The dissolution of a marriage is never easy, even when amicable. But 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 to for you to overcome these challenges and develop a civil working relationship with your ex to provide your children with the stability, security, and close relationships with both parents they need.
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 the best way to continue the standard of care and close relationships with both parents that they experienced prior to the inevitable disruption that occurs with divorce. Putting aside relationship issues and hurt feelings that often accompany an acrimonious split can be easier said than done, but 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 and the incidents of depression and anxiety.
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 well-being, you will make every effort to maintain a good working relationship with your co-parent. AND, 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. No one wants to be the bad guy that talks smack about Mommy or Daddy. That way leads to withholding of invitations to special events for fear of causing undo stress during important occasions.
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 focused parent who acts for the kids' sake, it's 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 shared offspring.
Consider carefully what you hope to gain with every communication. If you don’t want to burn all your bridges and cause your kids to resent you or spend thousands on therapy, you will refrain from being rude, sarcastic, or accusatory when communicating with him/her. Above all, 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, and you can create the best possible co-parenting situation.
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 irresolvable tasks, however, the benefit to your children is worth making the effort. Despite the challenges, though, if you want the best for them, you can and must develop an amicable working relationship with your ex for the sake of your children.