“What shall we do with the child
Who’s got your eyes my hair your smile
Reminding me that we fell in love
but just for a little while”
(Kate Reifsnyder, Nick Holmes, & Carly Simon)
If you have children and decide to divorce, you will need to address some immediate and serious issues concerning co-parenting your children. Some of those issues include sharing parenting time and responsibilities, telling the children about changes in lifestyle, and maintaining a continuation of the family for the children even though the marriage has ended.
How do we start? A healthy way to start the process of co-parenting is to make an effort to separate your relationship as parents from your relationship as marriage partners. Find a way to put aside the anger and hurt that fuels conflict. Counselors can help you accept the divorce and all that led to the demise of the relationship. Concentrate on your parenting relationship and make your children’s well-being a priority.
How can we parent together while living apart? The Georgia Court System requires a parenting plan that indicates where and with whom the child(ren) will be every cay of the year. Because as parents, you know your kids and how your family works, parents are the people most qualified to construct a custom plan for the children’s future. A mediator can guide this process and keep the discussion focused on the children.
How can we limit the disruption to our children’s lives? Research strongly indicates that parents who avoid involving the children in any argument or disagreement that is related to the marriage relationship have happier, healthier outcomes for the children. Kids need to know what will change and what will stay the same in their lives. Your children will want both parents to attend their sports events, school plays, concerts, and other ceremonies at church and school. Every family member will benefit from parents who can focus on the children and their activities instead of a conflicted adult relationship.
When and how will we tell the children about separation and/or divorce? Children need to hear the news from their parents, preferably both parents at the same time. This avoids the “good guy/bad guy” possibility. The standard explanation is, “Parents love their children forever, but sometimes feelings between adults change. We have not been able to work out those changes so we have decided to live apart and not be married.” The explanation needs to be tailored to the child’s age. Older children may ask for specific reasons for the divorce . Those reasons are adult information, highly personal, and none of the children’s business. The kids need to know that each parent will be okay, so tears of sadness may be appropriate but sobs of despair are a danger sign. Let the children know that you trust and respect each other as parents. tell them as much as possible about how their lives will go forward. The children need to be told before either parent moves to a separate home.
Co-parenting involves establishing a new kind of relationship for the benefit of the children. Remember, your ex-spouse will not parent exactly the way you do. Collaborate on important moral and values issues to make sure you are on the same page. Let go of the small stuff, like “my ex feeds the kids pizza 3 days in a row”. It will be inconvenient at times but most parents are used to being inconvenienced for the well-being of their children.
Based on the work of Paul Bohannon