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In 2011, Chris Torrone opened his legal practice to better serve his community by fighting for families being unfairly targeted by the legal system.
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Raising children is immensely rewarding. But even when both parents remain at home, parenting can be incredibly challenging as well. Divorce can make successful co-parenting difficult to navigate. Co-parenting arrangements involve several factors ripe with the potential for conflict and disagreement.
There are so many things to juggle when pursuing effective co-parenting. Some of these include:
- Parenting styles
- School events
- Extracurricular activities
- Child support payments
- Your co-parenting plan
- Extended family
- Parental conflicts
- Mental health
- Dynamics of blended families
- Major decisions
- Special events
- Shifting family relations
- Family finances
- Long-term health
- Daily decisions
- Building and maintaining a foundation of respect in your children
- Helping kids navigate the grief process
- Building a sense of stability
- and so much more.
It’s important to remember that you’ll never do it all perfectly. Focus on learning what you can. Stay engaged with others. Seek support from those who care about you, and partner with a good family therapist and child psychologist to gain the wisdom, tools, and strength you need to parent well every day. You’ll need all these, especially in the weeks and months following divorce.
Benefits of a Healthy Co-parenting Relationship for Your Children
A more peaceful and amicable experience is only part of good co-parenting. It will be your children who experience the most positive effects from your co-parenting efforts, and the most negative, when your co-parenting work doesn’t go well. Some benefits of healthy, successful co-parenting for your kids include:
Stability and Security
Children need a sense of stability and consistency, especially in the earlier years. Healthy and effective co-parenting creates living situations, schedules, habits, resources, provision, and family times that establish the security and stability your child requires for a healthy life.
Children can handle more change than we give them credit for. But for this to happen, they need to know that certain things are solid, that they can count on certain habits, rules, activities, and mainly, that they can count on your consistency as a mother or father in the way you lead, teach, discipline, provide for, protect, and encourage them.
Effective Problem Solving
Children who get to watch their parents work together peaceably, reasonably, and creatively through conflict and trials have a great model to work through their own problems and relational conflicts with the same clarity and mindfulness.
Mental and Emotional Health
Children with parents who have a lot of co-parenting issues experience more depression, anxiety, ADHD, and social conflicts. Children with healthy divorced parents who work well together in respect experience greater health, less mental and emotional distress, and often, an easier time in social circles.
A Good Example to Emulate
Positive co-parenting strategies and mutual respect will give your kids a great example to look up to. They need affirming models of healthy adults to learn from. The best place to begin is in your own home.
When they grow up around parents who treat each other with respect, who listen well, communicate clearly and kindly, and work together to solve problems, they are more likely to behave the same way as they grow into adulthood.
Now, let’s look at 3 tips for healthy co-parenting after divorce and prepare you for the challenges and rewards ahead.
1. Be a Team
Each of you will have your own ways of approaching parenting in your own home. Yet, it’s important that you work closely to establish habits, similar rules, and some commonality in discipline and communication. This will help your son or daughter experience more stability and consistency. Areas in which the two of you should try to find some consensus, include:
Scheduling: Aim for consistency in pickup and drop-off times, bedtimes, and other activities.
Discipline: Each of you will handle this in different ways. But if you can work together to use congruent discipline habits that both of you can agree upon, it will allow your child to learn certain lessons with greater ease, and not feel out of balance moving back and forth between drastically varied discipline styles.
Also, respect one another’s discipline choices. If one parent initiates a certain punishment for good reason, honor this in your home too, whether it be limiting media, time with friends, toys, or other privileges. This consistency will help your child understand this process and their personal journey much better.
Rules: House rules are going to vary. This is normal. Do what you can to communicate and understand each other’s rules and support one another where you can.
Freedoms: This is another area that will be unique from home to home. Each parent has the freedom to make their own choices in this regard. Again, try to work together to better understand these differences and be willing to make certain compromises or allowances from time to time for the sake of your child’s health and maturity.
2. Ease Transitions and Visitation
Children of divorced parents have to deal not only with a lot of change initially, but later on, the trials and frustrations of frequent movement. The two of you can take steps to alleviate some of the difficulties involved in transitions. Consider the following:
Pack Ahead of Time
Help your kids pack ahead of time (depending on their age). This will save time, reduce stress, and teach them to prepare earlier for everything in life. Make it fun. Don’t forget important items like favorite stuffed animals or articles of clothing.
It’s also a good time to teach your young ones about being conscious of things like changing seasons or special events, each requiring their own kinds of clothing.
Anticipate and Discuss Changes
Talk with your child about an upcoming pickup or change. Discuss the good things they will do, what they’re looking forward to, and any concerns they may have.
Perception Matters: Drop Off or Pick Up
If possible, it’s better to have the parent currently with the child drop their son or daughter off at the other parent’s house instead of having the next parent pick them up. This may be subtle and its effects mostly unconscious, but it makes a difference. It’s better that your kids see and feel they are being taken to their new parent and not taken from the current one.
There are also some good practices to remember when your child returns home.
Allow Some Space
It’s always a bit of an adjustment when they return to your house. If they seem to want or need it, give your kids some space when they first return. This will help them relax and re-acclimate to the home and atmosphere.
Take It Easy
There is a tendency to overdo things when your child first returns to your home. You’re excited to have them back and often jump into asking them all kinds of questions about their time away, their activities, what they ate, who they saw, how they slept, what they watched, if they experienced any conflicts. This can be overwhelming for your child and it isn’t necessary or healthy for anyone.
Take It Slow
Enjoy some downtime together. Play a game, read a book, make a meal together. Let things come naturally.
3. Focus On Communication
Much of the success you eventually experience in co-parenting stems from the quality of your communication. Remember that your top priority with communication is your child’s maturity, stability, and well-being. It isn’t about arguing, proving a point, or gaining power over your ex.
Listen, listen, listen. It’s easy for each of us to talk a lot, but listening well is a skill that will serve you in every part of life. Cultivate a mutual habit of listening first. Take time to understand one another’s perspective and then work to solve problems based on what you’ve learned from each other.
Make Requests Not Demands
A lot of divorced parents try to command the parenting relationship by demanding their ex do this or that, or change something to fit their preferences. This is not only wrong, but damaging to everyone involved.
Instead, respectfully request certain things. “May we try…?” “What do you think about…?” Would you be willing to…?” What if we tried this…?” Would it work for you if we…?”These are all good starters for conversations about possible changes.
Keep a Civil Tone
Frustrations are going to happen. Try to keep a civil, respectful tone and presence when talking with each other. Discuss things without passive aggression, sarcasm, or mockery. Avoid terrible habits like eye-rolling, turning away, interrupting, and shouting.
Keeping your discourse straightforward, honest, and decent will help the two of you communicate more effectively, find solutions quicker, and give your kids a great example of healthy communication.
Don’t go too long without talking. Agree to meet in-person or talk by phone (not just email and text) at certain intervals. Use this time to discuss things like schoolwork, outside activities, friends, upcoming events, and more. Beyond this, though, use it to discuss the deeper things, like your child’s emotional world, their struggles and concerns, their hopes and dreams and more.
Also, these are good times for the two of you to work out conflicts you have with one another privately, without the possibility of your child overhearing.
Set Your Hurt Aside
Don’t use your child as a sounding board for your frustrations with your ex. Never put them in the middle of your conflict. This confuses and hurts them and makes them feel as if they need to choose sides. If you need to vent, talk with your counselor, your best friend, your brother or sister.
Don’t make your kids carry messages back and forth. Leave them out of conflict or adult communication. Talk with your ex directly about all relevant matters without involving your child in this potentially conflict-ridden situation.
Successful co-parenting takes work, but it’s not an impossible task. It takes patience, compromise, respect, confidence, open lines of communication, and honesty. Don’t forget that your top priority is your child’s well-being.
Find ways to decrease fighting and unnecessary conflict between you and your ex. Don’t fight in front of your child, or vent to them about your frustrations. Listen well; meet and talk regularly, and always speak well of your ex with your children.
Consider working with a family therapist to gain more skills and confidence in your parenting choices. Take co-parenting classes and engage in family mediation. Finally, surround yourself with those who care about you and want your child’s best.
Torrone Law helps families find peace of mind and resolution during divorce, adoption or custody hearings. Connect with us for a consultation and find out the difference Torrone can make in your life.
To learn more about co-parenting after divorce, check out our frequently asked questions below.
How does healthy co-parenting affect my kids?
Successful co-parenting provides so many benefits for your children, including:
- Peace of mind
- Better mental and emotional health: less depression and anxiety
- Greater ease in social situations
- Problem solving skills
- An example to look up to
- Healthier relationships
- Mature communication habits
- More Confidence
How much should I work with my ex?
The short answer is…a lot! More specifically, your child’s well-being is the most important thing here. Work with your spouse to communicate regularly and with respect, and good listening habits. Work out conflict calmly and away from your child so they don’t see the worst of it. Speak well of your ex in front of your child and encourage their relationship with your ex.
Make a habit of honoring one another’s house rules whenever possible. Discuss activities, discipline styles, your child’s education, health, friendships, and future. The better your relationship with each other, the healthier and more stable your child will be.
Is it okay to vent my frustrations about my ex to my child?
Bad idea. Don’t ever use your kid to vent your anger. It confuses them and often compels them to take sides, which is never good. Your frustrations and hurts are real. But there are plenty of good or qualified people to talk to, including your counselor, mentors, community leaders, close friends and family.
How do I make transitions easier for my children?
Take your child to your ex’s house instead of them picking up your kid, and vice versa on the return trip. It’s often better for your child to be taken to the next home than taken from their present one. It’s a subtle difference, but it is a different feeling.
Pack ahead of time and make it fun.
Talk with them about the things they’re excited about when they go to see their other parent.
Take it easy when they return. Don’t rush into asking them endless questions. Just enjoy your time together. Let them ease into talking about their time away when they feel up to it.
Prepare them by talking about their upcoming transition a few days ahead in an easy-going and positive manner.
Divorce is difficult no matter who you are. It has a way of infiltrating and rearranging so many things in our lives. The emotional and psychological effects can be dramatic, and they can last for a long time. This is especially true for children.
Often the overlooked victims of divorce, children don’t have the same knowledge or ability to navigate the immense confusion, conflict, pain, and work that dealing with and healing from parental separation requires. They need our help, our love, our listening ear, and our open mind. They sometimes need a good counselor or two, a wide network of supportive friends, family, and mentors. Unfortunately, they sometimes get very few of these.
Even with mutually respectful, level-headed separations, children are likely to be devastated by the change. It throws their entire world out of balance, changes everything they thought they knew or could count on in the world. Doing everything you can to help them cope with, adjust to, and ultimately move though this painful season, should be a top priority for you and your spouse.
It’s not easy knowing what to say to your kids when it comes to divorce. After all, this is a new experience for you as well. What you don’t want to do is to underestimate the emotional and psychological impact it will have on them.
There are steps you can take to communicate the news with honesty and affirmation in mind. You have the ability to prioritize your child’s well-being and to make choices that bring them the understanding, perspective, and peace of mind they need to begin their healing journey.
Our post today is not some kind of script you can follow that works for every child. Especially since every child is unique. It is a helpful guide with key points to remember when approaching your child about divorce, and a handful of suggestions for things you and your spouse can do to ease their pain, provide them with stability and confidence, and help them move forward.
What Does My Child Want or Need from Me and My Spouse During Divorce?
Part of talking with your children about divorce is first understanding what they really need from us during this time. It’s important to stay present with them and respond to their needs with affirming, honest choices, and a lot of quality time. Here are a few things most children need from us in this season.
I Need to Know You Love Me
It seems obvious to us, but we all need reassurance, not only during times of difficulty, but in normal seasons as well. Your separation, no matter how cordial it may be, can be traumatic for your child.
Divorced parents have a lot on their minds. They are caught up in this difficult time, awash in very consequential adult decisions, contemplating a new living arrangement, reworking daily routines, discussing custody arrangements and school activities, juggling a changing social life and a plethora of difficult conversations, fielding questions from extended family, and trying to cope with their own negative feelings. Though we love our children desperately, we may forget to let them know, or to provide them with the strength, attention, and assurance they need.
It’s easy to see our divorce as our own problem and merely a secondary issue for our kids. When this happens, they suffer and lose their feeling of stability and their sense of trust and identity. Let them know each day that you love them. Remind them that this will never change, no matter what happens between you and your spouse, and that they will always be special to you both.
Please Don’t Fight so Much and Not in Front of Me
When you and your spouse fight often and do so within earshot of your child, their world crumbles even more. Even worse, if you’re fighting about issues related to your kid, they will internalize this as being their fault. This deep sense of guilt and unease is not easily mended.
Do your best to discuss problems calmly, and work out conflicts through mature conversation. If you must fight, do so only when your son or daughter is nowhere near. Life may not be normal during divorce, but you can avoid shaking their sense of normalcy even more by leaving conflict between you and your spouse to opportunities when the two of you are completely alone.
Don’t Speak Harshly about My Other Parent
Kids want to continue to love and respect each parent without feeling compelled to pass judgment on one of them or be made to feel like they need to take sides. No matter how uncomfortable things are between you and your spouse, don’t speak ill of them with your child. Don’t mock, disrespect, or spread negative stories about your spouse with your kids.
You don’t want your spouse doing the same thing when they’re with your child. Plus, it just makes you look immature, mean-spirited, and out of control. Maintain your composure. If you need to vent, do so with a friend, or wait until you talk face to face with your spouse. Always speak well of your spouse or ex with your children, and encourage your kids in their relationship with both parents.
Don’t Use Me as a Messenger
This is a big one. Your kids are not message carriers for you and your spouse. Don’t ask or force them to deliver difficult or detailed information. It’s not their responsibility, and it pits them against each of you at different times. Communicate honestly and directly with your spouse without involving your children.
How to Discuss Your Impending Divorce with Your Children
Your decision to divorce is going to land hard no matter how old your kids are. Their reactions will vary depending on their particular season in life, but their sense of security, their need to understand your divorce, their fears over losing the love of their parents, of being forced to change their normal routines and daily life, and their desire for plenty of reassurance and an ongoing conversation, is relevant across the board.
It is a difficult task to have these conversations. You probably won’t feel comfortable sharing at first. But you need to open this dialogue between you and your children early on. Some communication tips to keep in mind include:
Be Direct – Don’t be Evasive
Kids don’t need every detail, (a full adult understanding), especially when they are younger. However, they do need you to be honest and direct. Don’t try to paint a false picture for them. If things are really rough between you and your spouse, it’s okay to communicate that.
If they ask you direct questions, give them direct answers, yet be wise about the details you share. Children and adolescents don’t need to hear all the details of betrayals or indiscretions, or every financial error committed by you or your spouse. Just treat your children with respect and dignity by not avoiding communication and difficult questions.
This is closely tied to the last tip, but slightly different. Honesty is about telling the truth and owning up to the consequences of your decisions. Be accountable for your choices and be proactive in your communication with your kids.
Don’t lie about the condition of your marriage, or create false narratives simply to avoid difficult conversations. Use common sense and what you know about your child’s level of development, cognitive abilities, and emotional intelligence to decide what information to reveal and what should wait until they are older.
You want to ease tensions and make future situations and family dynamics easier and more fruitful when they arise. You only make things harder on yourself and your family when you avoid honesty.
Get on the Same Page with Your Spouse
Too many divorcing couples tell different stories to their kids about their separation and about what they can expect in the future. Work with your spouse to create a plan to discuss your divorce with the kids.
Work out what details you’ll be sharing, how you’re going to field questions, and how to discuss things like living situations, custody, regular routines, school, and your plans together to make sure they continue to feel loved and supported.
When Sharing, Understand Age and Context
Toddlers and young children don’t understand grown-up problems, adult conflict, complex events, and other nuances of adult life. Use simple language. Be direct and avoid metaphors, unclear words, or prevarication.
Let them know that the two of you will be separating and getting something called a divorce, that you have decided to just be friends, that you’ll each have your own house, that Daddy will always be their Daddy and Mommy, always their Mommy, and that each of you will continue to take care of and love them no matter what.
With older kids, you can be more specific. They will usually have more questions than younger children. Answer them directly and take their concerns to heart. Use discernment with the exact details you share. They probably don’t need to have the details of infidelity or other mistakes.
Teenagers will usually have the most questions, the most pointed inquiries, and often a desire to be a part of the process. They want respect from you. They want clarity and to not be shut out from everything going on in their family life. They want to be able to have a say in some of what happens to them.
Teens have strong emotions and will sometimes act upon them in larger, louder, and more destructive ways. They carry a more adult understanding of the world while still remaining naïve about so much of it. This contrast and inner conflict can lead to bouts of anger, rage, depression, reclusiveness, trouble at school, mental health struggles, substance or alcohol abuse, conflict with friends, loss of interest in their hobbies or activities, and additional signs of distress.
Help them feel understood and valued by remaining open and honest with them. Answer their questions. Let them vent or express emotions in healthy ways. And partner with therapists and other health professionals to help your teens and kids work through deep emotional pain, and develop the tools they need to move ahead in life.
Discuss Changes Early On
Some parents try to downplay the fact that their divorce will result in many changes in their child’s life. Instead, talk about these things early on in the process. Of course, you will never be able to predict every possible change your child may experience. Still, you can work with your spouse to talk with your kids about the things you are clear about, like split homes, schedules, weekly time with each of you, how communication should work, possible school changes, and anything else you can identify at this point in the journey.
Help Them Find Their Words
Encourage them to express themselves and be gentle but direct in giving them the confidence they need to say what needs to be said and to discuss their deepest thoughts and feelings. Do your best to make them feel comfortable sharing their concerns. When they come to you for a talk, don’t push them away, ignore them, or downplay their struggles. Take them seriously. Your family counselor can help you with additional ways to encourage your child’s communication.
Be Physically Present and Affectionate
Make sure to lavish them with hugs, kisses, snuggles, and affirmation (age appropriate, of course). Also, just being there with them in close proximity is reassuring. You can play games together, cook a meal, take a walk, go for a drive, watch a movie, get creative, or do something else the two of you enjoy.
Reassurance isn’t always about conversation. It also happens unconsciously for kids simply by having their parents nearby, fully present, and interested in spending time with them.
Don’t Make Your Kids Pick a Side
You and your spouse should continually work together to encourage your kids to remain dedicated to both parents. Don’t model behavior that pushes them to choose sides. It’s a horrible thing to do and incredibly unhealthy for your young ones.
Parent-child relationships are never going to be perfect. And it’s possible they may side slightly more with one parent or the other on their own. But you and your spouse can address this directly with them, encouraging them to talk about it and talk about why equal love and respect for both parents is important.
This period in their life is a massive upheaval of their world. Do your best to keep as many things the same as you can – school, extra-curricular activities, friends, meal times, outings, lessons, trips. Of course, there will be some changes to your schedules, but with enough communication, planning, and teamwork, you and your spouse should be able to provide a relatively stable environment for your kids.
Be consistent with your time with them. Try not to change pickup times or days and nights with them. Children count on these regularly scheduled times with you. It helps them relax and find peace, knowing you’ll be with them on the same days and times each week.
There are certainly more tips to consider. But this list will give you the perfect framework you need to begin not only the more difficult conversations with your kids, but help you organize your life and your interactions with your spouse in ways that encourage and strengthen your children during this difficult time.
Remember to always seek the assistance of a child therapist to help your children deal with change, confusing emotions, and the divorce process, and provide you and your family with additional resources as needed.
Be ready to offer constant reassurance to your kids. Work hard to maintain a strong relationship. Get to know their teachers and school counselors so you can work together to help your child find the support they need from the wider community. It’s also good for you to work with experts on your own healing, your difficult emotions, dramatic adjustments in life, and on developing positive parenting solutions.
You and your kids are worth it. Choose, up-front, to be partners with your ex in the mission of good and loving parenting, to ensure that your children find healthy ways to express themselves, heal from their pain, and continue moving forward in both their life and family.
Torrone Law helps families find resolution and peace of mind, with attentive, caring, professional legal support through the process of divorce, adoption, or custody. Connect with us today to learn how much better life can be with Torrone working to protect your family’s future.
To learn more about talking to your kids about divorce, check out our frequently asked questions below.
Should we talk to our kids early on or wait until right before one of us moves out?
It’s better to begin your talks earlier on, especially with older kids and teens. They need time to make sense of everything, to adjust to the idea, ample opportunity for questions and conversation, and the greater stability that comes with being able to emotionally prepare for such a change.
What are some common areas where divorce impacts a child?
It can affect just about every area of their life. Common struggles include anxiety and depression, mood swings, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, difficulty focusing, problems with schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, conflict with friends, frequent fights with siblings, and more.
Where should I turn when I need help talking with my kids about divorce?
Turn first to a trusted family or child counselor. They’ll be able to guide you toward healthy communication patterns, ways to encourage and affirm your child, suggestions for working more effectively with your spouse or ex for the benefit of the kids, and how to help each member of your family move through the stages of loss, grief, and healing, each in their own time.
Next, turn to mature, trusted friends, mentors, and family members for support, especially those who have gone through something similar.
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