Usually when a couple splits up, the silver lining is that they never have to talk to each other ever, ever again. In fact, most of the time, it's best if they just cut off all contact, period, so they can move on with their lives. But when parents divorce, it's way more complicated. You do still have to talk with each other, probably all the time, because of the kids. You have to work out a parenting plan during your divorce. And you have to work out visitation and a million other little details like civilized people.
Since separating from my husband, I've learned a few things the hard way. Thankfully, we get along pretty well and we're on the same page about most things, so it hasn't been too hard. But here's what I've learned works.
1. Work out a temporary parenting plan. Divorcing parents have to create a formal parenting plan when they file, but even ahead of working out the formal plan, try to agree on a temporary plan.
2. Don't make your formal parenting plan permanent. A lot of parents find that situations change over time, and what works when your kids are 7 and 9 won't necessarily work when they're in their teens. A good rule of thumb is to plan for three years at a time and to leave flexibility in your plan so you can revisit your decisions every few years.
3. Work with a child specialist. You both need someone to help you think in terms of your child's best interests. Some things are not always entirely intuitive.
4. Always make it about the kids. Try to limit your conversations to just those about your kids. Don't pick fights -- and don't respond when he picks a fight with you.
5. Don't criticize each other's parenting. You may not like how your ex parents, but bite your tongue anyway (except in cases of abuse). No eye rolls, either, or sighing, or disapproving frowns.
6. Don't linger. When you're exchanging kids, just do a polite drop-off. Don't drag out the goodbyes, and don't skulk around looking for evidence of a new girlfriend. Likewise, set clear boundaries and don't let your ex sniff around your home or linger longer than he needs to.
7. Never bad-talk your ex in front of the kids. Now that you've split up, it's more important than ever that your kids develop a strong relationship with each parent, independently. Support that, and never, ever use your kids as pawns against your spouse. That's going to emotionally scar your kids.
8. Be precise and neutral in your communication with your ex. Say exactly what time you'll pick up, and then show up on time. Be clear about your expectations. When tensions are high, expecting someone to remember things or read your mind is just going to lead to an argument.
9. Get help for touchy confrontations. If you have something to tell your ex that you think may upset him, it may be easier to either communicate through your lawyer or in the presence of a mediator.
What have you learned about co-parenting after a divorce?
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