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Guidelines for Divorcing Parents

© 2023 Elinor Robin, PhD, LMHC, LMFT

Co-parenting post-divorce may not be easy. But it will be easier if you follow these guidelines:

 

1. Call a truce with your Ex. (Note: Your Ex does not have to take the same action.) Divorced parents can succeed at co-parenting. That success may not begin with harmony, but at a minimum a ceasefire is necessary.

2. You are stuck with each other. One day, you will be Grandma and Grandpa to the same babies. And when these babies grow-up they will tell stories of Grandma and Grandpa. How do you want to be depicted?

3. Work together to rebuild trust and communication. Be patient; emotional wounds need time to heal.

 

4. Establish a business relationship with your former spouse. The business is the co-parenting of your child(ren). Business relationships are based on mutual gain. Emotional attachments and expectations don’t work in business. Instead, successful business communications are up-front and direct, appointments are scheduled, meetings take place, agendas are provided, discussions focus on the

business at hand, everyone is polite, formal courtesies are observed, and agreements are explicit, clear, and written. You do not need to like the people you do business with, but you do need to put negative feelings aside in order to conduct business. Relating in a business-like way with your former spouse may feel strange and awkward at first. If you catch yourself behaving in an unbusiness-like manner, end the conversation and continue the discussion later.

 

5. There are at least two versions to every story. Your child may attempt to slant the facts in a way that gives you what she thinks you want to hear. Give the other parent the benefit of the doubt when your child reports on extraordinary discipline

and/or rewards.

 

6. Do not suggest possible plans or make arrangements with pre-adolescent children. Always confirm any arrangements you have discussed with an older child with the other parent ASAP.

7. The transition between Mom’s house and Dad’s house is often difficult. Be sure to have your children clean, fed, ready to go, and in possession of their paraphernalia when it’s time to make the switch. If possible, avoid the dreaded switch by structuring your time-sharing so that weekends start Friday after school and end with school drop-off on Monday morning.

 

8. Do not screen calls from the other parent or limit telephone contact between your children and the other parent. Instead, ensure that the children are available to speak to the other parent when s/he is on the telephone.

 

9. Do not discuss the divorce, finances, or other adult subjects with your children. Likewise, avoid saying anything negative about other parent and his/her family and friends. Do not use body language, facial expressions, or other subtleties to express negative thoughts and emotions about the other parent. Your child can read you!

 

10. Children are always listening – especially when you think they’re not. So, avoid discussions regarding the divorce, finances, the other parent, and other adult subjects when your children are within earshot.

 

11. You can discuss your feelings with your children to the extent that they can understand them. However, if you let your child know that you are terrified of the future, your child will be terrified too. Instead, keep a balanced emotional perspective that focuses on the difference between feelings and facts. Remember, feelings are not fixed, they pass.

 

12. Do not use your child as a courier for messages or money.

13. Support your child’s right to visit their grandparents and extended family. Children benefit from knowing their roots and heritage. Remember neither extended family is better nor worse – they are just different.

14. Avoid the urge to question your children or press them for information regarding the details of your co-parent’s personal or professional life.

 

15. Each parent must establish and maintain his or her own relationship with the children. Neither of you should act as a mediator between the children and the other parent. Neither of you should act as the defense attorney, presenting the child’s case to the other parent.

 

16. Be on time for pick-ups and drop-offs. Do not enter the other parent’s home unless you are invited in.

 

17. Never put your children in a position where they must choose between their parents or decide where their familial allegiances lie.

 

18. Do not take it personally if your teenager prefers to be with his/her friends. Don’t push. Instead, remain available. If you feel rejected and back off, your teen may feel rejected in return.

19. Expect that your children may feel confused, guilty, sad, and/or abandoned in response to the divorce. Acknowledge their feelings as normal and remind them that even though the family is undergoing a major change, you and their Dad/Mom will always be their parents.

 

20. Lower your expectations. Remember, even if the other parent disappoints your child or fails to honor a time commitment, your job is to tell the child that despite his/her mistakes the other parent loves the child very much.

 

21. If your kids want to talk, shut up and listen.

22. Keep your children informed about the day-to-day details of their lives and your separation/divorce in a way that they can understand.

 

23. Maintain as many security anchors (continuation of relationships, rituals, and the environment) as possible for your children.

 

24. Don't overindulge your children out of guilt or in an attempt to "buy them". Children want to stay up late, but they need rest. Children want candy but they need vegetables. Children express financial wants, but they have emotional needs. Give your children a small amount of what they want and a lot of what they need.

25. Remember no one is all bad or all good. Be honest (with yourself) about your ex's and your own strengths and weaknesses.

 

26. Be consistent in how you discipline your children. Set boundaries, give them freedom within a limited area, and enforce rules outside of the “corral.”

 

27. Don't give false hopes of reunification.

 

28. If you need to change the schedule, notify the other parent ASAP.

 

29. Your child's relationship with his parents will influence his relationships for the rest of his life. Allow him to love both parents without fear of angering and/or hurting the other.

 

30. Share good memories, but do not live in the past.

 

31. Remember that schedules will have to change from time to time to accommodate circumstances, the other parent, and your child's development.

 

32. Consider occasionally separating your children in order to have individual time with each child.

 

33. Introduce your child to neighborhood children that she can play with at her second home.

 

34. Consider holding weekly family meetings, with a rotating chair to discuss chores, problems, schedules, plans, and weekly challenges.

 

35. Don't forget old family traditions and rituals--practice them and create new ones.

 

36. Be willing to separate your needs from the needs of your children and make their needs the priority.

 

37. Keep parenting issues separate from money issues.

 

38. If possible, tell your children about the pending separation together, before one parent leaves. Plan a transition time if you can.

 

39. Coordinate with your co-parent so that school events, functions, and activities are covered. Who will buy the school pictures? Who will handle field trips? Who will work the fundraiser? Who will work on the science project? Who will buy the school supplies? Who will handle the teacher’s gift?

 

40. Remember to tell your children:

(a) Your father/mother and I made the choice to divorce because we thought it would be best for our family.

(b) Your father/mother and I love you and will always love you. The love that a parent has for a child never ends.

(c) Your mother/father and I are working together to make sure we take care of you.

(d) Your mother/father and I each have a special relationship with you. You can love us both and never feel that it means choosing between us, just like each of us loves you and your brother/sister.

 

41. Children, of any age, may be hesitant to spend time with a parent for a variety of reasons. Both parents should encourage the child to go with the other parent.

 

42. Use caution. Ensure that boy/girlfriends and potential stepparents go slow, stay out of the divorce, don't interfere in a child's relationship with natural parents, and do not encourage the child to call them Mom or Dad.

 

43. If you are not united, it will confuse the child and confirm to him that he can manipulate you.

 

44. Make sure that your child’s friends’ parents know your co-parent and know that they can trust him/her with their child.

 

45. If you are a long-distance parent:

(a) Watch TV together. Let your children know that you are watching their favorite shows and ready to talk about them.

(b) Give your children pre-addressed, stamped manila envelopes so that they can send you schoolwork and other paperwork.

(c) Make audio recordings and videos for each other. Nothing to say? Record yourself reading a book.

(d) Remember small events. Send cards, pictures, and letters for Halloween, Valentine's Day, The 4th of July, etc.

(e) Use Facebook, TikTok, Instagram, and other social media if you can do it privately and safely.

(f) Make sure that your kids have watches or phones with your number programmed in.

(g) Keep up with schoolwork. Make sure teachers know how to send you updates. If you hear nothing, be sure to initiate communications with teachers by telephone and email.

46. Divorce is not an event; it is a process. Allow yourself, your ex-spouse, and your children at least two years for readjustment.

 

47. Divorce does not destroy children. It is a parent’s reactions to divorce that has the power to destroy a child’s coping mechanisms.

 

48. Don't use your children to fill your need for companionship. If you don't have a life, GET A LIFE! This is crucial to your and your children's recovery from divorce. Seek out support from friends, family, support groups, a divorce coach, and/or a licensed mental health professional. Consider joining Parents Without Partners, Co-Dependent's Anonymous, or a Church group for divorced/widowed persons.

 

49. Dissolving a marriage doesn't mean the dissolution of the family or your parenting obligations. In fact, while your family is undergoing the restructuring process, your children need strong and caring parents more than ever. If you and/or your ex are too emotionally drained to be those parents, find temporary substitutes who can give your kids what they need.

 

50. Every child needs at least one loving, stable parent. It is YOUR responsibility to be that parent.

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