Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 26, 2013

Mental Wellness: Co-parenting after divorce

Local columnist

— To go from marriage to divorce is a heartbreaking struggle. Years before, two people stood in front of their friends and family committing their lives to one another, then for one reason or another, it didn't work out. Without kids, they never have to speak again.

With kids, it gets more complicated.

The term "co-parenting" means to find ways that two parents can work together, when they have significant differences in opinion. These concepts work within divorce situations, but also apply between partners that are together. These three tips will make co-parenting easier.

Talk ahead of time

One of the first steps a divorced couple can take is to talk about potential future situations. What would you do if our son or daughter did X or Y?

Or, I saw a child do this the other day; what should we do if that happened with our child?

Do you think there are specific ages that privileges should expand? When parents can talk about the future, it sets the stage for creating a few rules that can be agreed upon.

Have a few common rules

Parents usually have harsh, angry or hurt feelings following a divorce. When those can be set aside to create a plan for their children, it forms a certain level of consistency in the child's life.

This reduces children's anxiety and helps them to know what to expect.

Having a handful of common rules can begin collaboration, even in the midst of wanting no part of one another's lives.

A starting point might be bedtime, amount of screen time or when homework is done.

Other common rules are length of time for time-outs, what maturity level of video games can be played or how much sugar/soda can be consumed.

Don't undermine one another

Even when an ex-spouse does something really stupid, undermining them as parents serves no one. Children will defend their parent and feel that they have to choose sides. Smart parents will seek to allow children to make their own decisions about the other parent.

When kids feel that their parents are working together, even in minor areas, it helps them feel more secure and have less anxiety.

It is hard work to be a smart co-parent. It involves actively ignoring your own hurt and anger.

However, when two parents can do this effectively, it helps kids to know what to expect, feel more protected and thrive.

Joseph R. Sanok, MA, LLP, LPC, NCC is a licensed counselor and owner of Mental Wellness Counseling. He is the author of “Mental Wellness Parenting: A remarkably simple approach to making parenting easier,” available on Amazon.