The reality of a divorce can be a hard hit for any couple, but for the children who are involved, witnessing the divorce of their parents can be especially difficult and traumatic. The transition into co-parenting can bring about a slew of new challenges that may worsen their children’s grief. From planning issues to communication breakdowns, such problems might lead to frequent conflicts between the co-parents. This may result in greater emotional and psychological problems for the children.
According to a study, successful co-parenting can greatly mitigate the negative effects of divorce on children. By creating a healthy and collaborative co-parenting environment, the children can develop emotional resilience as they feel safe and loved by both parents. In this article, Senior Counsellor at TOUCH Integrated Family Group, Ms Elysia Tan, shares some tips on how to make co-parenting work.
- Have the right approach
As a co-parent, it is essential that you put your children’s needs before your own, says Ms Tan. While there may still be some resentment between you and your ex, creating a stable environment for the children should always be the priority.
Reframe your old personal relationship into a working co-parenting relationship. Keep interactions as respectful, cordial and professional as possible. It is important not to let bitter emotions interfere with your communication.
If you have pent-up anger and resentment towards your ex, try to find safe channels to let go of those feelings. Look for friends or therapists who can lend a listening ear, but never speak negatively about your ex to your children. Doing so would make them feel like they have to take sides, which may make them feel guilty and overwhelmed.
When communicating with your co-parent, stick to topics regarding the children. Adopt a respectful and business-like tone to avoid falling into an argument. Additionally, always listen attentively and try to understand your co-parent’s perspective. Even if there’s a disagreement, refrain from criticising the other party or bringing up old issues. Doing this will create more barriers to problem-solving.
Try to communicate with your co-parent as frequently as possible. This will help you to cooperate more effectively and let your children feel more secure knowing that there is no hostility between the parents.
“While face to face communication is recommended, co-parents can still find it difficult to deal with face to face meetings. In this case, try communicating electronically with your co-parent via emails or text messages when the need arises or seek help from a mediator or professional counsellor,” advises Ms Tan.
- Work together with your co-parent
Decisions surrounding education, medical needs, finances, as well as meeting arrangements between the children and each parent should be mutually agreed upon by co-parents. Since these issues will affect the children and family in the long-run, it is important to leave no stone unturned.
As much as possible, there should also be consistency in the rules and expectations for the children. But like all parents, there may be differences in parenting styles. If so, be respectful, learn to compromise and choose your battles carefully. Ms Tan emphasises that as long as the major areas of concern are settled, co-parents should not get hung up over the little differences which could sabotage an otherwise healthy co-parenting relationship.
- Involve the children
When dealing with new co-parenting plans, remember that your children too would appreciate being involved in the conversation, especially as it affects their daily living arrangements and relationships with their loved ones.
“Being involved in the conversations helps children cope with the transition as well. Increasing their sense of control helps them feel more secure in the midst of having to deal with the many challenges and difficult emotions,” says Ms Tan.
Try to create a safe space for them to express their feelings, needs and preferences. Being patient and understanding during a difficult time could strengthen the bond between you and your children.
In some cases, children might refuse to spend time with the other parent. When this happens, keep things open and flexible. They might need time to sort out their feelings and adjust to the new changes. Try to find out the cause of their refusal and discuss the issue with your co-parent with great sensitivity.
“Children benefit from having nurturing relationships with both parents,” says Ms Tan. “Unless the other parent is unable to contribute to your child’s life or is a threat to your child’s safety, keep things open and be supportive about having your child spend time with the other parent.”
Need family-related advice or help with co-parenting issues? Contact TOUCH Family Life at 6709 8400 or click here to find out more.
TOUCH Integrated Family Group (TIFG) is TOUCH’s newest service group, set up in January 2020. TIFG focuses on Family Resources to help families cope with different stressors along their life course, transition of roles in Family Transitions, Relationships & Growth, and building Family Resilience.
With TOUCH’s multi-service experience in meeting the needs of disadvantaged children, youth-at-risk and vulnerable families since 1992, TIFG aims to equip families with resources and enable them to build resilience. This is done through an integrated suite of services to support the family as a unit, with emphasis on education, intervention and advocacy.
Paul R. Amato, J. B. (2011). Reconsidering the "Good Divorce". Family Relations.
 Kelly, J. B., & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children's adjustment following divorce: Risk and resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52, 352–362.