Co-parenting or shared parenting is the term that refers to the new parenting arrangements put into place in the event of a relationship breakdown or divorce. We know that high-conflict divorces inflict emotional and mental damage upon children, but unfortunately, just because the divorce has been settled doesn’t always mean the arguments over the children have also settled.
An amicable co-parenting relationship is vital, for the sake of the children.
Kids are acutely vulnerable post-divorce, so their security and attachment needs must be paramount. Let’s face it: Separation and divorce mark an unprecedented transition for children. The ground underneath their feet has shifted irrevocably, and it’s impossible for them to know that things will work out — no matter how much you and your co-parent reassure them.
Kids can’t wait until the dust settles. Immediately post divorce, especially the first six months, everyone is raw. I’ve had parents describe feeling as if they’re drowning — and utterly incapable of keeping anyone else afloat. But keeping your kids above water is non-negotiable, because they are more vulnerable than ever as they try to figure out the new normal for their lives — now that we’ve changed the rules.
I’m not saying your needs don’t matter. I believe parental self-care matters big-time. Divorce is an emotionally wrenching experience, and you may need to turn to therapists, family and friends for support more than usual. On the other hand, you cannot and must not take care of yourself at the expense of your children. You are entitled to your feelings — but they cannot be your children’s problem, nor can they supercede your childrens’ needs.
You only get one chance to do this right. Here’s the Truth with a capital T: When it comes to the transition immediately post-separation or divorce, you don’t get a second chance to provide much-needed stability for your kids.
Their lives have been upended — physically, emotionally, familially. Your kids don’t necessarily believe what you say – they believe what you do and what they experience. So be particularly vigilant about the following:
• Try not to add anything or anyone new to your lives at this juncture; there’s plenty “new” to attend to
• Do not use your kids as a go-between for communicating with your co-parent
• Do not argue or fight with your co-parent in front of the kids – or disparage her or him in any way
• Establish clear expectations and limits your kids can depend on, no matter what (more on this in a moment)
No one is expecting perfection. You and your co-parent will make mistakes, but if you make effective co-parenting your priority, you and your kids will recover from them.
Kids need clear expectations and limits — immediately post-divorce more than ever. Kids can thrive in tough environments, but during times of strife they need even more consistency, external structure and limits. Here are some priorities in this regard:
• Agree on the “red rules” that stem from the core values you share – -rules both co-parents follow at both households
• Make the big decisions – -e.g., medical issues, religious celebrations and school concerns — together as co-parents
• Be consistent in how inappropriate behavior is addressed. Letting behavior slide that pre-divorce would not have been tolerated is detrimental to your kids’ stability
• Eliminate worry and anxiety for your kids by establishing and sticking to a routine for household and “stuff” transfers
Recent research has shown that the children of separated parents do best when they are able to spend time with both parents, rather than one parent having fulltime custody. Of particular note, the research found that a high-conflict separation always had adverse outcomes for the children. An amicable co-parenting relationship has proven to be best for the children.
- Children are more likely to feel positive when shared time arrangements are flexible and child-focused, when their parents get along and when they have input into decisions about the details of their living arrangements.
- Frequent moves between households bring added practical and emotional difficulties for children, but the level of difficulty depended on a range of factors including distance between homes, frequency of moves, level of conflict between parents and the child’s personality and preferences.
Study author, Malin Bergstrom, researcher at the Centre of Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden, says that the current thinking is that children in co-parenting situations are exposed to more stress from constantly moving around. “But this study opposes a major concern that this should not be good for children.”
A new study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health suggests that children cope better when they spend time living with each parent in a co-parenting arrangement.
The researchers wanted to find out whether kids who live part time with each parent were more stressed than kids who lived full time with one parent. They studied data from 150,000 12- and 15-year-old students and studied psychosomatic health problems, such as sleeping disorders, headaches, stomachaches, difficulty concentrating and feeling tense and sad. They found that 69% lived in a two-parent family, 19% spent time living part time with each parent and 13% lived with one parent.
Children in two-parent families reported the lowest incidence of psychosomatic symptoms, but the most interesting finding was that kids who lived part time between their parents were better off than kids who lived with one parent.
We can help with parenting arrangements and we always try to make each divorce as low-conflict as possible. Please contact us today for your free,10-minute phone consultation with one of our friendly, experienced family lawyers.