Marriage Separation - How to Parent with Your Ex (Wife or Husband)

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    When you start a family the last thing you want to think about is how you would handle parenting if you and your spouse separate. Unfortunately, this sad scenario becomes a reality far too often and couples are left facing the very difficult task of figuring out how to parent effectively after a marriage separation.

    Parenting with your ex-wife or husband is one of the biggest struggles after marriage separation for many people. The common term to describe this new process of shared parenting is co-parenting. While the term co-parenting sounds positive, it’s rarely an easy thing to do, especially if the relationship between the parents is contentious. And sadly, the biggest victims in this process are typically the children.

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    Parenting Challenges During Marriage Separation

    Co-parenting effectively is crucial for the stability and mental health of the children. Doing this the right way, however, can be challenging. Typically parents going through a separation distrust of each other and often disagree on parenting methods. This can lead to arguing and even sabotaging of the other parent’s efforts. Ultimately, this can cause emotional and psychological damage to the kids and create an unhealthy environment.

    If you're struggling with co-parenting, there are many resources available to assist you. Counseling focused on parenting apart can also help you and your ex figure out the best way to communicate and support each other’s parenting efforts.

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    To get you started, here's a list of Top 11 Parenting Tips for Separated or Separating Couples from the family law firm of Batholomew & Wasznicky (B&W Newsletter, Winter 2009).

    1. Develop a co-parenting style that avoids conflict with the other parent.
    2. Never involve your kids in parental fights.
    3. Don't let your emotions about the other person control the decisions you make regarding your children.
    4. Treat your children as children, not as adults. For example: Avoid giving them information related to custody or finances. Avoid depending on them to fill your emotional needs.
    5. Never say bad or hurtful things about the other parent in front of your children.
    6. Do not ask your children to find out about the other parent's life, which may involve them violating the other parent's trust.
    7. Never pass messages or things to one another through your children; instead, speak directly with the other parent regarding the needs of the children and other co-parenting issues.
    8. Correct any misconceptions the child has about your relationship with the other parent.
    9. Recognize and respect the wide range of feelings that your child has regarding your relationship with the other parent.
    10. Put in place a consistent set of rules for both houses.
    11. Recognize that it may be important for your child to have a relationship with the other parents' family in addition to your own family.

    Why Effective Co-Parenting Is So Important During Separation

    Marriage separation is hard on everyone, but for the kids it’s also scary and can make them feel insecure and even responsible for what’s going on. Clearly they aren’t, but it’s your responsibility as parents to ensure they know this and live in an environment that shows it. Working together with your ex to cooperatively co-parent should result in your children understanding they are more important than the issues that caused your separation to begin with.

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    Understand as well that a marriage separation, no matter how well it’s handled, will cause upset and confusion for your children. This is likely to result in behavior changes in them. You may see them acting out with aggressive or angry actions, changes at school or with friends, or even depression. They may also try to test you by intentionally pitting one parent against the other or making attempts to manipulate circumstances so to encourage a reconciliation. All of these behaviors need to be met with understanding and compassion, yet with clear limits, and be handled in a unified and cooperative manner by both parents.

    It can be difficult, but you need to remember that despite your anger toward each other, or the deep hurt you likely feel, you and your spouse have the same goal when it comes to your kids. You both love them and want them to be happy and healthy. Putting your differences aside to focus on this goal when coordinating your co-parenting strategy is vital to the well being of your children.

    Co-parenting is really hard for almost everyone. And with the many emotions and changes for you and your ex, staying consistent and positive for your children can be difficult. If you're struggling with it, get some guidance and support through divorce counseling. You'll be amazed at how much easier it can be when you go through it together with an expert who's been through this many times before.

    What do you think is the hardest part about co-parenting after marriage separation?

    Editor's Note: This post was originally published January 09, 2010 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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