Dr Jozelle Miller
March 22, 2022
Divorce and Co-parenting

All around the world, it appears that relationships and marriages are on the attack. Stories of persons separating and divorcing after pledging their undying love has seemingly become the norm. Going through a divorce can be extremely traumatic for everyone involved.

People who undergo divorce face a variety of psychological issues including increased stress, lower life satisfaction, depression, increased medical visits, and an overall increase in mortality risk compared to those who remain married. Along with losing the benefits of a happy marriage, which can act as a buffer against the normal stress in life, there is also the divorce process itself.

Depending on where people happen to live and the specific circumstances, divorce can be a long and drawn-out legal process involving mutual blame-casting and being forced to give testimony on many of the most sordid details of why a marriage happened to fail. Add in the trauma involved in custody battles over children, and the entire divorce process can be a nightmare for many people.

So, what are the psychological effects of divorce on children? It depends. While divorce is stressful for all children, some kids rebound faster than others.

The good news is parents can take steps to reduce the psychological effects of divorce on children. A few supportive parenting strategies can go a long way to helping kids adjust to the changes brought about by divorce.

What is co-parenting after a divorce?

Co-parenting is when divorced or separated parents work together to raise their children, instead of operating as fully independent parties. Typically co-parents collaborate on the big, impactful decisions and operate independently on small, everyday ones.

Some of the biggest decisions regard visitation, education, and health.

As in any partnership, it takes compromise and mutual respect to make it work.

Tips for effective Co-Parenting:

1. Effective communication Don’t use your children as go-betweens or stress them out by relying on them to be the messenger. If you struggle to talk directly to your ex-partner without it turning into an argument, use other communication methods such as text or email.

Part of effective communication is making sure that what you say is received the way you intended it, which can be trickier via a text message or email. If your ex says something that you don’t agree with, take time to cool off before you reply and try to only deal with one issue per text conversation or email so things don’t get complicated and cause further arguments. The aim is to be cordial enough to avoid tense situations where both parents would be expected to offer support to a child, for e.g., graduations, birthdays, weddings etc.

2. Plan for events As much as both parents might want to spend special events (birthdays, Christmas, Summer vacations) with the children, it is a fact that your children can’t be in two places at once.

The best thing to do is to try and plan events early. Most children like and benefit from routine so thinking of a plan that will suit your family as early as possible means your children will know what to expect when special events come around and it won’t become a bone of contention every year.

3. Be generous When it comes to other events like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, a little generosity goes a long way. If your children are still young, showing them help and encouragement to make sure the other parent still gets a card will be hugely appreciated. If Father’s Day falls on a day the children would usually spend with Mum or vice versa, why not offer a swap? Being reasonable and generous around these arrangements from the start will help to establish your co-parenting relationship and you will appreciate it just as much if these things are reciprocated.

4. Never ask your kids to choose While it’s important to take their wishes into consideration, you should never ask your children to choose between their parents. If you’ve got more than one child, imagine how you would feel if you were asked to choose between them.

This one can be tough if there’s animosity between you and your ex but don’t vent your frustrations in front of your kids or make them feel like they need to pick a side.

5. Have realistic expectations Don’t expect your ex-partner to stick to the rules you have when the children are with you. It will make a big difference if you can agree on core values but try not to let it bother you if the kids have a different bedtime when they spend time with the other parent. It’s fine to have household rules but remember that they only apply to your household, and it might not be realistic to expect your ex to enforce your rules.

6. Be respectful It’s difficult if tensions are still high between you and your ex but it will be in everyone’s best interests, especially the children, if you can treat each other with respect.

Think of arrangements like appointments. You wouldn’t turn up late or cancel an appointment last minute so try to make sure you’re both on the same page for arrangements like picking up and dropping off the children from school with each other.

7. Do what’s fair After a divorce or separation, many parents try to find an arrangement that gives them equal access to the children. But a 50/50 split isn’t always going to work out best for the children. For example, if your ex always took them swimming on a weekend, it might make sense to work that into the schedule even if it means giving up some of your time with them.

With your children’s best interest at heart, it may be more worthwhile that both parents make plans for the children as opposed to allowing the court to decide on what is the better schedule to follow.

Benefits of Co-Parenting Stability: Kids in a co-parenting setup experience consistency in expectations, communication, and schedules from co-parents, which makes them feel stable and safe. As such, they are better armed to face overwhelming life situations.

Less parentification: A divorce can cause children to assume the responsibility of providing emotional support to parents. But a co-parenting relationship spares children from such emotional stress.

Conflict resolution: Co-parenting gives kids a chance to learn by example. They watch and learn about relationships and conflict resolution. They learn how to cooperate with others even during undesirable situations.

Disadvantages of Co-Parenting

Parenting experts suggest that it could be challenging for kids to adjust to different lifestyles of both parents.

As such, they tend to pick favorites, depending upon how much they can adjust to each parent’s life.

Conflicting schedules: Working co-parents may find it difficult to adjust their schedules according to their partners. They must assume the joint responsibility of child rearing by making changes in their professional schedules, which are usually packed.

Disputes: Some conflicting views may also arise between parents which makes it difficult for kids to cope. Such disputes surrounding major life decisions may often lead to choose-making situations for kids and can potentially traumatize them.

Finally, remember that co-parenting is not a competition but a collaboration of two homes working together with the best interest of the child at heart. Work for your kids not against them.