Co-parenting when you are newly divorced makes what is an already difficult job, exponentially harder which is probably why this is such a popular post so I thought I'd run it again.
I was reading a business brief by Dennis Casey about how to build and solidify business relationships when it suddenly occurred to me that his ideas could be translated into a useful framework for [newly] divorced couples who now had to find their way as co-parents under wholly different circumstances. These days, I primarily do business mediation so the small percentage of domestic mediation I’m involved with concerns child custody.
It's 'About Communication Stupid'
As any parent knows childrearing is a hard job even under optimal circumstances. The task of co-parenting as a divorced couple is therefore exponentially harder. Quite simply there are many other intervening variables that sometimes run counter to the” best interests of the child” such as remaining bitterness and animosity, feelings of betrayal, disputes over money and support, etc. Frankly, this particular list can be long and undistinguished. However, Casey lays out 4 simple principles for business that I have tweaked a bit to fit co-parent applications. I believe these hold promise for creating at least the beginnings of a solid working foundation.
- Be proactive. Maintain open lines of communication with each other, which includes a willingness to listen even when you fervently disagree. Proactive communication can help prevent frustration between parents with the added bonus of modeling how to manage frustration for your children. Engaging in proactive dialogue is especially important if you have bad news. Just like in the business world, communicating this information as soon as possible reduces the impact to the other parent and provides time to create an appropriate resolution. When doing so it is exceedingly helpful to either offer a constructive solution or demonstrate a willingness to assist in finding one. Remember, simply "passing the buck” when you are the bearer of bad news is likely to boomerang right back to you at some future date. For example if you are going to be delayed at work when it’s your night to pick up the children, don’t wait to inform the other parent until five minutes before you are supposed to be at school to get them. Not only can this be seen as act of disrespect and hostility [even where none was intended] but practically speaking, it will very likely create a stressful situation for your children [as well as your former spouse] leaving little or no “wiggle room” for the other parent. One possible solution: each parent should be responsible for developing his or her own “plan B” that is supported by the other parent before turning to the co-parent for back-up. Note: If feelings are still too raw to do these negotiations effectively over the phone, consider email. This way documented small pieces of information can be transmitted thoughtfully with the ideal goal of doing so dispassionately. “God created the Blackberry [or iPhone], use it!” This leads to the next principle.
- Communicate clear rationales and action plans. Keeping parents informed
requires disciplined, detailed practices. Life, like business does not always conform
to pre-planned structure, which makes it essential to continually communicate what has changed and why in addition to the actions being taken to resolve unexpected
issues that may come up. Keep in mind that whether you are separate or together,
part of effective parenting means “all oars are rowing in the same direction."
- Remember that now, like it or not, you are each also building a new life. Therefore divorced spouses are busy with their own plans and commitments in addition to working with each other. If a scheduling change or issue with one of the children arises, they may not be aware of it unless you tell them. Don't assume they are already aware of what’s going on.
- Keep your promises. Be conscious of keeping the promises you make, an act that
will make it more likely that the other co-parent will keep theirs [or provide you with the moral authority to negotiate that they do so in the future]. Once again, this is critical modeling for your children. Clearly it’s far easier to say than do when passions still run high but carrying it out is in the mutual interest of both sides. One of the key guiding principles in any negotiation is to argue your interests and not your passions! Furthermore, doing something as simple as keeping your promises can go a long way towards re-establishing the kind of trust parents need to have in each other to effectively parent their children. For example, be clear and consistent about standard guidelines for your children’s behavior, supporting each other as a united front at the outset to avoid conflict later. This also addresses a common practice among children especially those with divorced parents, which is to “play off one parent against the other” in the service of their own goals [a particularly favorite strategy among adolescents]
There Is No 'Magic Pill'
The guidelines above are not “written in stone” and will not solve every problem. If I could provide that 'magic bullet,' I’d bottle it & sell it. Using these 4 principles is simply a start towards creating a unique [and hopefully successful] model that works for you.
*Oiginally posted: 5/22/2008
Ellen Gunty,MA is the founding owner of Means to an End, a company that provides HR consulting,training, & mediation. Please note: nothing in this post should be viewed as "legal advice"