By: Sue Schramka, Psy.D.
Divorce can be a difficult and painful process, but you and your spouse will determine how it impacts your children. One of the greatest challenges you face is to both separate and co-parent. The most important aspect of your relationship with your ex-spouse, your co-parenting relationship, needs to remain intact and, in fact, be strengthened to work effectively across two homes.
Research has shown that the single most important factor in healthy post-divorce adjustment in children is low conflict between the parents. Therefore, when transitioning from spouses to co-parents, ensuring the well-being and future happiness of your children is crucial.
As a child specialist, I help many couples make the transition and restructure their post-divorce family for the sake of their children. I urge all couples to consider working with a child specialist to help them be the best co-parents possible for the sake of their children. Here are three tips from my work with families that I want to share.
Tip #1: Take Time and Allow Yourself to Grieve
Moving from a marital relationship to a co-parenting relationship is a process that takes time and encompasses several steps. The first is to grieve the loss of the marriage and the “nuclear” family. This is a process that often moves in a stop and start manner as various events occur and you experience living without your ex-spouse and begin to redefine your new family life with your children.
Tip #2: Develop New Patterns of Communication
Another step is to accept that the issues that led to the decision to divorce may not be fully resolved in your divorce process. All the patterns, behaviors, and resentments that led to the end of the marriage do not simply end with divorce, and the legal process will not allocate fault. To begin building a healthy co-parenting relationship, you must recognize familiar impulses to engage in past patterns of conflict and then resist these inevitable impulses. You must both work on creating new child-centered patterns of communication and decision-making to be successful parenting partners.
Tip #3: Manage Your Own Emotional Needs
Finally, you must understand that your emotional needs should not be met by your children. Your children, even if they are adults, should not become your emotional caretakers or conduits between parents. You have to find ways to get your emotional needs met in other activities and people, including individual counseling if needed to help you with the transition, so you can manage the business of co-parenting and be the best parent possible for your children.
If you can focus on the positives and clear away residual negative patterns from your marriage, you can begin to build a very healthy and effective co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. In the end, no one loves your children more than you and your ex-spouse, the other parent. Who better to partner with to guide their development and usher them to adulthood?
Is Your Family in Transition? The Family Mediation Center Can Help
To schedule a consultation or to receive more information about mediation services through The Family Mediation Center, please call us at 414-939-6707 or contact us online and a member of our staff will contact you. All inquiries are confidential.
Sue Schramka is a psychologist at Cornerstone Counseling Services. She provides treatment for children, adolescents, and adults. Her special interests include assisting separating and divorcing families as a Child Specialist and treating anxiety and mood disorders, interpersonal difficulties, and stress management.