by BARTHOLOMEW & WASZNICKY
Designing a successful co-parenting plan is all about creating a calm environment for making decisions about what’s best for the children and easing stress between the parents. Keep the following points in mind when developing your co-parenting plan:
1. Follow the golden rule of “do unto others.” That includes no talking behind the other person’s back, and treating the other with the respect you desire to receive in return. Be cordial. Greet each other pleasantly. Both of you are setting examples for your children as to how to behave towards someone that may have differing views than your own. Keep the rules simple and easy to follow.
2. Approach problems with the intent of resolving them and not simply not winning or losing your point. Keep in mind what is important to the children and do what is necessary to ensure that the children’s needs are respected and honored.
3. Do not use condescending or derogatory terms in exchanges with each other. This refers back to the first rule, but cannot be stated too strongly. Do not use inflammatory speech with each other.
4. Agree that your children’s needs are more important than your own. Your children’s lives should keep as much of their normal routine as possible. Activities, school, and friendships are vitally important to them and to their development. You may have to adapt your routine to meet their needs and to participate in their lives. This isn’t always an easy concept for parents who think of the parenting schedule as “my time with the children,” and views every party, practice, activity, and school function as an imposition. Negotiate schedule changes with the other parent with minimal conflict.
5. Agree to respect the other parent’s time with the children. Keeping a consistent schedule builds trust between parents by reinforcing the commitment to the parenting agreement and the spirit behind it. Schedule changes often are inconvenient and can make life difficult for the other parent, and children do not adapt easily to the changes. Keep any changes to a minimum.
6. Agree to respect the other parent’s parenting style. Discuss concerns at agreed-upon communication times, not in front of the children. Both parents should strive for consistency in raising the children in two different homes. You may not agree on every point of child rearing, but strive for overall uniformity in most areas. Daily care, daily schedule, and homework may be easier areas to agree upon; differences arise most often in discipline and peer relationships.
7. Discuss areas of potential conflict out of earshot of the children. Do not expose your children to, nor discuss with them, areas of conflict that you have with your ex. Your conflicts upset your children and put them in an awkward situation – the middle – between you and your ex. You need to take steps now to protect them from anxiety and depression that can result from exposure to parental conflicts.
8. Agree to be on time. Agree to a schedule and stick to it, barring any real emergencies. Your children are counting on you to pick them up or drop them off at the scheduled time. Teach your children timeliness and dependability through your own actions.
9. Agree to discuss any changes to the schedule with each other prior to telling your children. Do not rely on your children as message bearers. Again, this puts them in the middle. Vacations and changes to the parenting plan and schedule must be discussed by the parents first.
10. Agree not to say negative things about the other parent to or in front of the children. This is probably one of the most important parental rules and possibly one of the most difficult to follow. Undermining the other parent takes away the confidence your child has in your and your ex-spouse’s ability to care for them as separate parents, and can lead to parent alienation.
11. Agree not to place the children in loyalty conflicts by forcing them to choose one side against the other. Don’t treat your kids as pawns. Do not ask them to convey information to the other parent. Do not ask them what goes on in the other home. Children who are placed in loyalty conflicts are more likely to develop emotional difficulties.
Remember that you may be divorced, but you are parents together for a lifetime. Co-parenting is more complicated than parenting in general. The lives of your children are complicated logistically and emotionally. The children need you both; and, therefore, you need each other as well. Together, you are tasked with preserving your children’s need to feel secure and loved by both parents and not force them to choose between the two of you.