Parenting decisions—a ton of them, major and minor—are a necessary part of life with children whether you are married or not. Divorcing parents, or parents who have never been married, must continue to make these decisions with the added complication of living apart. In addition, the swirling emotions that usually accompany a separation can make it difficult to trust the other parent and to stay out of conflict with him or her in conversations, texts or email exchanges. Friends and family members may take sides, and even actively discourage one parent from cooperating with the other on kid-related issues. Unfortunately, there are many understandable obstacles to peaceful co-parenting during and after a divorce or separation.
And yet, as has been demonstrated time and again, clear and respectful communication between unmarried parents is the foundation of truly child-centered decision-making. This in turn forms a pattern of effective co-parenting.
Why is effective co-parenting so important? Because it helps enable kids to feel safe, loved, out of the middle and hopeful.
Our Family Forward is committed to providing families with the tools to make the transition from one house to two in as child-centered a way as possible. Despite the obstacles, we want to actively support parents on their journey to becoming effective co-parents. Two of the most valuable tools we offer are a Relationship Plan and a Parenting Plan.
A Relationship Plan is designed to help parents understand and navigate potential hot button issues, triggers, and “automatic arguments” that exist in their relationship dynamic. Without the guided process of listening and discussion that leads to a Relationship Plan, the potential for intended and unintended button-pushing to derail co-parenting communication remains much higher than necessary. Parents learn techniques for self-care and cooling down, as well as communication guidelines for respectful and productive discussions. They also define how much and how often they will interact as co-parents and learn a process for resolving conflict when they disagree.
Parenting Plans are designed to be responsive to the temperaments and developmental needs of children. The process of creating a Parenting Plan is an opportunity for parents to deepen their understanding of effective co-parenting communication skills. Many families choose a child-inclusive process that safely allows children’s voices and perspectives to be heard. Among other important aspects of co-parenting, Parenting Plans focus on major decision-making in the areas of education, health care, religion and cultural upbringing, extracurricular activities and childcare. Parenting Plans also define parenting time and schedules: for the school year, the summer, on vacation, and over holidays and birthdays. Parenting Plans combine structure and flexibility, and can be easily updated by joint agreement of parents as children grow and circumstances evolve.
When there are disagreements about aspects of a Relationship or Parenting Plan, you can count on our experience at facilitative mediation and interest-based negotiation to help guide you to shared agreements. You will not be alone as you take important steps to form a peaceful co-parenting relationship that works for your family.