Co-parenting is fundamental to the blended family
When you and your spouse decided to divorce, your thoughts were filled with coping mechanisms and strategies to achieve the split and help make single parenthood more tolerable. As you both began a new phase in your lives, you recognized the magnitude of life changes, and accepted that you and your ex-spouse will simply have to learn how to be effective co-parents. Unfortunately, as with so many other important life skills, parenting does not come with an instruction manual and neither does parenting during, or after, a divorce. What is available, though, is a long list of mistakes other parents in your position have made before you. Here are a couple of important tips to help you and your kids survive the divorce, and perhaps a remarriage.
Love your kids more than you hate your ex-spouse
The divorce may have been about you and your ex-spouse, but it probably does not feel that way to your children. In your post-divorce dealings with your ex, remember to put your children first and act. When you make things difficult for your ex-spouse, either in a courtroom or in child visitation, you make things harder for your kids. Reassure your children that they are loved by both parents, and that your divorce was not their fault. This is extremely important if you and your spouse ever argued about the kids, on any level. They often believe everything was their fault! Never, ever badmouth the other parent. Hearing you say bad things about their other parent puts your child in a terrible position. To agree with you would be disloyal; to disagree would be equally disloyal and extremely threatening. Also, your kids know you used to love their other parent but now have nothing good to say about them. Kids wonder if you could stop loving them, as well. Let you kids know you love them; let them know you want them to spend time with their other parent; let them know you will take care of them.
Do not put your kids in the middle
Do not use your children as messengers between you and your ex-spouse. Virtually every blended family advice article or website advocates keeping kids as distanced from parental battles as possible. Even if your ex drives you crazy, do the talking yourself. This is not only more effective, but can teach your kids by example how problem solving is done. If you need to inform your ex-spouse that medical bills need paying, child support will be late, or even that a scheduled visitation drop-off will be delayed, do not ask your child to pass on the information. Adult one-on-one communication not only protects your child from a possible angry response which might be more appropriately aimed at you, it helps reassure your kids that even though mom and dad are divorced, they are still parents.
Visitation is for the kids
Support regular visitation with the other parent. Any action that makes spending time with the other parent easier for the kids is in their best interests. Do everything you can to accommodate time with the other parent. Visitation is not about your time, or your ex-spouse’s time, with the kids. Visitation is about the kids having time with you. Also, remember to keep visitation totally separate from the subject of child support. One does not pay for the opportunity to spend time with their kids, and kids deserve to spend time with both parents regardless of payment status.
Talk about your problems with grownups
Many divorced parents, mothers most often, proudly say their kids are their best friends. Do not fall into the trap of making your child a caretaker or confidante. Let your own friends, adult relatives, or your therapist be your counselors and sounding board. Your kids need you to be the parent and take care of them. Do not ask them to take care of you. Also, do not involve your kids in discussions about child custody or support. Your divorce, and perhaps your remarriage, is enough to cope with; hearing that one or another of their parents is unfit or a deadbeat can only make kids feel even more abandoned and insecure.
Aim for stability
If you and your ex-spouse have difficulty talking about the kids on any level, it may be better to forget about shifting the kids back and forth between your two residences, at least for a while, even if you have a joint custody agreement. Also, if you can avoid it, do not move the kids to new schools and new neighborhoods. Stability in their home, school, and social life helps children cope with the losses brought about by divorce and changes resulting from the remarriage.
The best piece of blended family advice for divorced parents? Love your kids more than you hate your ex. If you need additional assistance, The Blended and Step Family Resource Center offers co-parenting coaching.