Many of you will end up being able to co-parent admirably, and this will include many of you who are struggling with the tough initial stages of working out a co-parenting arrangement. If no one is pathological, then time will generally settle things down.
In the meantime, here are some tips to keep things from blowing up:
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff. In a perfect world the kids would have the same experience in both homes. That is not going to happen. Don’t worry if things are different at both houses — different meals, different clothes, and yes, different bedtimes. These differences help make the children of divorce more resilient than their peers, and resilience is a very good thing! Do raise some issues; for instance, any surrounding inherently dangerous activities and food if there is a medical/allergic condition that the kids have. You should agree on those limits.
2. Don’t try to communicate in person or by phone if you or your spouse are still raw. Email and texting have truly made divorce parenting easier. You are both communicating and creating a record. Always be civil and polite. You can make faces at the computer but don’t let the anger show through (and NEVER, EVER make faces or complain about the other parent where kids can see or hear you). If you get nasty texts or emails from your soon-to-be-ex, take a deep breath, and ignore them. When you are calm you can reply politely to the meat of the email, whatever it was. If you are so disturbed by the message, have a close friend read it for you and help you reply. Non-engagement helps stop the fighting. Also if matters blow up and parenting becomes a court issue, you will have a good, clear, written record of who said what. Save all emails and learn how to save texts with your phone.
3. As soon as possible set up a clear schedule for parenting time. There are a number of good programs on the Internet that allow you to both enter and see each other’s items on the same calendar. I have heard a lot of good reports about Our Family Wizard. The clearer you can be about who does what and when, the easier it will be on both of you AND the kids.
4. Be sure that both of you have contacted the schools, coaches, doctors and anyone else who has contact with the kids on a regular basis, so that all of those folks have both parents’ contact information and know to call or email both of you. This saves one parent from feeling left out and one parent being put unfairly in an “assistant” position. The information about activities, doctor’s appointments, etc. can all go into that mutual Internet calendar so all can see.
5. I just had an extraordinary client prepare a list of her kids’ friends and their parents’ contact information so that her kids’ dad could get in touch with them directly to arrange sleepovers, etc. on his parenting time. She even went so far as to check in with these friends’ parents and assure them that their kids would be safe and have a good time at dad’s house. This type of kindness and foresight may go a long way to alleviating a fight.
And finally, this is a tip from a marriage counselor: Two phrases not to use are “you never” and “you always.”