Getting from here to there: Sharing Parenting Responsiblities After Divorce

In an ideal world, as a couple with children you work together to juggle the day-to-day needs of your kids. Getting homework done, monitoring how long they surf the web, shuffling them to appointments and football practices, all the while making sure they’re loved, fed, bathed and relatively safe. That’s the stuff parenting is made of, isn’t it?

However, when you divorce many of those parenting responsibilities you once collectively shared quickly become the subject of scrutiny.

Unfortunately along with dividing up what we owe and what we own, we inadvertently throw child rearing into the mix. In the midst of our anger and hurt, we mistakenly assume that because we are separating our lives, we should also separate parenting responsibilities too.

It’s a common problem many parents face. After all, who wants to think about parenting with someone you don’t want to be married to anymore. In my coaching practice, I’ve seen this dynamic play out lots of different ways.

Sometimes it involves one parent cutting the other one completely out of the loop and taking control of all the parenting responsibilities. Their reasoning, “I’ve always been the one who took care of everything, why should anything change now?” While shouldering it all on your own might seem easier, the end result is often one very tired, resentful and overwhelmed parent. Meanwhile the other parent, feeling undervalued and shut out, starts overcompensating by becoming the “super fun” parent.

In other cases, one parent may be open to sharing parenting responsibilities but is struggling to deal with a co-parent who has a “my way or the highway” attitude. And so the struggle for absolute control ensues.

I’ve also seen situations where one parent just gives up all together and never plays an active role in their children’s lives. Of course, kids end up losing the most when this happens.

While it is by no means an easy transition, if the ultimate goal is to raise well-adjusted children, we need to find some way to dig deep and stay focused on one another’s parenting strengths instead of capitalizing on each other’s deficits.

So how do you get from here to there?

•Give each other and yourself time to adjust
Realize right out the gate, things may not be easy or ideal. Each of you may need some time to let the dust settle. In the early stages, do your best to engage in good co-parenting etiquette. Regardless of how the other parent acts, whenever possible share information, include them in important decisions and support their role in your children’s lives.

•Be willing to develop new skills
In your marriage you may have become used to parenting a certain way. Now that you’re parenting differently, you’ll need to become more adaptable. Perhaps you once relied on the other parent to lead the charge when it came to communicating with your children’s school, now it’s time for you to pick up the ball. On the flip side, if you’ve been the parent who is used to taking control of the helm, you may need to work on stepping back and giving your Ex a chance to step in and step up.

•Don’t get hung up on how many hours you clock
When developing a parenting schedule and sharing responsibilities, keep in mind, it isn’t about who is the better parent but rather what’s best for your kids. Instead of negotiating your child’s day-to-day life away, consider taking an objective look at what life was like before you separated.

Ask yourself, what about your child’s life needs to stay the same and what needs to change?

•Use a two-home concept
Regardless of how time or parenting responsibilities are shared, children benefit most when they feel a sense of connection and belonging with each parent. Actively support that connection by referring to each household as a home (i.e. your home with mom and your home with dad)

•Be open to change
What works today may not work tomorrow. While providing consistency is important, be open to the value of flexibility. As children grow and change often arrangements will need to change with them.

For more ideas and practical strategies on how to balance your parenting relationship after divorce, get a copy of PARENTING APART: How separated and divorced parents can raise happy and secure kids.

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Christina McGhee

divorce coach, speaker and author of Parenting Apart, How separated and divorced parents can raise happy and secure kids.
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