Adjusting to co-parenting after a divorce can be challenging. Your relationship as a couple is over, but you have to find a way to continue your relationship as parents for the sake of your children. Creating some rules for your new relationship can give you structure and help you stay focused on what’s really important – your kids. Here are the kinds of guidelines you should establish to help you move forward as parenting partners.
Rules for your kids
Now that you have separate houses (assuming you haven’t set up a “bird’s nest”), you’re free to run your home the way you want, and the other parent doesn’t have to approve or agree. You might require your kids to make their beds although the other parent doesn’t, or maybe you object strongly to your ex’s lack of restrictions on screen time. Accepting and adjusting to those differences are part of the co-parenting process. Each of you will create house rules that work for you and your kids, and those rules won’t necessarily be the same at each house.
That being said, the best way to maintain a sense of normalcy for your kids as they adjust to life after divorce is to align the major rules at both parents’ homes. Having similar rules regarding bedtimes, curfews, and homework at both houses makes it easier for your child to transition back and forth and stay on an even keel.
Rules about stuff
Some of the biggest problems with co-parenting involve stuff. A common problem occurs when your kid leaves something at the other house he needs (for school, for sports, for life in general). Some parents agree that whoever has the child will drive him back to get the missing item. Other parents maintain that teens are old enough to take responsibility for their own belongings and will have to wait until their next time at that house to get the missing stuff.
Another common point of contention is laundry. Residential parents get upset when kids come home from the other house with a mountain of dirty laundry. Nonresidential parents get annoyed when kids show up without enough clean clothes. Some families tackle this issue head on. Keeping some clothes at each house (with that parent being responsible for laundry) is one way to handle it. Putting older kids in charge of managing their own laundry is another solution.
Rules for watching your words
One of the most important ways to help your kids adjust is to shelter them from the conflict between you and your ex as much as possible. Many divorced parents work hard to avoid arguing in front of their children, but there are many ways your kids can get exposed to conflict without you realizing. They overhear you on the phone—arguing with each other or complaining about each other to friends. It’s also common for parents to say critical or derogatory things about each other to the children. One family started a comment jar (similar to a swear jar) where each parent had to put in a dollar for every time they started an argument in front of the children.
Rules about holidays
Holidays can be a challenging time to co-parent. Lots of families have found that instead of alternating holidays, it can be best to share them, particularly during the first years after divorce. So instead of the kids being with Mom on Thanksgiving and Dad on Christmas, the entire family (both parents and kids) spend the day together as a family. This helps the kids to feel secure and lets both parents enjoy the children on special days.
Of course, most of the rules outlined here assume a level of civility on the part of the parents which accommodates ongoing changes in your respective situations—along with the evolving wants and needs of your kids. Finding your way after divorce takes patience. A family lawyer can help you navigate custody challenges and create a parenting plan that works in everyone’s best interest.