The dissolution of a marriage is never easy, even when amicable. When things are contentious and there are children involved, a tender situation can turn into a turbulent maelstrom of raw emotions, name calling, and conflict. You may be concerned about your ex’s parenting abilities, stressed about child support or financial issues, exhausted by conflict, or worried that you will never be able to get past all those relationship resentments that led to the divorce. But for joint custody to benefit your offspring, it is vital for you to overcome these challenges and develop a civil working relationship with your ex to provide your children with the stability, security, and the close relationship children need with both parents.
Barring serious issues such as domestic violence or substance abuse, having both parents actively involved in their children’s daily lives, or co-parenting, is preferable. This will allow the children to maintain contact and a close relationship with both parents just as they had prior to the divorce. Putting aside relationship issues and hurt feelings that often accompany an acrimonious split can be extremely difficult. Research suggests that the perception of a cordial relationship between co-parents can have a profound effect on the overall mental and emotional well-being of children. It can also lead to lower levels of depression and anxiety among children.
One of the things parents often lose sight of is that they are divorcing from a marriage, but not a family. "You're a parent first and a divorced parent second, so don't let the divorce play a significant role in your decision-making," says Montreal divorced dad Phil Clavel, the author of Dad Alone (Vehicule Press, 2003), a guide for divorced fathers. "Make decisions as a mom or dad, not as a divorced mom or dad." No matter how angry or upset you may still be about the divorce, be careful what you say when small ears may be listening. You don't want to give your children the mistaken impression that they were to blame for the breakup.
Remember that a child is a connection that you will always have, through years of graduations, birthdays, holidays, and family milestones. If you want to your children to experience those events with a sense of security and wellbeing, you will make every effort to maintain a good working relationship with your co-parent. If you want to be a part of all those special moments, you will do your best to put aside any negative comments or expressions about your ex when around your mutual offspring. Children are smarter than you think, and they want to be allowed to love and accept both their parents. By using only positive or at the very least neutral language about their other parent, you are effectively giving your child permission to behave naturally around both parents.
Hostility makes co-parents work against each other, rather than as a team towards the same goal of creating happy, healthy, well-adjusted little humans. Sometimes these adversaries use their children as messengers or they withhold financial support or visitation to punish the other parent. Rather than being a parent who focuses on acting for the kids' sake, it is really a way of excusing yourself from your co-parenting responsibilities. And if you consider yourself as a team of one, the loser isn’t your ex. It is your child.
Consider carefully what you hope to gain with every communication. If you are rude or accusatory of your ex while speaking with your children, you may cause them to be confused, or resentful or uncomfortable to be around you. If they take your accusations to heart, your actions may cause your kids to also be uncomfortable around your ex. Now your child has no one they feel safe around.
Remember that your children's welfare must always be your priority. Contemplate the long-term effects on your children of everything you and your ex say and do. This simple consideration can lead to a co-parenting agreement that is acceptable to both of you while fostering a healthy and safe environment for your kids.
Joint custody arrangements can be draining, maddening, and anxiety inducing. It can seem impossible to surmount all the pain and bitterness your shared history brings up. Making shared decisions, interacting with each another at drop-offs, or just speaking to someone you’d rather forget about can seem like an irresolvable task. Despite the challenges the benefits of creating an amicable working relationship is well worth it when you see how happy your children are.