9 Tips for successful parenting after divorce
- September 20, 2019
- Jennifer Hetherington
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Updated: Psychologist Dr Rachel Hannam has updated her popular guest blog, offering her professional perspective about what works – and what doesn’t – if you want to have successful parenting after divorce. She’s added in some links to some great new resources available for parents and some information about co-parenting with a narcissist.
So, now it’s 10 Tips for successful parenting after divorce instead of 9….
What’s the best way to ensure successful parenting after divorce?
Let’s start with what not to do if you want to ensure successful parenting after separation or divorce
- Don’t badmouth one another in front of the kids
- Don’t put your children in the middle of arguments
- Don’t compete with your ex to be the favourite parent
- Don’t lock horns for a small quick win; play the long-game
- Don’t deny the past or pretend like the divorce never happened
- Don’t let your stressful feelings scare or stress your children
With some of the don’ts out of the way, I’ll remind you that you can’t actually do a don’t. (Remember this when you discipline kids, too). So what can you do?
First, remember there is no typical divorce or co-parenting situation. Some people do 50/50, others have a very different ratio of time spent with each parent, and anything and everything in between. Whatever your situation, here are 9 essential points to consider for successful parenting after divorce:
1. Shield your children from conflicts
Speak about and act in a respectful manner toward the other parent, especially in front of your children.
Minimise what they know about your problems and, as much as possible, ensure they do not overhear the struggles you are having with your ex. Email can be good for this reason.
Tell them they do not need to think or worry about the problems you are working through.
Tell them it is your problem to deal with, not theirs, and they deserve to play and relax not be caught in a war between their parents.
2. Choose to be wise rather than right
There are bound to be conflicts between you and the other parent, but don’t lock horns for the sake of proving you are right, especially about something inconsequential.
Always choose being wise over being right if need be. A wise person knows that conceding on small issues is better for children than barefaced war with your ex. Sometimes, choosing the peace of a surrender is wiser than the stress of a battle.
Pick your battles based on your most significant values. Remember, successful parenting after divorce is a marathon, not a sprint.
3. Provide routine for your children but remain flexible
Whatever your parenting arrangements, make a schedule that is predictable for children on a weekly or fortnightly basis if you can. Stick to this, while also being flexible to accommodate each parent.
Within reason, do what you can to bend and flex for the other parent, because eventually you will need the favour returned.
Work to separate your previous hostilities as a couple from your ongoing co-parenting responsibilities.
If your kids have special needs or are on the spectrum, use some of these techniques to help children with special needs to cope with separation.
4. Find a way to communicate with the other parent
Kids do well when their parents communicate well, without conflict.
If you can’t talk face-to-face or on the phone, find another option that works for you.
Use email or a communication app. Text message are not great as, unlike email, they don’t give everyone time to calm down when emotions run high.
If using email, and there has been past hostility, you might agree on cc’ing a third party into all emails (a neutral family member or friend) to keep it calm. The third party would agree to intervene if emails come across as abusive and request a more respectful message instead.
If this is not an option, you may agree on a rule that you will not reply to emails that contain abuse.
If using email, be brief and matter-of-fact. Always save a draft to revisit later if you are upset.
There are now some great co-parenting apps on the market to help with successful parenting communication after divorce, such as Toppako and Divvito which can assist in ensuring communication is respectful and not abusive. Our Children, Coparently, Cozi, Our Family Wizard and Google Calendar offer options to assist in sharing information about your children, their schedules and expenses.
5. Maintain your children's community
It’s essential for children to have the security of maintaining existing relationships and routines with extended family members, friends, school and other activities.
This adds their sense of stability, continuity, and predictability in their lives.
It takes a village to raise a child, as they say.
6. Have fun with your kids!
Make sure you take time out to have fun, especially in the early days, weeks and months after separation when your children are adjusting to their changed family.
Make memories. Organise day trips to museums, galleries, parks, the beach, the swimming pool or the arcade.
Your kids have been through a lot too, so create positive experiences with and for them.
7. Don't forget to be a parent
Your kids need you to be their parent, not their friend (and definitely don’t need to be your emotional support person) and they need real parenting.
Be involved in their day-to-day routine as much as you can.
Incidental or mundane moments are really important too, from changing nappies when they are small, to teaching them how to pack a lunchbox in primary school, to helping them with maths homework in high school.
8. Talk about the divorce
Tell them they are safe and loved and can always talk to you when they feel sad, worried, or confused.
Validate their feelings of sadness, fear, grief, confusion, and frustration about things.
Remind them they are not to blame for the tricky situation you are all in.
Recognise that divorce is a long-term process for children, not a one-time event, and be prepared to have several such talks.
If possible, talk with your children together as parents, reassuring them that you will cooperate in the future.
Remind them you both love them and don’t bad-mouth the other parent.
9. Self-care is important
For parents struggling in the face of systemic barriers to co-parenting: never, never give up.
Remember: You need to look after you (and that includes asking others to help look after you) because your children should not be looking after you.
In your daily life, their needs should out-rival any need you have to vent or download or have your emotional needs met by them in some way.
Their needs should guide your actions, even when your thoughts and feelings are running rampant.
10. Learn how to co-parent with a narcissist
Your ex may be a challenge person to co-parent with.
Dealing with narcissistic people (self-serving people who lack empathy and have an inflated sense of their own importance) can be difficult and frustrating, but co-parenting with them can be downright maddening.
It may be very tempting to argue with them, criticise them, or scream, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ However, you will never win against a narcissist. So it’s best you hold your tongue when you are tempted to fight back.
Keep communications to a minimum.
Don’t talk to them unless you need to and avoid giving away personal information about your life.
Only attend events or participate in situations where you absolutely need to interact with them.
Resist the temptation to seek their validation.
When you must talk to them, stick to practical topics and the logistics of parenting.
Where to get help
If you need to learn better ways to modulate your emotions or to communicate with your ex-partner without anger, defensiveness and blame, it’s important to seek out support from a counsellor or
psychologist experienced in separation and related issues.