Can’t You Both Be The ‘Fun’ (Co-)Parent After Divorce?

Parents worry. Parents undergoing divorce may worry even more. They may worry that their children won’t adjust to their new life or the new town or the new living arrangements. They may worry that they won’t do well in school or sports or that they will struggle socially and won’t fit in. Worrying simply seems to go with the territory.

Many parents also worry that because the kids will be living with them most of the time, they will have to take on (or continue to shoulder) the lion’s share of the parenting responsibilities. This can be worrisome to newly divorced parents as they fear they will become overwhelmed or exhausted and as a result, make an already difficult and worrisome situation even worse. Custodial co-parents (or the parent the kids live with most of the time) often fear they will become the ‘bad cop’ parent while the non-custodial parent becomes the ‘good cop’ parent After all, the co-parent that children spend most of their week with usually does becomes the main disciplinarian, the enforcer of the budget, and the naysayer when it comes to unexpected activities and expenses. Having to say “I’m sorry but we can’t do that” or “No, you can’t have that” can become a household mantra and can complicate the already stressful adjustment to home life after divorce for everyone.

The non-custodial parent, on the other hand, may experience a very different co-parenting environment. For instance, if they are not regularly experiencing what it is like to get the children ready for school, dropping off or picking them up from activities, or seeing them on a plain old weeknight, then there may be a very different environment, more of a ‘party time’ atmosphere to the time they are spending with the children. Non-routine activities like dinners out or ski weekends, shopping sprees or other adventures may be more the norm for this co-parent and the kids in terms of the time they spend together. As a result, the importance of supporting regular bedtime schedules, enforcing homework requirements, and sticking to other set routines may not be quite so clear or even present. This can be particularly the case if the consequences of not following routines are felt hours or days after the children have been dropped off with the other co-parent. This can be a set up for a co-parenting imbalance and a family systems failure!

Possible Solutions: Even if one parent spends significantly less time with the children, family structure and important routines can be supported and maintained by both. The Parenting Plan, which is an important part of the divorce process for families, can include the presence of many features and activities that will support both co-parents as partners in raising the children and preserve the routines and traditions of your particular family (regardless of wherever the children happen to be staying). Regularly scheduled telephone call check-ins with questions like “How is the homework going?”, “What’s happening at school this week?” and “Has bedtime been changed?” can be built into a parenting plan and are an important tool that communicates co-parenting to children (rather than not so fun parent that I live with vs. fun parent that I don’t). As well, ensuring participation via presence at parent-teacher conferences, regularly scheduled discussions with karate instructors, religious school teachers, pediatricians, coaches, etc can also be built in to the parenting plan. Each of you can participate as much as (or even more than) you had been while you lived under one roof, if you choose to.

If you are engaging in mediation or working with a collaborative law team for your divorce, you can maximize co-parent participation by building in to your Parenting Plan the kinds of activities that communicate to your children that ‘Mom and Dad are both in this together wherever you are concerned!’ And what could possibly be more fun than that?

What works best to support co-parenting in your life? Send us your comments below as we’d love to hear from you!