Focus on the Family

Effective Co-Parenting, Part One

Divorced parents must contain their anger and conflict in order to cooperate on issues of the children's welfare.

by Ron Deal

At a minimum, biological parents who have divorced should contain their anger and conflict in order to cooperate and compromise on issues of the children's welfare.

At a maximum, the co-parents can strive to enforce similar rules and standards of conduct in each of the children's homes.

Most co-parents find it difficult to accomplish the former; only a few are able to achieve the latter. Nevertheless, co-parents should do everything they can to build cooperation between the two homes.

I'll let the children explain what a functional co-parental relationship means in practical, everyday terms.

In both these examples, children carried undue emotional anxiety and burden because their parents could not set aside their differences and act like adults.

An effective co-parent arrangement for Julie's parents would mean she could invite both parents to her recitals and not worry whether they were fighting or anxious. An effective arrangement for Terrance's parents would include their finding a way to talk rationally about their schedules instead of triangulating Terrance.

The bottom line is a system that allows children to be children and adults to be their parents.

Action Points for Co-Parents

1. Keep the goal in mind. Working with an uncooperative ex spouse is difficult, especially when you find it tough to give them any credit for change. On some level many ex spouses need to view the other as incapable of change. This leads you to look for evidence that the ex is the same and can't be trusted; you might also discount evidence to the contrary.

Keeping the goal in mind means doing everything you can to be a Cooperative Colleague and remaining open to the possibility that your ex spouse might change along life's way. When treating children who are members of a post divorce family or stepfamily, a standard part of my clinical work is to call ex-spouses for a consultation. I generally find them to be much less disagreeable than the other parent assumes they will be. In fact, they are often eager to improve the living conditions for their children. Remember, if you can grow up and change, so can they.

2. Be businesslike if necessary. Many co parents have learned how to handle difficult ex spouse relationships. Some use note cards while speaking on the phone to help keep them on task. Others avoid personal contact altogether, relying on answering machines, letters and e-mail. No matter what your avenue of communication, treat the contact as you would a business deal. Don't get personal, seek the win/win solution, and stick to discussing the kids.

Having a business mentality may help you to avoid being sidetracked when your buttons get pushed. For example, one good business principle that applies in many circumstances is trying to find the common ground. Whenever possible, agree with some aspect of what your ex is saying even if you disagree with the main point. "You're right, every teenager wants the independence a car provides; I'm just wondering if he should be rewarded with one right now given his poor grades." If you can't "close the deal" because of personal pain or attacks, politely take a time out from negotiations. Return to the table later when you have gathered yourself.

Additional Resource

Visit www.SmartStepfamilies.com* for stepfamily resources, conference information and training events.