5 Ways to Ease the Transition into Co-Parenting
So, you’ve taken a step forward toward divorce. We know this is a challenging time. But it’s also a very hopeful one – you can see a better future ahead for both you and your children. You and your ex now have the opportunity to create a more positive, productive home life for your children.
As stressful as divorce can be, it’s also like a reset button. After the dust settles, you have a renewed sense of dignity and better-focused parenting goals. Of course, successful co-parenting isn’t a given. Creating a plan that suits both you and your ex, and has your child’s best interests at heart, takes planning and forethought. Everyone involved – you, your ex, and your children should know what to expect. Here are a few tips to consider as you think about the best way to raise your children together, yet apart:
1. Embrace the new
In the turbulence before, during, and after a breakup, change is uncomfortable. New routines can be tough on you and your kids. But you knew that these changes needed to happen. We know you are probably worried about how your divorce will affect your children, but change can be a good thing.
After a divorce, your kids will eventually notice reduced tension at home. They will relish the new focus you’re able to give them. They may feel even more love while being raised by happier parents in separate households. So while you are in an uncomfortable transition phase, focus on the possibilities to come.
No matter what that future looks like, your co-parent will play a key role. It will benefit you to embrace a new relationship with your former spouse – one that is focused on the well-being of your children, and free from the bygones of a past relationship.
2. Create a parenting plan
At its core, a clear and well-thought-out parenting plan consists of a regular weekly schedule that works with the co-parent’s work schedules and the child’s school and activities. It also predetermines which parent pays for what. A parenting plan should also go into detail on everything from holiday plans to future education costs to who’s in charge when it comes to medical decisions. And it might include ideas for handling an issue when, for example, one parent can’t follow the schedule.
Well-organized parenting plans should also lay out rules about communication, such as scheduling one FaceTime call from kid to parent on a weekend they’re with your ex. In some cases, parenting plans aren’t legally binding (until they become part of your filed divorce agreement), but they’ll go a long way for you in terms of keeping both co-parents on the same page.
HelloDivorce provides a thoughtful, free downloadable worksheet here to help you create your own parenting plan.
Age considerations with parenting plans
When exploring a shared-parenting arrangement, it’s also helpful to consider the age of your kids when crafting a schedule and planning for custody exchanges.
For infants and babies up to age 2
Make sure both homes are well-stocked with necessities like diapers, a baby bathtub and pacifiers.
For kids ages 3 to 5
This age really thrives with a predictable schedule and routines. The routine can be different at each home - but consistency is key.
For kids ages 6 to 10
Kids this age tend to do better in school when both parents are involved with things like conferences and school events.
For tweens and teens ages 11 to 14
Get ready for some more rebellion! Consider comparing notes with your ex about anger and emotions and how you can both present a united front.
For teenagers between 15 to 18
High school-age kids are often interested in playing a role in their own co-parenting schedule. Being mindful of their social life is super important (at least to them!)
Kids with special needs
When it comes to kids with special needs, we’ve found the more detailed the parenting plan, the better. It doesn’t mean you won’t have to be flexible at times, but having a clear plan prevents miscommunications. It also avoids a situation where your child’s necessary treatment is delayed due to a disagreement between parents. Side note: for children with special needs, it’s a good idea to be creative with a schedule – ‘standard’ visitation schedules often aren’t practical.
3. Keep things as amicable as possible
Chances are the communication with your ex has become more strained since you decided to divorce. That’s to be expected. But in your new role as a co-parent, dramatic, accusatory, or otherwise, conflict-causing lines of conversation won’t help you with the main task at hand: ensuring the most comfortable and loving environment possible for your children to thrive.
Try to communicate with your spouse as you would an esteemed co-worker – clearly and respectfully, with the understanding that you’re pursuing the same goal. Try to put your child at the center of the conversation, rather than your emotions – however valid they are. Never use your child as a messenger to convey negative messages to your co-parent, and try to refrain from saying negative things about your ex in front of your child.
4. Don’t let money talk muck up the conversation
Regardless of whether or not your divorce will entail support payments from one ex-spouse to the other, shared expenses will arise often. You’ll need a plan in place to account for everything from buying new clothes for your child to paying for their dance or soccer fees to buying books for school.
But nagging your ex with reminders about who’s paid for what can slow down the more important ongoing conversation about your child’s well-being. Onward is a free expense-sharing app for co-parents that informs your ex every time you’ve entered a shared expense, making it easy to settle up instantly or propose a split. The best part: reminders come from the app, not you, so the back and forth between you and your ex can stay out of the “money zone.”
5. Take restorative steps when your kids are away
Whether you’re raising little ones or teenagers, your household is a flurry of activity. You’ll likely take some time getting used to the quiet when they are with your co-parent. That’s normal, as is the pang of missing your kids when they’re away from you. But don’t let that emotion cloud up or hinder the opportunity on your horizon: time to recharge and practice self-care.
By taking care of yourself, you’ll be in a better place to parent with a refreshed mindset when your children return. Think about your time apart from your kids in advance to stave off some of the loneliness. Consider signing up for a class or making a standing movie date with a friend. Parenting is immensely rewarding, but it can be draining. Focus on restorative activities during your time apart, and you’ll be better prepared to give parenting your all when your loved ones are back under your care.