The Co-Parenting Guidebook: 20 Steps From When The Divorce Is Finalized

Divorce is a difficult situation for anyone to go through, regardless of their level of resilience. Divorce is 100 times more troublesome with children involved. The last thing any parent wants is for their children to be impacted in some way as a result of their choices in life. Children are certainly resilient and they often get through the experience just fine but it is a parent's job to make sure that they do get through it. Sometimes, that may involve counseling while other times it doesn’t. It really does depend on each family's specific situation.

When a divorce happens with children in the midst of everything, co-parenting is usually one of the explored points. When both parents want to be involved in their children’s lives, then a certain schedule comes into play between the two parents. There are many people that have trouble making this work and it can make an already stressful situation more difficult to deal with. It can be hard to want to get along with your soon to be ex but it can be the best thing possible for the children involved. There a plenty of ways to ease into the situation to make life more pleasant for everyone involved. Check out these 20 steps for co-parenting when a divorce is finalized.

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20 Acknowledge Your Children’s Feelings

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Your children are going to have a lot of feelings going on during this time. They might be glad that the back-and-forths have stopped but also feeling sad that their parents are no longer going to be together. Whatever feelings are going on have to be acknowledged and respected. They may be confused about what’s going on and it’s always best to let the children express their feelings to you. One Parents magazine user said,

“Dad told me you were going to say bad things about him, my son said."

It’s important to make sure your children know that you aren’t going to disparage the other parent in front of them.

19 Consistent Rules Are Very Important

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Even during more difficult times, kids need consistency and that includes rules. Those don’t just go out the window because there is a divorce going on. Your kids are likely going to test your boundaries during this time, especially if they smell weakness. It is important to also be consistent in rules between the two households and that’s something you have to work out with your ex. There are bound to be problems if there are different rules in two different households.

The last think you want to end up hearing is, “But dad lets me…

18 Make Sure Time With Your Child Is Quality and Not Quantity

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You may not like the fact that you have less time with your child now because your child has to see the other parent but the truth is, quality time is so much better than quantity. "You have a lot of control over the relationship you have with your child," says Paris, a divorce expert, "and [one-on-one time] isn't based just on the number of hours you spend with him."

It’s also best to not get hung up on a perfect 50/50 split. Make a schedule that works out best for everyone and don’t worry about the rest.

17 Work Together With Their Father As A Team

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The best thing that you can do for your kids is to try to work as a team with your ex. That can certainly be hard if you don’t like your ex but there are times where you have to put your feelings aside and do what’s best for your child. Try to think of him more as a colleague that you dislike; sure you don't need to be friends but you still need to be able to solve problems together.

Make big decisions in person and not over text or email. Stay focused on the children and don’t delve into any personal matters from your marriage.

16 Regular Schedules Are Very Important

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We can’t stress enough how important it is for your children to be on regular schedules now that they are in a co-parenting situation. It can be jarring for children to see their parents going through a divorce. Putting them on a consistent schedule, gives them a sense that things are more stable in their lives.

They need to know when they are at dad’s house and when they will be back with you. Any changes need to be given to the children in advance because some children don’t deal with change very well at all.

15 Don’t Bicker With Your Ex In Front Of Your Kids

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This is something that should be common sense. There is a good chance that part of getting a divorce was to take your children out of an atmosphere where they had to watch their parents fight all the time. So, why would you then continue to disagree in front of your children after the fact? You wouldn’t want to do that.

The truth is, your children aren’t divorcing their parents, they love both of you. Don’t have arguments in front of them, let them love both their parents. You can save the arguing for a time when the children aren’t around to hear it.

14 Try To Feel Your Feelings

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During this trying time, your kids need to know that everything is going to be okay no matter what. You are bound to have some strong feelings while you are going through a divorce and you may even burst into tears at times. It is okay for you to feel all your feelings during this time. You aren’t invincible and you aren’t expected to be strong every second of the day. You are also going to give your child permission to cry about things when they feel the need to. Don’t bottle up your feelings and let your children express their even if that means they are mad at you.

13 Cope With Your Loneliness in A Healthy Way

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There are going to be times where it feels very weird having your children gone from the house. All of a sudden you have free time and you don’t know what to do with yourself. Let yourself grieve the loss of your family but then you need to start building a life for yourself says Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist and senior fellow at UC Berkeley's Greater Good Science Center and the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents.

"It's always hard in the beginning, but having time for yourself is a silver lining of divorce," Carter says.

12 Make Sure You Have A Great Support System Of Other Adults

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When it comes to a divorce, it is your job to take care of your children. At no point should your children feel like they have to take care of you because you are falling apart. You can get plenty of support from friends and family around you. These are people you can lean on and talk to about the loneliness and the worries you feel about your life after divorce. One divorcing co-parent told Parents magazine that psychotherapy was "putting the pieces of myself back together."

Investing in yourself emotionally will not only help you to heal but help your children as well.

11 Learn to Control Yourself With Your Ex

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It can be easy during a divorce situation to lose your cool when you are talking to your ex. "I keep a running list of grievances on my computer," says Paris, "and by the time I talk to my ex, most of them no longer seem important enough to bring up."

It’s very important not to put down your ex in front of your children, even though it may be tempting at times. Remember that they love their dad and it will hurt them to hear what you are saying.

"Remember that your child is half her father. When you call him a [bad name], you're essentially calling her that," says Carter.

10 Use A Co-Parenting Communication Strategy

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Now that you are divorced, you need to figure out a way to communicate with your ex. It is not appropriate to use your children as messengers to relay information to your spouse. Don’t involve your children in this at all. If there is a lot of conflict with your spouse than find another adult to act as a middle-man.

Psychologists recommend using “I” statements when speaking with your ex.

"I'm happy to talk with you about this later when you're not yelling" and then end the conversation quickly. You don’t need to feel the need to defend yourself against your ex all the time. Don’t worry about what your ex thinks of you.

9 Give Yourself A Time-Out

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There may come a time after your divorce where you have to take a look at your own behavior. Alisa Peskin-Shepherd, principal of Transitions Legal, a family law practice says “Especially where there is constant disagreement, try to accept that you are not going to change the other person and find a way to make something work without being dependent on the other parent’s response.”

You want to make sure your behavior isn’t affecting your children in any way. “People going through divorce need to take the necessary time to grieve the end of this major relationship and remember that at one time, they loved or cared about the other parent,” says Alison Willett, psychologist.

8 Play To Your Ex’s Strengths

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You may want to glare at your ex forever after the divorce but you can actually improve your children’s lives by playing to his strengths. “You probably know your ex-spouse better than anyone else,” says Chris Tucker, Oak Park father of Finn and Simon, and step-dad to Lucas. “Play to those strengths – not in a manipulative way, but in a spirit of making the best use of one another’s talents.

You both may have different ways of doing things and one may be better than the other. This means that everyone involved is invested in and accountable for raising our kids, and it goes a long way in building trust and mutual respect.

7 Befriend His New Love Interest

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You may be thinking to yourself, “there is no way that’s going to happen” but hear us out. You are going to have to deal with another person who will be helping to raise your child and that can be hard because you didn’t have a choice in this person coming into your life.

"The unknown is [more daunting] than the known," Carter says. The best way to go about doing this is to ask to meet the new girlfriend or wife. You can express your concerns to your ex as well as the expectations you have for your children.

6 Separate Your Emotions From Your Child

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It can be easy to cast your ex as the bad guy because of the fact that you are divorcing him. It feels good to do that sometimes because it makes you feel vindicated about leaving that person. Your family may do the same by rallying by your side against your ex.

This can’t be the case with your children. Don’t make them choose a side, it forces them to hold an emotional burden that isn’t meant for them. It’s not your children’s job to lighten your load. They should be kept out of it and allowed to continue to love their dad.

5 Keep the Environment Around Your Children Positive

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This should be another common-sense aspect to the divorce proceedings. By keeping a positive environment in your household, you can both help your children through a difficult time and also feel a lot better about everything as well.

Stay positive about the future and don't forget to keep a positive attitude towards your ex too. The kids have been through enough already and they need to see you and your ex to get along right now. No one expects you to love your ex after the divorce but by continuing the resentment, you will only hurt your children in the long run.

4 Tell Your Kids You Love Them All The Time

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It can be easy to feel a little in over your head with the idea of your new life, especially if you are the parent that now has to primarily care for your child. It’s very important that you remind your children during this time that you love them.

This time, more than ever, they need to know that their parents love them regardless of the divorce.

Take the time and make the effort to show them how much you love them. You may assume that your children know that you love them but you can never tell a child too many times that you love them.

3 Stay Hopeful That Things Will Improve

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Divorce is hard and it can be easy to lose hope that everything is going to be okay. There is nothing to say that your relationship with your ex can’t improve now that you are separated from him. Anything is possible. If you are having trouble co-parenting with your ex, then you can consider counseling between the two of you. "When you're trying to fix your marriage, you're aiming for a total personality overhaul," Paris says. "In divorce, you're just trying to change discrete behaviors."

You may actually see an improvement in your relationship with your ex as well as in the co-parenting department.

2 Forgive Yourself and Eventually Your Ex

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You may feel a lot of guilt for putting your children through a divorce and you may also feel a lot of anger towards your ex for the experiences that you had as well. Guilt can make you want to be the fun parent who makes chores, homework, and discipline disappear.

You need to deal with your guilt so that you can be an effective parent again. It also wouldn’t hurt to learn to forgive your ex for his role in the divorce. You don’t have to love him again but letting go and forgiving will only benefit your life tremendously.

1 Start Looking Towards A New Future

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Now that you are divorced, you can look towards the future with newfound hope. This should not be a time to feel despair. Start making new goals for yourself so that you can build a new life for you and your children. You may feel lonely but you should remember that not all parents get to have a break. So, use that time to better yourself and give yourself some self-love. Pursue a new hobby or project and discover a new passion that you can throw yourself into.

You can find many ways of taking care of yourself and you will find that you will become happier and a happy parent is the best thing for your child.

Sources: Parents, Seleni, Divorce Mag, Sommer O'Donnell

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