than their mother and father. Bad mouthing or being disrespectful toward your ex hurts your children, it makes you look bad, and it teaches your children negative lessons on what relationships should look like and how others should be treated. It may, in time, turn your children against you or elicit a wide range of less than preferable behaviors. Never allow your children to be disrespectful or speak disrespectfully towards their parent, even in the privacy of your own home.
Work on improving communication with your co-parent.
- Respect can go a long way: Simple manners should be the foundation for co-parenting. Being considerate and respectful includes letting your ex know about school events, being flexible about your schedule when possible and taking their opinion seriously.
- Keep talking: If you disagree about something important, you will need to continue communicating. Never discuss your differences of opinion in front of your children. If you still can’t agree, you may need to talk to a third party, like a therapist or a mediator.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff: If you disagree about important issues like medical or school, by all means – keep the discussion going! But, if you want your child in bed by 7:30 and your ex says differently, let it go and save your energy for the bigger issues.
- Compromise: Yes, you will need to come around to your ex-partner’s point of view, even if they aren’t always willing to come around to yours. It may not always be your first choice, but compromise allows you both to “win” and makes both of you more likely to be flexible in the future.
Peaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex is essential to the success of co-parenting – even if it feels impossible. It all begins with your mindset. Think of communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your children’s well-being.
Before having contact with your ex, ask yourself how your actions will affect your child, and do your best to conduct yourself in a way that you can be proud of. Make your children the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.
Improving Communication with Your Ex
- Set a business-like tone: Approach the relationship with your ex as you would with a business partner where the “business” is your children’s well-being. Speak and write like you would with a colleague – with respect and neutrality. Breathe. Relax. Speak slowly. Remember “The Golden Rule”: Always provide the other parent with information that you expect that parent to give to you.
- Make requests: Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing things in the form of a request. For example, “Would you be willing to…?” or “Can we try…?”
- Listen: Communicating with maturity starts with listening – even if you disagree, your ex should still be given the opportunity to share their perspective. Listening does not signify approval, so you will not lose anything by allowing your ex to voice their opinions.
- Show restraint: Keep in mind that communicating with one another is going to necessary for the length of your children’s entire childhood – if not longer. You cantrain yourself to not overreact to your ex, and over time you can become resilient to the buttons they try to push.
- Commit to meeting/talking consistently: Although it most likely will be tough in the earlier stages, frequent communication with your ex will convey the message to your children that you and your co-parent are a united front. Remember ACT (accurate, complete, timely)
- Keep conversations kid focused: Neverlet a discussion with your ex digress into a conversation about your needs or their needs; it should always be about your children’s needs only.
- Quickly relieve stress in the moment: It may seem impossible to stay calm when dealing with a difficult ex-partner who has hurt you in the past or has a real talent for pushing your buttons. But by practicing mindfulness, deep breathing and grounding, you can learn to stay in control when the pressure builds.
Once you are ready to rebuild trust after the break-up, be sincere about your efforts. Remember your children’s best interests as you move forward to improve your relationship.
Co-Parenting as a Team
- Ask your ex’s opinion: This is a simple technique that can seriously jump-start positive communications between you. Take an issue that you do not feel strongly about and ask for your ex’s input, showing that you value their opinion.
- Apologize: When you’re truly sorry about something, apologize sincerely – even if the incident took place a long time ago. Apologizing can be a very powerful step in moving your relationship past that of adversaries.
- Chill out: If a special outing with your ex is going to cut into your time with your children by an hour, graciously let it be. Remember that it’s all about what is best for your children. Plus, when you show flexibility, your ex is more likely to be flexible with you.
Parenting is a full-time job that is full of decisions that you will most likely have to make with your ex, whether you like each other or not. Cooperating and communicating without blow-ups or bickering makes decision-making way easier on everyone. Focus on consistency and teamwork and let the rest fall into place. It is healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives and learn to be flexible, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between your home and your ex’s avoid confusion for your children.
Make transitions and visitation easier.
- Rules: Rules do not have to be identical between the two household, but if you and your ex-partner 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.
- 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 good behavior!
- Schedule: Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedule. Making meals, homework, and betimes similar can be a long way toward your children’s adjustment to having two homes.
The actual move from one household to another, whether it happens every few days or just certain weekends, can be a very hard time for a child. Every reunion with one parent is also a separation with the other, each “hello” is also a “goodbye”.
While transitions are unavoidable, there are several thing you can do to help make them easier for your children.
- Help children anticipate change: remind children that they will be leaving for the other parent’s house a day or two before the visit.
- Pack in advance: depending on the age, help children pack their bag well before they leave so that they don’t forget anything. Encourage packing familiar reminders like a. special stuffed toy or a picture of you.
When your child returns:
- Keep things low-key: When children first enter your home, try to have some down time together. Read a book or do a quiet activity.
- Double up: to make packing simpler and make kids feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent’s house, have kids keep certain basics – toothbrush, hairbrush, PJ’s – at both houses.
- Allow your child space: Children often need a little time to adjust to the transition. If they seem to need some space, do something else nearby. In time, things will get back to normal.
- Establish a special routine: Play a game or serve a special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine – if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you, it can definitely help with the transition.
Dealing with visitation refusal:
- Find the cause: The problem may be easy to resolve, like paying more attention to your child, making a change in discipline style, or making sure that the child feels comfortable and special in both environments. It could also be an emotional reason – such as conflict or misunderstanding. Talk to your child about the refusal.
- Go with the flow: Where you have detected the reason for the refusal or not, try to give your child the space and time that they obviously need. It may have nothing to do with you at all. Be patient and kind to yourself, most cases of visitation refusal are temporary.
- Talk to your ex: A heart-to-heart with your ex about the refusal may be challenging and emotion, but remember it is all about your child’s well-being, so bringing your ex in can help you figure out what the problem is. Try to remain sensitive and understanding to your ex as you discuss this touchy subject.
This stuff is hard and you don’t have to go through this alone. If you are struggling with co-parenting and would like support, or if your child is struggling with the changes and transitions associated with visitation please reach out. Our clinical team is dedicated to supporting you through this process. Please call 847-807-8777 to schedule your first appointment today.