Making Joint Custody Work

Boy with his Dad

Cooperative parenting with your ex can give your children continued stability and close relationships with both parents - but it certainly isn't easy. In reality, putting aside relationship issues to co-parent amicably can be extremely stressful and difficult.

Despite the many challenges, though, it is possible to initiate and maintain a cordial working relationship with your ex for the sake of your children. You have the power to remain calm, stay consistent, and avoid or effectively resolve conflict with your ex—all in the name of putting your children's needs first.

Co-parenting after a separation or divorce

Joint custody arrangements, especially after an acrimonious split, can be exhausting and infuriating. It can be exceedingly difficult to get past the history of hurts and built-up resentment you may have with your ex. Making shared decisions, seeing one another at drop-offs, or just speaking to someone you'd rather just forget about can seem like impossible tasks. But while it's true that co-parenting isn't an uncomplicated or perfect solution, it's the best way to get your children's needs met and ensure their closeness to both of you.

It may be tough going, especially at first, but you can learn to effectively co-parent and still keep your sanity and self-respect. It can be helpful to begin thinking of your relationship with your ex as a completely new one—one that is entirely about the well being of your children, and not about either of you. Your marriage may be over, but your family is not; doing what is best for your kids is your most important priority. The first step to being a mature, responsible co-parent is to always put your children's needs ahead of your own.

Joint custody tips for divorced parents: Setting hurt and anger aside

The key to co-parenting is focusing on your child—and your child only. Yes, this is hard—really hard. It means that your own emotions—any anger, resentment, or hurt—must take a back seat to the needs of your children. Admittedly, setting aside such strong feelings may be the hardest part of learning to work cooperatively with your ex, but it's also perhaps the most vital. Co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex spouse, but rather about your child's happiness, stability, and future.

Separating feelings from behavior

It's okay to be hurt and angry, but your feelings don't have to dictate your behavior. Instead, let what's best for your kids — you working cooperatively with the other parent—motivate your actions.

  • Get your feelings out—somewhere else.
    Friends, therapists, or even a loving pet can all make good listeners when you need to get negative feelings off your chest. Exercise can also be a healthy outlet for letting off steam. Never vent to your child.
  • Stay kid-focused.
    If you feel angry or resentful, try to remember why you need to act with purpose and grace: your child's best interests are at stake. If your anger feels overwhelming, looking at a photograph of your child may help you calm down.
  • Use your body.
    Consciously putting your shoulders down, breathing evenly and deeply, and standing erect can keep you distracted from your anger, and can have a relaxing effect.

Children in the middle

You may never completely lose all of your resentment or bitterness about your break up, but what you can do is compartmentalize that and remind yourself that those are your issues, not your child's. Resolve to keep your issues with your ex away from your children.

  • Never use kids as messengers.
    When you have your child tell the other parent something for you, it puts him or her in the center of your conflict. The goal is to keep your child out of your relationship issues, so call or email your ex yourself.
  • Keep your issues to yourself.
    Never say negative things about your ex to your children, or make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with his or her other parent that is free of your influence.
Joint custody tips for divorced parents: Communicating with your ex

Peaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex is essential to the success of co-parenting—even though it may seem absolutely impossible. It all begins with your mindset. Think about communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your child's well being. Before contact with your ex, ask yourself how your talk will affect your child, and resolve to conduct yourself with class. Make your child the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.

No matter what, communication with your ex is going to be a tough task. Remember that it isn't necessary to meet in person—speaking over the phone or exchanging emails is fine for the majority of conversations. The goal is conflict-free communication, so see which type of contact works best for you. Whether talking via email, phone, or in person, the following methods can help you initiate and maintain effective communication:

  • Set a business-like tone. Approach the relationship with your ex as a business partnership where your “business” is your children's healthy adjustment and well-being. Speak or write to your ex as you would a colleague—with cordiality, respect, and neutrality. Relax and talk slowly.
  • Make requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing as much as you can as requests. Requests can begin "Would you be willing to…?" or “Can we try…?”
  • Listen. Communicating with maturity starts with listening. Even if you end up disagreeing with the other parent, you should at least be able to convey to him or her that you've understood his or her point of view. And listening does not signify approval, so you won't lose anything by allowing your ex to voice his or her opinions.
  • Show restraint. Keep in mind that communicating with one another is going to be necessary for the length of your children's entire childhood—if not longer. You can train yourself to not overreact to your ex, and over time you can become numb to the buttons he or she tries to push.
  • Commit to meeting/talking consistently. Frequent communication with your ex will convey the message to your children that you and their other parent are a united front. This may be extremely difficult in the early stages of your divorce or separation.
  • Keep conversations kid-focused. You can control the content of your communication. Never let a discussion with your ex-partner be about your needs or his/her needs; it should always be about your child's needs.

Source: http://www.helpguide.org/mental/coparenting_shared_parenting_divorce.htm

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