9 Tips for successful parenting after divorce
- August 1, 2018
- Jennifer Hetherington
- No comments
A lot of advice abounds about what to do when you are parenting after divorce. Today’s Guest Blogger, psychologist Dr Rachel Hannam offers her professional perspective about what works – and what doesn’t – if you want to have successful parenting after divorce.
What’s the best way to ensure successful parenting after divorce?
Let’s start with what NOT to do…
- 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:
- Shield them 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.
- Choose being wise over being right
There are bound to be conflicts, 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.
- Provide routine (and be flexible too)
Ideally, optimise the amount of time spent with each parent. If 50/50 is not possible or indicated, just do what you can. Whatever the co-parenting ratio, 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 other. 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, seek out techniques to help them (and you) cope.
- What if you cannot talk face-to-face or on the phone?
Use email or a communication book. Asynchronous communication, such as email, gives 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 after divorce, such as Our Children Coparently, Cozi and Our Family Wizard. Google Calendar is another option.
- Maintain your children’s community
Essential to children is the security of maintaining existing relationships and routines with extended family members, friends, school and other activities. This adds to children’s sense of stability, continuity, and predictability in their lives. It takes a village to raise a child, as they say.
- Have fun with them
Make memories and organise day trips to museums, galleries, parks, the beach, the swimming pool or the arcade. The kids have been through a lot too, so create positive experiences with and for them.
- Quality time doesn’t just mean fun times
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.
- 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.
- Maintain your own well-being and keep learning
Your children depend on you, and you owe it to them to prioritise your own physical, emotional and mental health and make sure you are getting enough sleep. 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 to have your emotional needs fulfilled by them in some way. Their needs must guide your actions, even when your thoughts and feelings are running rampant.
If you need to learn better ways to modulate your emotions or to communicate with your ex-partner without anger, defensiveness and blame, please seek out support.
Dr Rachel Hannam and the team at North Brisbane Psychologists, assist lots of separated mums, dads and family members to find better ways to handle emotions, communicate clearly, and make decisions cooperatively in the best interests of their children. Call Dr Rachel, today on 0478 789321 or find them on Facebook.