The following is a list of things you can do to make your children’s lives easier after a divorce. Read these tips as reminders of what you and your co-parent should be doing to ease the stress of divorce on your children. Remember that the reason why you should do these things is that if you don’t your children will join the ranks of those who become emotionally hurt by the process of divorce.
If you are going through or have gone through a very bad divorce, you might have concluded that the situation is beyond help. It isn’t. It takes two people to have a conflict with one another. Don’t let an angry ex-spouse coax you into battle and prevent you from doing what is best for your children.
Very few children want their parents to be divorced, but kids who have to live with the disappointment of growing up in separate families do best when they can say that their Mom and Dad spared them years of bickering, confrontations and immature behavior. Help your child avoid a lifetime of being embarrassed, hurt and confused by your failure to develop a business-like and cooperative relationship with your ex. It’s your choice, Mom and Dad – please do the right thing.
1. Clean your children’s weekend clothes before you send them back to the co-parent.
2. Send clean clothes when the children leave for visitation.
3. Prepare your children when it is time for a telephone call from the other parent. Say, “Mom (or Dad) is going to call to see how your day went. When the phone rings I want you to stop what you are doing and talk for a while.”
4. Do not snoop in on telephone conversations with the co-parent. If something bad happens during the call, you’ll hear about it soon enough.
5. During visitation changes, try to make the very first thing you say to the co-parent something positive.
6. Allow the co-parent to have access to information about school, sports, activities and doctor’s appointments. Even if you are the custodial parent, you are not the only parent.
8. If you have to cancel a visit at the last minute, first tell the co-parent and then get on the phone with the child, explain and apologize.
9. Be flexible and whenever possible arrange make-up visits.
10. Do not encourage your child to bring pets or other living things home to the other parent’s house without asking first.
11. Encourage your child to write, call or send cards on special days.
12. Provide written instructions to the co-parent on how to dispense any medications that might be necessary.
13. Children rarely refuse visitation when they are given lots of prompting and advance preparation. Prepare the children well in advance by speaking positively about it.
14. Don’t make excessive demands to change visitation days and times. Everyone has their limits of tolerance.
15. Being the custodial parent doesn’t give you the right to make decisions that disrupt the co-parent’s schedule. Look at the days and times that he or she has visitation as being unchangeable in any way until the co-parent approves.
16. Do not reinforce behavior that you know the other parent disapproves of. If you feel that it is absolutely necessary to go against the co-parent, tell the co-parent first, don’t let the child bring the news home.
Conflict Resolution and Anger Control:
17. Stay outside of the co-parent’s home unless you are told that you are welcome to enter. Intruding on the co-parents residence, even if it used to be your home too, is an aggressive action.
18. Monitor you body language and your facial gestures. Angry body language ad non-verbal behavior increases tension. Smile, for your kid’s sake – it won’t break your face.
19. When you feel like screaming, lower your voice instead, it will get more attention – growling in a low voice or mumbling obscenities under your breath doesn’t count.
20. Pushing, tapping on the shoulder, poking and other kind of touching during an argument is going to be called “abuse” whether you think it’s abuse or not. Think twice about touching the co-parent in any way and remember jail is not a fun place.
21. Saying things like “I’m going to kill you”, will often also buy you a night in jail, even if you’ve never even swatted a gnat. Say less, not more during an argument.
22. If you are not certain that you can control our temper bring someone who can help keep you in line. Do not bring anyone who will egg you on to do something stupid.
23. Do not tell your personal business to people who will incite your anger and make you feel worse. Talk to people who will help you cope and move on with your life.
24. Respond to provocation by saying, “I don’t want to fight. I’ll be on my way in a minute.” Then do what you came to do and move on.
25. When you feel like your buttons are being pushed, understand that the sooner you get out of the situation, the sooner the hostile interaction ends. Go home, leave the house for a few minutes or stop talking.
26. Don’t follow the co-parent around after an argument, especially if your child is around. There’s a good chance you’re going to be accused of harassing or stalking.
27. Don’t call the co-parent up repeatedly and hang-up the phone. In may states this is considered a crime, and even if it isn’t, this behavior is not very gratifying, and will probably get you in trouble.
28. Giving in on stupid little issues, isn’t giving in – it’s being smart enough to avoid a major confrontation that will give you even more aggravation and a possible trip to court later.
29. Be the first one to end the argument. Give the co-parent the last word.
30. Keep your mouth shut until the co-parent finishes talking. Nothing escalates an argument quicker than one person cutting the other person off.
31. Don’t lecture the co-parent. Give them an opportunity to respond. Then listen.
32. Watch the physical space between you when you are talking. Close proximity during heated conversations is threatening.
33. As a general rule, the fewer questions you ask a child, the more they will tell you.
34. Do not quiz your children about what they ate at the co-parent’s house. If you think your child is being starved speak to the co-parent directly.
35. Do not ask your child to reveal the whereabouts of certain possessions that you are looking to retrieve from the co-parent’s house.
36. If your child asks you questions about the co-parent’s life or about the specifics of your divorce, just say “That’s grown-up talk. That’s not something we can talk about..”
37.Do not instruct your child to ask the co-parent to purchase things.
38. Don’t spend phone time peppering your children with questions about what they are doing. Most young children do not like to speak on the phone, mostly because they do not like to be interrupted from what they are doing. Learn to make appropriate “small talk”. This is how a typical phone conversation should go: Say what you did; then ask, “How was your day”, then listen, say, “I love you and I will see you soon.”
39. If the co-parent asks questions or makes comments that should not be spoken about in front of your child say, “If this is important to you we can talk about it in private.”
40. Do not ask your child questions about the other parent’s boyfriend, girlfriend, husband or wife.
41. Do ask your child questions about where he or she got a suspicious-looking welt or bruise. If the child says he or she was hit or beaten, call your co-parent to see what went on, then call child welfare authorities if you think there was abuse.
42. When a child returns home from visitation, let him settle down. Do not ask any questions, no matter how innocent sounding. The last thing a child wants to deal with are questions as soon as he or she walks through the door.
How to Talk to the Co-Parent:
43. Say “You’re mistaken”, not “You’re a liar.”
44. Say “Hello” and “Good-bye” to one another when the kids are there.
45. Praise your co-parent when he or she does something well.
46. Avoid using sarcastic comments like, “Nice car, now we’d all be happy if you would only pay the child support on time.”
47. Say, “I disagree” as oppose to “You don’t know what you are talking about.”
48. Say, “I think that it would be better for our child if you spent more time with him”, instead of, “The poor kid is miserable because you don’t pay enough attention to him.”
49. Say, “You are right”, when the other person is right and you are wrong.
50. Say, “You did a good job”, instead of, “It’s about time you starting pulling your weight around here.”
51. Learn how to apologize for insensitive, rude or inappropriate behavior.
52. Resist the impulse to say, “No”, to your co-parent without thinking first.
53. Don’t talk about child support, visitation issues or other adult topics of conversation in front of your kids.
Creating a Favorable Impression of the Co-Parent:
54. Do not encourage your children to keep diaries and written records about how horrible their mother or father is. Parents often do this to assist their litigation. This causes the child to feel as though he is under pressure to chronicle every negative thing that happens. This intensifies anger and alienates the co-parent. Do your best to repair poor parent-child relationships, not make them worse.
55. Do not teach your children all about the co-parent’s faults, problems, tendency to be unreliable, etc.. If that is the case, they will learn on their own.
56. Encourage visitation unless you are certain that the child is in danger at the other parent’s house. Talk about the co-parents good points are remind the child that he or she is loved by both parents.
57. Prepare the child to return to the other parent after visitation by being positive and supportive.
58. Do not allow your child to complain excessively about the co-parent. Listen to the things that cause concerns for how the child is being treated, but understand that children will exaggerate or even make up stories because they know it gets attention.
59. Do not reinforce your child calling you to complain about the other parent setting limits that they do not like. Discourage your child from “playing one parent off the other”.
60. Discourage your child from using derogatory language about the co-parent. Instead, ask your child to express their feelings, and ask your child what you can say to the co-parent that will make things better.
61. Encourage your child to enjoy the life they have, do not talk about how life would be if only the co-parent, paid more money, did more of what you want, etc..
62. Do not talk about how the co-parent loved someone else more and had to leave the family to be with someone else.
63. Do not talk about the co-parent’s “new family”.
64. Do not allow your child to avoid visitation if they give you the excuse “It’s boring.” A parent does not deserve to be separated from his or her child because he can’t entertain your child as well as you can. Have a discussion with the co-parent about things your child likes to do and make helpful suggestions.
If You Still Live in the Same Residence:
65. Do not allow your young children to sleep in the same bed as you. If this becomes a habit for the child, the child will be uncomfortable doing anything else, and when you and the co-parent live in separate residences the adjustment will be more difficult.
66. Do not fight over who puts the children to bed. One parent takes odd days, the other parent takes even days.
67. Do not sequester the child behind locked doors. If you need private time, leave the house.
68. Be mindful of what you do around meal time. If you can’t sit together as a family, do not exclude the co-parent from eating with the child. Split the time if you have to.
69. Do not mock or make fun of the way the co-parent cooks. Do not fight over who cooks. (Yes, people do this.)
70. Do not bicker over who takes the child to school or picks the child up. Again, alternate the days if you have to.
71. Share weekend time. Discuss how you will divide the time, and work out a schedule. If you can’t agree, ask your lawyers or an impartial third party to help. The same goes for holiday and vacation time. Do not make any assumptions and do not “claim” the time before discussing it with the co-parent.
If You are the Primary (Custodial, Residential) Parent:
72. Have your child prepared to go to visitation on time. If the visiting parent has to wait more than five minutes, he or she is waiting too long.
73. Do not make promises about what the co-parent is going to do or not do on his or her visitation time.
74. Do not tell your child you love them a hundred times before they leave to go to the other parents house. Once is enough.
75. Do not inject your child with guilt before he or she leaves for visitation by saying, “I’ll miss you until you come home,” or “I’ll be lonely.” The only thing this serves to do is sabotage the quality of the visitation. In this same category don’t say things like “The cat will miss you,” “The iguana will miss you,” “The living room sofa will miss you,” etc.. I’m sure you get the point.
76. Do not feed your child a large meal right before they are about to go to have a meal with the visiting co-parent.
77. Make sure all play dates are out of the house at least one half hour before the co-parent comes for visitation.
78. Do not let your child know that you are planning to do something exciting and fun while the child is at the co-parent’s home. For example, don’t say, “While you are at Dad’s I’m going to keep myself busy by looking for new toys for the house.”.
If You are the Visiting Parent:
79. Do not demand hugs and kisses from your children when it appears that they are uncomfortable. These demands only make them feel more uncomfortable. Let them warm up.
80. Don’t cry or carry on excessively at the end of a visitation, especially if you are going to see the child again in a few days. If you are calm and pleasant your child will feel more comfortable and the quality of your visitation will improve.
81. Do not encourage your child to call the co-parent and beg for more time or a sleepover. This only makes the co-parent look like “the bad guy” if it is not possible. Changes in visitation arrangements should be made with the co-parent only.
82. If you are the visiting parent and your child has a planned after school activity or a doctor’s appointment, follow that schedule, not your own. Keep the child’s life as stable as possible.
83. If you are the visiting parent be sure to have two sets of “play clothes” one set of dress clothes, a pair of sneakers, underwear and a pair of shoes for each of your children at your home at all times.
84. Children can travel back and forth with most mild colds and stomach aches. Ask yourself, however, whether you think it is best to put a grumpy child through a long car ride, or a short visit when what he or she should be doing is relaxing and recuperating. When in doubt let the pediatrician or doctor advise on what is best.
85. Children should have chores and responsibilities at BOTH residences. Just because the child spends less time with you than the other parent doesn’t mean you have less responsibility to teach your children how to grow up properly.
86. Do not lavish your child with expensive gifts every time you see him or her for visitation. Some children resent this behavior, and it teaches them that their love for you is based on material possessions as opposed to emotional closeness.
87. Do not give your child important papers, documents or child support moneys to pass along to the co-parent. This applies to the primary parent as well.
88. Do something relaxing before you take the child back to the co-parent’s house. Don’t make your child excitable by wrestling, running around or doing any activity that is going to make the child hyper when he gets back to the co-parent.
89. If you are the visiting parent, be sure to have the proper car seats and safety equipment.
90. Be prompt on your pick-ups and drop offs. Call ahead when you are going to be more than a few minutes late.
91. Agree on bed times and curfew times with the co-parent.
92. Agree on food restrictions and permission to “eat junk” with the other parent, especially if your child is on a diet.
93. If the child is being punished or restricted by the other parent do not relieve that restriction unless you have had a conversation with the co-parent. If you do not present a “united front” with respect to discipline, your child will take advantage of you BOTH.
Regarding Yours and the Co-Parent’s Boyfriends, Girlfriends, New Husband or Wife:
94. Do not let your children call anyone else “Mom” or “Dad,” unless the co-parent approves or if the co-parent is completely absent from the child’s life.
95. Wait at least six months to a year before you introduce your children to boyfriends/girlfriends. Children who have been through a divorce or separation with their parents should not be exposed to another relationship that may be here today and gone tomorrow. Wait until the relationship looks as though it is going to be permanent. Also, children often feel guilty when faced with another mother or father figure. They feel disloyal to their parent if they like someone else. Contact should be very slow and very gradual over a relatively long period of time.
96. Never let you yourr child see you sleep with a boyfriend or girlfriend. Never allow your child to sleep in the same bed with you and a boyfriend or girlfriend.
97. Unless you have permission from the co-parent do not allow a stepparent, boyfriend or girlfriend to bathe or take your child to the bathroom.
98. Do not allow a stepparent, boyfriend or girlfriend to physically discipline your child. Physical forms of discipline are ineffective as it is.
99. Do not encourage your boyfriend, girlfriend or present spouse to fight your battles for you. Communication with the co-parent is YOUR responsibility. The only exception to this rule is if the co-parent can get more accomplished talking to your significant other, because that person has more god sense than you do.
100. Do not permit your boyfriend, girlfriend or new spouse to say anything negative about the co-parent in front of the children. If negative things are said about the co-parent your significant other should not be around your children.
101. If you can’t get along with the co-parent, find someone who can help you. Try contacting a mental health professional or community mental health center that has programs for divorced parent, or mental health professionals who specialize in this kind of work. Find out which court handles divorce and visitation cases and call to see whether they offer a course or seminar on co-parenting.