If you have children with an ex-spouse, then your relationship with that ex isn’t over just because the marriage is. That means, unfortunately, you also have to keep working at that relationship, much like you did when you were married, even if the relationship status is different.
That’s where co-parenting coaching comes in. Though it may seem unfair and unnatural that a divorced pair would have to communicate regularly, that’s the reality when children are involved. Co-parenting coaching seeks to help these individuals interact in a functional manner so that their personal past doesn’t damage the development of their children. We spoke to Aria Craig, a co-parenting and blended family expert, on what clients might expect to learn in co-parenting coaching, and why it can be helpful. Follow Craig on Instagram and Twitter for more co-parenting advice.
Craig says that her experience as a co-parenting coach often involves one parent coming to her, seeking guidance on how to get the other parent more involved. She reports that it’s usually the mother that goes to her for this advice. One way she often sees this come up is when the custodial parent lives close to the child’s school, or other places he frequents regularly – like recreation centers for after-school activities.
“The one who lives near the school feels like they’re doing everything,” says Craig. “If one parent lives far away, and there’s, say, a wrestling meet on a Saturday. Sometimes it’s hard to get that parent there who lives far away.”
Let the child make the request
In situations where one parent is struggling to get the other more involved in the child’s life, Craig recommends having the kid speak to that parent – rather than the custodial parent. “Then it isn’t you nagging,” says Craig. “Have the child express that themselves, if they’re old enough.” She also advises parents that, the parent who will be letting the child down should be the one to break that news. Otherwise, the parent who does show up and delivers the bad news can feel like “My ex is the hero and I take the impact when something happens.”
Keep feelings out of it
One thing Craig tells clients who find themselves fighting whenever they talk about their kid over and over again is, “You have to remove the emotions.” She adds that “Parents get so emotionally involved with whatever their conflict is. They forget about the child that they’re making the decisions about. That should be the top priority whenever you’re discussing things.”
If it’s not about the kid, don’t discuss it
Craig believes it’s a best practice for divorced parents to not discuss matters that don’t pertain to the child. Delving into one another’s personal lives tends to lead to conflict, and is not good for the kid. “If it’s not in the best interest of your child, don’t even have a conversation about it. That conflict. [For example] something personal in the dad’s life. He’s dating someone new. Your concern should only be around your child, and their comfort level around the other parent’s new partner. But in terms of the other parent’s personal life, that has to be respected. They have a right to move on. All discussions should be around the decisions that are in the best interest of the child.”
Handling milestone moments
Parents will sometimes seek guidance on how to handle milestone moments in a child’s life, such as a graduation. “During normal times [pre-divorce], of course, you’d want the father to have a ticket. If he’s been an active participant in the child’s life, he deserves a ticket. It’s not about you or him. It’s about the child having the support they need during a momentous achievement.”
Keep celebrations separate if you must
While your kid may not be able to have two graduations or two weddings, each parent can have their separate parties surrounding such momentous events. “You can schedule separate things. One celebration at the dad’s house. One celebration at your house” says Craig.
In some cases, she says, parents can get along well enough to have a joint celebration. But if they believe there could be too much contention, they should keep the celebrations separate, for the sake of the child.
Let your kid form their own opinions
Another piece of advice Craig gives parents is to always speak respectfully about the other parent, in front of their child. She does not speak negatively about her son’s dad around her son. She lets him form his own relationship with his dad and his own opinion of him. “There has to be that respect there.”
Dealing with stepparents
Navigating relationships with an ex’s new partner, and how that partner engages with the child, is another thing people seek co-parenting counseling for. Craig had one client who was upset that her ex’s new partner had taken the liberty of cutting the client’s daughter’s hair. She felt the new partner had robbed her of a bonding experience with her daughter, and that she’d overstepped her boundaries.
“Any decision that has to do with children, the new partner cannot overstep those boundaries. That’s between the mother and the father,” says Craig.
Have some flexibility around visitation
In some states, there are strict laws surrounding visitation and scheduling. If one parent is meant to pick up their child from the custodial parent, but they are running a certain amount of time late, they legally lose their right to that visit. “If there is a visitation agreement already in place, things get petty. People say ‘No we signed this agreement and this is what we’re going to agree to’ as if there can’t be an exception.”
One day, you’ll need the same forgiveness
Craig says parents must take tardiness issues and child handoffs on a case-by-case basis, but she reminds every parent that there may come a time they hope their ex extends them some grace. “You have to have a backup, just in case. There will be a time when you will be late, and you need them to be flexible. Be as fair as possible and remove the emotion.”
Use apps when necessary
If issues surrounding child custody are still being handled in court, Craig strongly urges clients to have all conversations over a co-parenting or divorce app so it’s well documented. “Use the app. Then the app will show you if the person has read the message, even if they haven’t responded. If you have a conversation outside the app, go into the app and record the summary of that conversation. Judges want to see something in writing.”
Use clear and affirming language when it comes to discipline
When handling disciplinary issues with your child, Craig says one of the most important things is “Affirming the child.” Growing up, when Craig misbehaved, her mother would tell her she was on punishment, and there was a lot of anxiety surrounding that word because it was vague, and it felt like a condemnation.
“Change the words. Instead of saying ‘You’re on punishment’ say ‘You’re grounded.’ That has an entirely different psychological meaning than telling a child they’re on punishment.”
Be unified on discipline
Craig advises parents to uphold any current disciplinary measures, no matter what household the child is visiting. “Parents should be on a united front with discipline. Whatever the discipline is at one household should be respected in the other household. If the child is grounded over bad grades, and the kid goes to the dad’s house, the grounding must go on at dad’s house. It’s not time to play video games and go have fun. “
Handling issues at school
When a child acts up at school, Craig says the school will typically call the custodial parent first. Properly handling how this conversation is conveyed to the other parent is important. If the custodial parent determines this was a one-time incident that won’t repeat, they don’t necessarily need to come up with some action plan with the other parent. They should, however, notify the other parent of any behavioral issues at school, even the small things.
“If you don’t tell the other parent, and they find out, they’ll feel you disrespected them.” Should an issue become a pattern, then Craig says the two parents need to sit down and come up with disciplinary action.