Co-parenting after a divorce is largely a matter of negotiation and clear communication, which makes it sound simple. The fact is, when parenting across two households, and negotiating the needs and details of all the members of the family, that communication is often difficult to maintain.
There are a few best practices, though, that can help set you up for success. When you are attempting to negotiate the ins and outs of a new joint custody agreement, being set up for success helps immensely.
1. Maintain consistency across the households
The most important aspect of co-parenting is keeping things consistent for the children. If you are too strict and your ex does nothing to rein in behavior, then the kids can easily develop problems adjusting to both the change in social expectations between home spaces, and also the change in expectations between home and school, or home and practice.
The best way to handle this is to make a plan about what ground rules both houses should stick to, and to work with your ex to maintain accountability. That way, your kids know what to expect at home, no matter which home it is. This minimizes transition stress.
2. Develop a parenting plan
One important strategy for maintaining consistency after the initial agreement is the development of a detailed parenting plan. When putting together a plan, you should make sure that it contains the following components:
- Who will make the important decisions such as medical care, religious upbringing and education
- The handling of obtaining babysitters and keeping the other parent informed
- Time with each parent, including special occasions, vacations and holidays
- Extracurricular activities and which parent will pay for the equipment/supplies, make the decision to enroll the child, and a schedule of special events like games or performances
- Who makes decisions about television, grooming, and other day-to-day activities
- How any disputes between the parents will be resolved without involving the children
Developing this plan helps keep everyone on the same page, and it ensures that you and your ex have agreed upon which issues one of you will take responsibility for, which issues you will count on your ex to monitor, and which issues you will monitor together.
3. Beware of slippery slopes
Compared to enforcing and maintaining expectations, setting them is easy. Part of enforcing those expectations means being aware of the ways that kids are prone to test limits and boundaries. That means when you and your ex have agreed upon a certain way of doing things, small "extras" can go a long way toward undoing that agreement. Whether it's another five minutes before bedtime or skipping chores, be wary of disruptions to the routine that might become commonplace, and monitor yourself for your ability to hold to the agreement you made.
Helping your family transition into a new, stable arrangement after divorce is a process of negotiation and communication. Using the right tools and the right approach to set expectations streamlines that communication and helps everyone by minimizing conflict and keeping the children's home life consistent.