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The divorce experience is vastly different for every party involved, and in every individual case, but is especially complicated when children are part of the equation. Not every problem can be solved, and a family divided will not divide evenly. It takes time, care, and conversation to get the right answer. Start here.
Start From the Beginning – Communicate
Whether your child is two or twelve, he or she will notice something as big as a divorce. They will listen and draw information from whatever means possible, and then draw their own conclusions. Be honest about what is happening and what is going to happen. Your child(ren) need you to also communicate openly with your ex. When you are on the same page with schedules, expectations, and discipline, co-parenting is made easier, which will make being a kid easier through this transition.
Develop a Parenting Model – Plan
Whether you use a mediator, or family counselor, your family deserves the same care and planning it had before the divorce. In many cases, the court intervenes and decides on a lot of factors including alimony, child support, custody arrangement, asset distribution, and more. Unfortunately a lot of cases end with the judge’s gavel, and the parenting plan doesn’t go any further than who gets the kids at Christmas and who pays what. If you don’t make a plan, then you will not have one. A parenting model means that questions are answered, and if there is a question, then a phone call is okay. It means that if you have an emergency, and can’t make a pick-up or a baseball game, then you can call your co-parent for support–or call the sitter, depending on the arrangement.
Set Boundaries – Protect
A physically or emotionally unhealthy person cannot care for someone else as well as they could. That means your children depend on your health as much as you do. Your role as co-parent is to protect your child from harm and heartache as best you can, but you also have to protect yourself. While you are developing your parenting plan, make sure you develop guidelines that all parties are comfortable with. Even during divorce, couples can find themselves growing close again, even if they don’t reconcile. This is common, and can be avoided by setting boundaries, and sticking with them.
Build Community – Support
It’s important that your children have a support system in place! Part of your job is to help your children maintain their existing relationships, as well as cultivate new ones. It’s also great to look into local resources for your children like library programs, support groups, youth camps, and more. While you’re working so hard to build a community of support around your children, it may happen that the support system that your co-parent helps your child build may overlap with yours, and that’s okay. In fact, it’s downright healthy, for the kids, and for the parents.