Co-parenting during and after a divorce transition can be challenging. So many strong emotions, potential mistrust, and conflicts. It can seem daunting for parents to steer clear of all of these personal emotions and perspectives to remain focused on communicating, cooperating and coordinating on behalf of your child. While you may have the best of intentions to stay on the high road, in a flash, you may find yourself in the dark valley of conflict and power struggles.
Here are five specific ways you can "take the high road" as a co-parent. Taking the "high road" means not contributing to conflicts that are harmful to your child's well-being and post-divorce adjustment. It means putting personal feelings aside to focus on the business of raising your child together effectively. This requires a commitment to the purpose of raising your child well and giving them what they need to become successful, well-adjusted adults. With this commitment, you consistently work at the following five co-parenting practices.
1. Remain child-centered.
"Child-centered" focuses on what your child thinks, feels, and needs. Children need to feel free to love both of their parents, go back and forth with ease between houses, feel good about things they do with their other parent, to look forward to spending time with that parent, and to be relaxed at their activities in public when both parents are present. Consider how your child feels and what your child needs when making decisions for and about your child.
This requires that you shift from thoughts and feelings about your former spouse and the divorce from your own perspective as a spouse (your adult personal thoughts and feelings) to considering your child's thoughts and feelings about their other parent and the divorce from the perspective as your child's parent. It is critical to realize that these are two separate and different things! Your children have different thoughts and feelings about their other parent than you do.
2. Manage your emotions
Strong emotions can derail any interaction and certainly send you tumbling off the high road and down into a thorny thicket of conflicts. To be prepared to manage your strong emotions, be aware of what triggers you and when you are triggered. Use techniques to calm yourself down in the moment. Pause and give yourself time to think and re-center upon your high-road commitments. Thoughtfully respond rather than emotionally react.
3. Maintain good boundaries
Boundaries are the relationship rules that help maintain safety and clear roles in our relationships. Polite, respectful, and reliable builds trust as co-parents. Remaining focused on talking just about the children, not about your past relationship or personal feelings also provides a helpful boundary. Having clear expectations about when you will share information and the specific types of information you share also contains conversations in helpful ways. This will help you stay on the high road.
4. Your best communication skills
High road co-parenting involves careful, respectful communication; like you would have with your boss at work. High road communication begins with listening with an open mind. You avoid assumptions, judgments, and blame. You seek to understand your co-parent, even if you may not agree. Your communication is brief, clear, stays on topic, focus on facts not opinions.
5. Look for common ground as you make decisions
When you are on the high road, you aren't focused on getting your own way, but rather on working cooperatively with your co-parent to keep conflict low and make the best decisions for your child. You look for the places where you agree as a starting point, rather than focusing on your disagreements. Your ultimate goals for your child are likely similar, even if you disagree on how to get there. Rather than debating your differences, you spend your energy on making proposals that weave together the best of both of your ideas until you come to an agreement. Your decision reflects high road outcomes that support your child's growth, development, and well-being.
Your co-parenting relationship is the bridge that your child walks across between households. Use these five suggestions to build a strong, stable, loving bridge for your child to navigate their two homes. When you do, you will be walking along the co-parenting high road. From there, you will have a beautiful view.
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