SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

November 8, 2013

Tips to improve co-parenting

Dr. Kate's Parent Rap
Dr. Kate Roberts

---- — Without even realizing it, many parents are most comfortable when parenting solo. The addition of a partner, and having to incorporate another’s perspective into your own independent viewpoint, can make handling the kids conflicted and tense. Co-parenting is one of the biggest concerns intact parents have, without labeling it as such, when they come to see me in my practice. Frequently, parents come in for help regarding their children and spend much of the time discussing how they co-parent.

Tips to help intact couples to co-parent effectively:

Communication is key. Discussion of issues such as schooling, routines, extended family roles, behavior management, use of punishment, etc., should be held in an ongoing fashion. As a co-parent, listen to your partner’s opinions and discuss your similarities and differences and how you would like to resolve them. Compromise until you reach an agreement on these issues. Then, implement your joint decisions together and consistently. Try to always show a united front to your children.

Share roles. I have worked with several couples who had decided upfront that one of them would handle all the discipline. I have not seen that work. Both parents need to have an authoritative presence in order to gain respect and feel in control of the children.

Work together. Even when you don’t agree in the moment, support each other whenever possible and discuss disagreements later. Or, if you can’t wait, move away from the children to resolve differences and return to the action once you are united. Joint resolution of difficult issues will have a positive impact on your child, and it can strengthen the relationship with your co-parent.

Always re-evaluate. Effective co-parenting requires ongoing communication about what is working and what is not. As children grow and mature, parenting changes, and an ongoing discussion of how to manage these changes is required. Remember, compromise is important.

As difficult as co-parenting is for married couples, it’s even more challenging for many divorced couples. Communication is often tainted by financial strains, jealousy over ex-spouses’ new relationships and unresolved conflicts over marital issues long past. In this climate, the children end up losing and, unless parents decide to work together or compromise, often develop additional problems as a result of parent disagreements.

Tips to help separated and divorced parents co-parent effectively:

Separate feelings from behavior. Regardless of how angry parents are, emotions need to be kept at bay in front of the children. Parents need to find outlets for negative emotions that do not involve the children. Remember that parents who manage emotions do not allow ex-partners to dominate their parent-child interactions.

Children are not messengers. Using your child as a messenger is a set-up for them to feel caught in the middle. Inevitably, they will get something wrong and, in the process, you’ve thrown them in the center of the conflict.

Stay neutral. Communicating negative feelings about an ex in front of children can trigger them to feel that part of them is bad; after all, they are half your ex. Thus, parents need to refrain from making negative comments about each other.

Communicate with a neutral, business-like tone. When communicating with an ex, a detached tone is the most effective. Parents can make requests of each other, not demands.

Commit to ongoing communication. Communicating often shows interest and commitment to a child’s needs. Control conversations by keeping them kid-focused and away from anything personal.

Consistency. If possible, arrange a consistent schedule and routine that both parents adhere to. Don’t make changes without getting an ex’s support. Try to establish rules and discipline procedures that are similar across settings, including use of technology. When compromise and agreement do not seem possible, explain to the children that each parent makes the rules for their home.

Disagreements. Work through challenges and differences by demonstrating respect for the other person and listening to his or her perspective. Most parents must reach agreement on education, medical concerns, sports and basic values. Parents need to keep talking until they reach compromises they can both live with.

Parenting tip: Co-parenting, even in the best of relationships, is highly challenging. Be willing to acknowledge and discuss this. Each parent should seriously consider his or her own role and try to see the other parent’s perspective. Most parents don’t disagree with the other parent just to cause conflict. There is often something of value to their position and perspective. Try to find what it is and consider it before reacting negatively. Many children would rather experience a less-than-ideal parenting decision than watch their parents argue.

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to www.drkateroberts.com www.twitter.com/DrKateParenting, www.facebook.com/Dr.KateRoberts or www.pinterest.com/DrKateParenting