Even though your romantic relationship with your ex has ended, the fact is that your relationship as co-parents of your children will remain. Therefore, now is the time to work together to develop an effective co-parenting plan that works for both of you and is unique to your children’s best interests. An effective co-parenting plan can very well keep you out of court and place the responsibility for caring for your children with you and your ex rather than with a judge. Start with these practical tips:
1. Identify the key values that you share with your ex about how your children should be raised. For example, perhaps you and your ex agree that you each want to be positive role models for your children, or you both value self-respect and respect for others and want to impart this to your children.
2. Make a list of issues or decisions that need to be made for your children. For example, you might need to decide where your children will attend school, what the best parenting time schedule for your children is, which of you will make decisions regarding doctors, tutors, or other specialists and how such decisions will be made. This list will often change as your children grow older and become more involved in school and extracurricular activities.
3. Develop effective ways to communicate with one another on these and other important issues that arise concerning your children. When you communicate effectively with one another, you set a positive role model for your children and you build your own strength. For example, during a conversation, go beyond your own personal needs and interests to be fully present to what your ex is saying. Listen to understand where he or she is coming from. When responding, you might first clarify what has been said by beginning your response with “It sounds like you said… ” This can be difficult and challenging, particularly at first, but well worth it. For help with this, I recommend the book by Sharon Ellison, Don’t Be So Defensive: Taking the War Out of Our Words With Powerful Non-Defensive Communication and Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and Bill Ury.
4. It might be helpful to consult with an experienced family therapist or parenting coach to help you communicate with one another to create an effective parenting arrangement and/or parenting time schedule that is unique to the needs of your children. Bring the lists above to use as a guide and be flexible in making any changes. You would be amazed at what a good therapist or coach can achieve for a fraction of the time and cost involved in going to court! If you would like a list of local experts for this purpose, please contact me.
5. Maintain a journal to record significant events that occur while the children are with each of you, particularly if the children are very young. This should be one journal exchanged between the two of you. You can record such entries as what time your child napped each day, what he or she ate, any milestones achieved, such as crawling, running, whether your child was sick, or whatever you feel is significant and helpful for you ex to know.
6. Read the book entitled Mom’s House, Dad’s House: Making two homes for your child by Isolina Ricci, Ph.D. or visit http://www.momshousedadshouse.com. These offer some very valuable tips and additional resources for co-parents.
7. Take advantage of the “Our Family Wizard” website, which includes a calendar to coordinate a shared parenting schedule online, among other tools, to help you effectively communicate with each other. The website can be found at http://www.ourfamilywizard.com. For example, the calendar allows you to enter your child’s activities that have been scheduled, such as birthday parties, extracurricular activities, and school or sporting events so that you both have access to the schedule. This can help avoid lack of information or miscommunication that could otherwise result in a court application.
The key to successful co-parenting is to be proactive rather than reactive, taking advantage of the many resources available to you.