10 Tips for Co-Parenting and Blended Families
Divorce happens. Its painful for everyone involved. Only one thing is certain with divorce, everything changes. For children this can be especially difficult. Their life consisted of seeing their parents daily under the same roof. Now, they may be wondering if they can go to Billy’s birthday party because it is on the weekend they are with Dad? Or if Santa will remember to come to the right house on Christmas morning? Or even if Mommy might be sad or lonely when I spend a month in the summer with Daddy?
All of these questions are heartbreaking for parents. In fact, many couples often stay together physically long after they have decided to break up emotionally just to try to keep their children’s lives the same a little bit longer. Sometimes they themselves cannot imagine waking up and not having breakfast with their child each morning as they once did. With separation and divorce, the reality of what is to come happens quickly. Although the old memories made your family who they are today, it is important to start making new memories and developing new family rituals.
1. Learn the Art of Forgiveness: This is the first and most important step. It is the foundation for all successful Co-Parenting. Without forgiveness bitterness and blaming will always exist and your kids will notice it. Children, no matter how young, can sense tension. It is crucial that you work through your feelings surrounding the break up and learn acceptance and forgiveness of your self and your ex. Only then, can you begin to truly Co-Parent together.
2. Collaborate with Your Ex: When you were both living in the same house, you both may have felt like you had a voice in how your children were raised. Keep it that way. Just because you now have two different mailing addresses, does not mean that it should be your way only. It is important that both of your parenting styles mimic one another. Collaborate with your ex on important issues such as family values, education, family rules, television restrictions, etc. Talk to each other and find out what each of you want instilled in your children. Make a list of the top 5 values and give it to one another. Respect the values at both houses.
3. Blended Family Means Blended Everything: Try to keep everything between both houses the same. It is important that if your child has his/her own room at one house that he/she has an individual room or space at the other house. Make sure your child has his/her favorite toothbrush, toothpaste, and soap at each house. Also, if possible try to have clothes and toys at each house. This allows the child to not pack as much and feel more like he/she is going to his/her second home versus going on a trip. Also, avoid restricting children from taking favorite objects toys between houses. If you let Sally take her Teddy to the grocery store, then let her take him to Mom’s house for the weekend.
4. Don’t Leave Discipline at the Doorstep: Nothing makes a child learn to manipulate more than a parent with a guilty conscience. No matter what your child says about “ruining their life with a divorce,” it doesn’t have anything to do with the fact that you want to take away their IPOD for not doing their chores. Button pushing and boundary pushing is part of child development and nothing gives an angry child more ammunition to get you to give in than pouring salt in the wound that is the most fresh. Structure, rules, and discipline promote healthy child development and help children grow into responsible adults. It is also important that when Suzy loses television for a week for poor grades at Mom’s, that she doesn’t manipulate Dad into letting her watch her favorite cartoons on Saturday morning. So be sure and talk to your ex about backing each other up with consequences and reward systems at both houses.
5. Keep it on Schedule: It is good to keep a calendar at both houses of all of the monthly events at both houses. Whether it is just the usual visitations schedule as well as birthday parties, BBQ’s, and movie outings. For younger children who cannot read, you can uses pictures or stickers to represent upcoming events. This helps prepare children for what lies ahead and allows them to feel more comfortable with all of the changes.
6. Let the Kids Have a Say So: Keep an open dialogue with your kids about everything that is going on. If you are questioning whether they are adjusting to the changes, ask them if there is anything you could do to help them feel more comfortable. Maybe Billy thinks his sheets smell funny or are scratchy so they don’t remind him of his sheets at Mom’s house. Then you could talk with his mom and find out what type of soap she uses on the sheets. Maybe Jeffrey feels lonely because he doesn’t have any friends at your house when he visits. Perhaps you could find a local play group or social activity to attend with him when he visits so he can make some new friends.
7. The Comfort of Home: Do you remember your first night in your very own place? Even grown ups have a difficult time sleeping in a new place. It takes time for a new space to feel like home. When you think of “home” what comes to mind? Memories of familiar sights, smells, and traditions. Start building those with your child. Begin fun rituals together. Perhaps on Friday nights you take Jordan to have Pizza and watch a DVD on the couch. Or Saturday mornings become pancake breakfast mornings. Or Wednesday nights become board game night. Whatever fun traditions you and your child create together, stick with them and make them a ritual. This is what builds memories and makes Home Sweet Home.
8. Make Parent Meetings: Make time to meet with your ex face-to-face to talk about your child and any parent concerns. If distance is an issue, call or use Skype. It is important that your children are not present during these meetings. Co-Parenting is a joint effort job and it is important that the two of you have time to collaborate.
9. Keep it Child Centered: Although the two of you were once an item, that is no longer the case. Your relationship is over and now the focus of your interactions together should be on the children. If you find yourself getting angry, upset, or frustrated while talking to your ex, ask yourself, “Is this about my child or my past relationship?” Chances are your old junk from the past is creeping back out. Remind yourself that you are wearing your parent hat and keep the conversation on the topic of your child.
10. Walk the Talk: Show your kids how much you respect your ex. Don’t talk negatively about the other parent, even if your child initiates it. Encourage your child to keep normalcy in his/her life by being able to call the other parent daily. Remind yourself that your child loves you both and discourage your child from taking sides.
July is National Child Centered Divorce Month. I want to encourage all blended families to see the benefit and the beauty of Co-Parenting. It is the best gift you can give to your children and it lasts a lifetime.