One of the biggest challenges facing parents who are divorcing is how to create and maintain a healthy and effective post-divorce relationship, especially when it comes to (co)parenting their children. We know from the research and clinical experience that the single most important predictor of a child’s adjustment post-divorce is the level of conflict between their parents. In fact, parental conflict itself—whether divorced or intact—is a major factor in a child’s healthy development—or not.
Learning to co-parent during and after divorce is a skill to be learned and is not something that just happens magically. In the same way that you learn how to “parent” with your first child (and second or third when the same strategies don’t work) you need to learn a new set of skills for co-parenting after divorce. OR…do you? In fact, the answer is yes—parenting in two households IS different and does require new rules and new boundaries and it follows a learning curve over time. That’s important for newly divorced parents to understand, so that you can manage expectations and the inevitable mistakes with grace. Mistakes are valuable if you learn from them and there is a lot of runway post-divorce for parents to make mistakes and to then do things differently.
However, while co-parenting after divorce is a different relationship, one of the things that is often overlooked in the post-divorce relationship is how co-parenting after divorce is very much the same as parenting while married. I have discovered in working with couples during and after divorce how so many of the discussions parents must have and decisions parents must make are NO different than the discussions and decisions they would be having even if they were still married. As a professional, this was truly an aha moment and has allowed me to help couples learn to work together for the sake of their children in the same way whether married or divorced. A parenting plan will determine the “legal” aspect of decision making—but the discussions around those decisions have much less to do with being divorced and much more to do with just being parents. Should Johnny get a car? Does Sally need tutoring? Should we consider the surgery that the doctor is recommending for Billy? What should Joanie’s curfew be? Steven wants a tattoo—oh my god, now what? Those questions, and the consequent discussions, have nothing to do with you being divorced—and everything to do with you being parents together.
Now for some, this is good news and can offer comfort during a time where everything is changing to realize that parenting doesn’t really have to; that you can, in fact, still be parenting partners which will provide maximum benefit for your children. For others, parenting together during the marriage was difficult and those challenges often continue after the marriage ends. If that is your situation, I recommend that you seek professional help, a parenting coordinator or facilitator or co-parenting counselor because co-parenting post-divorce will be especially difficult for the two of you to navigate—as it would be if you had remained married—and the resulting conflict will be harmful for your children.