Ending a long-term romantic relationship is difficult and painful. Most people choose to refrain from seeing or communicating with a former partner after a breakup in order to heal and move forward. However, ending a romantic relationship when children are involved is infinitely more difficult. Once two people have children together, they enter into a lifelong relationship with one another. Although the romantic relationship ends, the co-parenting relationship remains.
In today’s blog, Dr. Jenna Rowen explains how former partners with children need to redefine their relationship. In these instances, the relationship gets redefined as a business partnership, where the business is raising happy, healthy children.
How do co-parents create that business partnership? Dr. Rowen offers some tips for redefining the relationship while keeping children’s needs at the forefront.
Discuss boundaries around communication and keep communication limited to child-related issues. For example, if you know you and your co-parent scream on the phone but can remain professional over email, limit communication to emails. Whatever form of communication is agreed upon should not serve to rehash old arguments or jab at one another; rather, communication should pertain to concrete, child-related issues (e.g., “The school play is November 11th. Will you be able to attend?”).
Keep kids out of the middle of the conflict. Messages should not be relayed to the other parent through children, and children should not witness conflict between co-parents. These experiences are very stressful for kids and often lead to them feel caught in the middle.
Create a parenting plan that is feasible and flexible. It is important to have some type of custody plan in place so that both parents have a clear understanding of when they will spend time with their children. A plan also provides a resource for parents to refer to in times of disagreement. A consistent parenting plan can also help children feel like they have a weekly or biweekly routine, which may aid with adjustment. If you and your co-parent feel unable to create a co-parenting or custody plan, mediation is an excellent option that facilitates collaborative problem-solving.
When talking directly with your children or within earshot of your children, discuss your co-parent with kindness. Children often feel sad and hurt when parents put each other down because they love both of their parents and often have traits that reflect both parents. It can be tempting to make negative comments about the other parent (especially if s/he is driving you crazy at the moment), but it is not a healthy choice for your kids.
When co-parenting becomes difficult, envision how you would like your children to look back on their childhood in 20 years. Bringing the focus back to what is best for your children always helps parents make healthier short-term decisions. At the end of the day, both you and your co-parent just love your children and want what’s best for them.
Dr. Rowen specializes in research and treatment of high levels of family negativity and interparental conflict, which adversely impact the co-parenting relationship, parent-child relationships, and child psychological well-being. She is committed to providing high quality, empirically-supported treatment to children, families, and couples. Learn more about Dr. Rowen on our website.
The Family Institute offers therapy and counseling for children, adolescents, parents and families at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, Westchester and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.