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By Carien Grobler

Deputy Digital Editor

Co-parenting: Navigating parenthood together, even apart

A parent can't prevent their children from being hurt during a divorce. However, the way one approaches life after the divorce can have a significant impact on ensuring happy, healthy, and well-adjusted children.

Everyone involved in a divorce experiences their lives turning upside down. The trauma adults go through is undeniable, but it has an even greater impact on the children. Parents often get so caught up in their own problems that they overlook their children’s emotions, reasoning abilities, and ability to handle unfamiliar situations.

Experts emphasise that parents must prioritise their children’s needs during and after a divorce. The sadness and confusion of a divorce may make it difficult to focus on anyone else, but redirecting attention from your own sadness, unhealthy emotions, and thoughts of revenge can help.

A parent can’t prevent their children from being hurt during a divorce. However, the way one approaches life after the divorce can have a significant impact on ensuring happy, healthy, and well-adjusted children.

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Follow the golden rules

Continuous communication with your ex is the cornerstone of your new relationship as co-parents.

Though it may feel entirely impossible, you must change your attitude for the sake of your children. Focus on your children when communicating with your ex and prevent the way you treat each other from further harming your children.

“Most literature on co-parenting deals with a set of rules that parents must follow when communicating with each other,” say psychologists Drs Elizabeth Thayer and Jeffrey Zimmerman in their book, The Co-Parenting Survival Guide.

“These rules aim to provide structure to the interaction in order to avoid conflict. These are important, yet simple principles to follow to prevent the children from further harm.”

Drs Elizabeth and Jeffrey suggest the following behavioural rules for co-parents:

We will always treat each other with respect. “The key to co-parenting is courtesy,” say Drs. Elizabeth and Jeffrey. “Parents must act toward each other in a manner that demonstrates the principles of acceptable social interaction. This means greeting each other kindly and communicating with each other in a pleasant manner.”

They explain that it is important to set a precedent of acceptable behaviour between adults. “Remember that your children will treat you and the other parent in the same way you treat each other. You also set an example of how one should treat other people.”

We will not insult each other. “Parents in a conflict situation often feel they have the right to say offensive and insulting things to each other, although they will not treat anyone else this way. Their language is also often not acceptable,” say Drs. Elizabeth and Jeffrey.

To speak ill of each other, to criticise, or to curse is unacceptable. Keep in mind how it makes your child feel when you speak ill of his or her father or mother and make remarks aimed at hurting them. “Stop before saying things that will contribute to a level of conflict that will become increasingly difficult to resolve.”

We will always prioritise the children’s needs over our own. “Your children’s lives continue during and after the divorce, so the children’s needs must still take precedence for both parents.”

Drs Elizabeth and Jeffrey explain that parents sometimes find it difficult to accept that their children’s school and extracurricular activities, as well as their relationships with other children, are just as important to them as before the divorce. “They see anything that encroaches on your time with them as a threat. So make sure that when you say “no,” you do it because it’s in the best interest of your child. Decisions should never be made because you want control over the situation or because you want to make life difficult for the other parent. Ultimately, this only harms the children.

We will respect each other’s time with the children. A set schedule helps to avoid unnecessary conflict, but also provides routine and structure to the children. This especially makes preschool children feel safe but also provides stability to school-age children.

“Although sometimes an adjustment is necessary, the schedule should never be seen as a suggestion,” say Drs Elizabeth and Jeffrey. “It’s an agreement.”

We will always be on time for the children. Drs Elizabeth and Jeffrey feel this point is so important that it deserves its own place. “Your life is important, but so is that of your ex and the children. In general, it’s not acceptable to be more than 15 minutes late for anything. The same goes for the other parent and children. Give each other the necessary grace, but make an effort to be there when you say you will.”

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