Parenting is a big project and can be challenging under any circumstances; after divorce, however, it can become even more complex due to the new dynamics between family members. Most parents want to ensure their children continue to thrive, socially, emotionally and academically at all times. To help with this process, we have compiled some useful techniques to ease the transition and help to create new working relationships between divorced couples.
Communicate with respect
When speaking to your ex-partner, it is crucial to keep it positive. This is especially important when emotions are high, and you don’t feel in control; take a break and implement some relaxation strategies to help you cope better and to think and speak rationally. For example, take deep breaths or leave the room and visualise a scene, place or situations that you consider safe, restful and happy. While living arrangements may have changed, it is essential that you continue to interact positively with your ex-partner to successfully co-parent your children. Studies have shown that parents who remained calm and communicate in a respectful manner with their former partner were able to improve their relationship as a result (Markham, 2015). In an article from the Child Study Center (NYU School of Medicine) it states that parents can have robust disagreements about a variety of topics in front of their children without necessarily causing stress and anxiety. The key here is for parents to do so in a way that shows their kids that conflict can be managed and even resolved with love and mutual respect.
Agree on a consistent schedule
One reason communication between parents is so important is to increase consistency and stability for your children. Children require consistent rhythms in their life that do not change frequently (Pruett, 2014). This does not necessarily mean that the children must be cared for in a single environment; it merely requires consistency in each parent’s responsiveness from day to day. If children can keep regular daily schedules regardless of which house they are living, their internal clocks will remain in check. Regular schedules help to reduce behavioural problems, separation anxiety, regression, and other issues which are prevalent in children of divorced parents. From the age of 7 years, children can contribute to defining their options for schedules, so make sure to consult your child when changing their plans.
Maintain consistent discipline
Like with schedules, consistent discipline is necessary for children’s well-being. This is not confined to punishment; discipline includes chores, homework, manners, and attitude. If there are fundamental disagreements about how to discipline your child, it is advisable to reach a compromise where possible. If it is not possible, maintain consistent discipline in your home (McMurray, 2008).
Stay in close contact, if possible
It is often in the best interests of your child for both parents to remain involved after the divorce (Kelly & Johnston, 2001). Certain accommodations will be necessary within the family dynamic to support the arrangement (McIntosh and Long, 2006). While shared custody is often an ideal, if the child lives with one parent, try to ensure that the child sees the other parent regularly.
Moving away is sometimes necessary for one parent. However, it is important to consider the consequences for their child. Relocating can create an imbalance in the parenting, and can create a more formal relationship with the parent who has relocated. Is it important to make it as easy as possible for the child to have a relationship with the parent who has relocated. For example, the child may benefit from having a mobile phone to contact the other parent without feeling as though their relationship is being mediated.
Manage your new relationship with your children
Divided loyalty is common but needs to be managed. Avoid making children choose sides. It is likely that your relationship with your child will change as a consequence of the divorce. You may choose to take a more proactive role during after-school sports; be more present in the school setting; or perhaps due to circumstances, have less time with your child after the divorce. During this new stage you may develop new routines and experiences to share with each other.
Try to keep activities inexpensive with a focus on quality time to avoid competing between parents and encouraging divided loyalties. Consider attending key events together, like graduations, concerts, school meetings. By role modelling positive relationships in the community, your child will feel safer and securely attached with both parents. During special events and celebrations, if spending them together is not an option, try to ensure your child is involved and informed about what decisions have been made. If your child it is not happy about the arrangements, acknowledge their feelings and try to encourage children to spend time with both parents.
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Kelly, J.G., & Johnston, J.R. (2001). The alienated child: A reformulation of parental alienation syndrome. Family Court Review, 39(3), 249-266.
Markham, M. S., Hartenstein, J. L., Mitchell, Y. T., & Aljayyousi-Khalil, G. (2015). Communication among parents who share physical custody after divorce or separation. Journal of Family Issues, 1-29. 10.1177/0192513X15616848
McIntosh, J E. and Long, C. M. (2006) Children Beyond Dispute: A prospective study of outcomes from child focused and child inclusive post-separation family dispute resolution. Final Report. Australian Government Attorney General’s Department. Canberra
McMurray, S. (2008, 08). Discipline after divorce. Today’s Parent, 25, 43-45. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/232888210?accountid=12528
Pruett, M. K., & DiFonzo, J. H. (2014). Closing the gap: Research, policy, practice, and shared parenting. Family Court Review, 52(2), 152-174.
Roffman, A (2016). The Art of Arguing: Tips for Handling Parental Conflict around Your Kids