Dr. Aryn Ziehnert
The fairytale image of happily ever after may have faded post-divorce, leaving you with shredded and conflicting images. In one hand, you hold the future you once imagined, and in the other, you grasp the present co-parenting experience you now live.
Needless to say, there is a marked contrast between your ideal and your experience. Divorce doesn’t just divide the couple, but when there are other entities and lives such as children, pets, and property to sort, that invites more questions than available answers.
- What do we do for co-parenting?
- How do we navigate from here?
- How do we find harmony and partner in ways that honor the child while establishing healthy connection and boundaries?
Even when the signs of permanent separation are impending, the nature of divorce leverages unanticipated impacts on all involved. As you might imagine, there are important considerations for anchoring your family in the truth of God’s Word.
If you feel unsteady, this may be a critical time for you to reacquaint yourself with you in this new experience and find your balance as both person and parent. While co-parenting is an essential element of divorce care, you must also receive the grace you need as an individual to be sufficiently effective for those in your care.
There are questions and considerations as your family edges forward in this new reality. Recognize that while the marriage has concluded, that doesn’t have to signal the end of all things good. Though it requires time and investment, you and your former spouse can partner together to raise children who are resilient, able to adjust and incorporate these family challenges to learn and grow.
This article will hover around communication as the primary focus for advancing from the awkwardness of this major shift. Yet, with God’s Spirit, we can watch Him transform our uncomfortable and unusual as part of the “all things” that He works for our collective good and His resplendent glory (see Romans 8:28).
Communication Matters in Co-Parenting
Communication in co-parenting is key for promoting health in the transition time. You need to address communication matters not only with your ex, but within your own heart.
Start With Your Own Heart
Children will take their cues from their parents. When they recognize tension, they may feel the need to play to one side or the other, thereby caregiving for the parent and rescuing them from a tenuous emotional state.
Utilize times of transition to work through personal issues with the divorce or divorce-related issues. While it may be tempting to deflect focus from your legitimate needs, as you busy yourself with others’ needs, you will soon be required to face the truths erupting from within.
You are not serving yourself or anyone else well when you distract yourself from exploring the territory of your own heart. Prioritize the time and the practice of searching your own soul as a necessary part of healing from within.
Find safe harbor with the Holy Spirit and wise counsel with a spiritually based mental health professional. Utilize our site to locate and match with a counselor to confide in and gain another dimension of support and healing.
Marriage is one of the most life altering decisions, and consequently, the decision to dissolve it will have significant impacts on your life as well. Allowing yourself the freedom to grieve and grow will stretch you into another iteration of an evolving and advancing you. Your healed self will show up in your interactions with the co-parent and with the children in ways that serve you, best of all, and everyone else, from a place of strength.
Communication With One Another
Be honest with where you are, and to the degree that you feel safe, communicate with your former spouse and co-parent about matters regarding your children. Centralize focus on the children and their wellness.
Where there are major priorities to consider, carve time and space to research, discuss options, make comparisons, weigh choices, and note final selections as you advance. Where older children are involved, you and their other parent may elect to incorporate their perspectives and feedback in family decisions that directly impact them.
While every matter is not a major decision, there may be minor issues or decisions that don’t carry significant weight or impact where it may be wise to yield to the other parent’s opinions or perspectives, especially if no harm will be incurred to your children.
In walking through post-divorce, our egos want to contend for what we feel is right and just. Sometimes, it isn’t about the children, but rather a spar for control. This can work against us counterproductively, thereby hurting our children, and the peace we seek in learning to establish a new rhythm for what family life will be.
Whatever validation and affirmation we require cannot become center stage when we are advocating for our children and partnering with the co-parent who has as much a stake in their care and thriving.
Financial matters such as child support, alimony, health care coverages, tax liabilities, and school or college related expenses may be worked out with a court advocate or legal team, if necessary. If you have relationships with wise people in your life that both of you trust who can remain neutral and champion the wellness of the children, it may be valuable to have objective support.
Consider this as you discuss and sort out matters pertaining to childcare, before and after care, seasonal and holiday custody changes, and other matters impacted by life activity after divorce.
As much as possible, discuss your family’s core values and how you want to approach topics before the time to make a decision approaches. Give these topics breathing room and a shared budget, perhaps from a portion of alimony and or shared child support funds. Afford time to foster healthy discussion, reflection, and time to amass the savings, if financial considerations are attached to some of the decisions you anticipate.
Revisit the decisions regularly as needed. Return to engage when you can separate your own projected needs from your child’s actual needs. Work from there to begin healthy dialogue, with parameters for respectful resolution.
Communication with the Children
Seek wisdom and get understanding on communicating with your children. Find areas of commonality and build from a place of agreement. While agreement means that we can unify in principle, even if we don’t envision the same practical application. Some battles we think we lost are actually won, when we agree to disagree or agree and choose to differ respectfully.
We can defer to the other person’s method when we know that the children will still be loved, even if we didn’t necessarily choose the outcome for this decision. We can model learning and growth for our children as we co-parent, demonstrating that our love for them outpaces our ego.
Choose the areas where you find harmony and expand from there to incorporate shared perspectives in parenting. Recognize that some of your bruised feelings may be because of your own heart’s wounds from the split and not necessarily because of the child. Where you are projecting your own insecurities, you may need to separate your needs from your child’s needs and visit with a professional to walk through your own inner healing experience.
Minor decisions may not require lengthy dialogue. The basic rules that are in play at one parent’s house may not be necessary to establish in the other’s household. But if it conflicts with the family’s core values, it may be worth looking to establish consistency across environments.
Next Steps for Co-parenting Well
Developing a plan for co-parenting following a divorce or relationship break will not occur overnight, but it is a priority. Consider your needs, those of your children, and that of your family legacy. Think about these questions:
- How much will this issue, question, debate, or fight matter in another year or more?
- What is the overall impact the tension will have on your children’s memories and their lives as well-adjusted adults and eventually as parents of your grandchildren?
- Will today’s fight be worth it for what it may cost in terms of dissension, discomfort, or disruption?
Allow wisdom to guide. Only God stands simultaneously at the end and beginning of our stories. Seek Him, asking direction. Welcome His peace to govern your heart and to settle all unresolved matters with His rest.
You won’t win every fight but ask yourself if this is necessary. It may be enough for your children to be in a healthy loving relationship with each other and their parents, even if your family structure and story looks different than the “happily ever after” of your childhood story books.
Turn the page into the new chapter awaiting you to read and write your way into the new and next. Explore our site. Reach out today for a counselor to work through individual, joint, or family counseling. You will see you have never been alone in this journey. God has been present all along.
“Rainy Day” Courtesy of Dimitri De Vries, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Red Flowers”, Courtesy of Jehu Christan, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Praying”, Courtesy of Patrick Fore, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Follow the Map”, Courtesy of Annie Spratt, Unsplash.com, CC0 License