How to Do It Right
It may seem cruel that just like you called your marriage to end, you need to quickly go into “we are a team” mode to determine what is best for your children. But it can be done successfully.
Learning to compromise and set new boundaries is essential, says family therapist Constance Ahrons, PhD. She is emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Southern California at Los Angeles and author of The good divorce.
Put your anger aside
“Co-parents need to put their anger aside and focus on the needs of the child,” says Ahrons. “A good rule of thumb is that the more anger there is between co-parents, the more they need to have firm boundaries. The more divorced parents can get along, the more flexible they can be. ”
For Nancy Cramer, adjusting the way she worked with her ex made all the difference. “I learned to give my ex-husband a space to think things over instead of demanding an immediate decision over the phone,” says Cramer, of Roswell, GA. “If I got angry, it was no good, because then he would make a decision just to upset me.” It comes down to keeping the best interests of the boys at the forefront.
Exchange sensitive topics for calm conversations
Your boundaries should include what you can talk about and what topics are best left alone, says Ahrons. “Co-parents need to know what their issues are and stay away from them. They need to keep their conversations on track and focus on parenting, not ex-spouse issues. It is sometimes very difficult to do.
Clifford Kipp, who lives in Marietta, Georgia, and shares physical custody of his sons with his ex, agrees. “We really had to focus on friendliness in order to maintain sanity for everyone involved,” he says. “Of course, it only works when the two are cooperative. We probably tried yelling at each other the first few times there was a conflict, but soon found that a calm, productive conversation was really the only way to resolve a problem.
Robin Wilson, of Myrtle Beach, SC, says learning to admit being wrong has become an asset. “If there is an argument, I see what my role was,” says the mother of a 16-year-old. “It doesn’t show weakness. It shows my son how two people with difficult pasts can adjust and have a new, healthier relationship.
Find a schedule that works for everyone
It is important to respect the other parent’s time with the children. “Remember, your child has the right to have both parents,” says Ahrons.
When Kipp and his ex got divorced, they both wanted the kids full time. Instead of starting a custody battle, they came up with a week on / week off program that had worked for one parent.
“On Monday morning, the kids would go to school and go home to the other parent and stay all week until the following Monday morning,” Kipp says. “We quickly decided that by the time the weekend came, we would be a little too tired to spend a hectic weekend with them, so we changed the transfer day to Friday. That way the parent is cool on Friday afternoon. “
Alton Aimar, of Savannah, GA, and his ex separated when their son was 7 months old. They kept the court-ordered visitation schedule for the first few years. But they were able to relax some rules as the tension thawed. For example, when their son started college, he also switched to staying with his father on Thursday nights, the day Aimar coached his son’s football team.
For Cramer, keeping the interests of his sons first is important. When she embraced her Christian faith, the Christmas holidays meant more to her, but she chose not to seek a new arrangement. “They celebrated every year with their aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents” on her ex’s side, she says. “It would have been completely selfish of me to deny them that.
Team up for key conversations
Aimar and his ex both remarried, but over time kept their family role at the forefront. Whenever something came up, the four would get together with her son to discuss what had happened and agree on a course of action. “Our son knew there was no ‘Well, mommy said X’ or ‘Daddy said X.’ He knew we were all in agreement. Although his son is now 23, Aimar and his ex are still talking about what’s going on with him and maintaining a united front.
Pay attention to the rules
All households have their own rules. What works in one house may not work in another. The COVID-19 pandemic makes this setup more complex, Ahrons says.
What one parent thinks is safe, the other parent might not be, she points out, for example if the child can visit a friend’s house. “Know that there will be differences and that ground rules have to be established,” she says. “Whenever they are not, children suffer.”
As with any disagreement, Ahrons urges parents to find a professional to help them come together and iron out tough situations.
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