Co-parenting After Divorce: Making it Work
Greg and Elana are divorced for three years. Greg wants to enroll his gifted thirteen year old son, Alfonso in a special program for musically talented children. His ex wife, Elana, objects: it’s too expensive. Greg and Elana can argue for their separate positions, each accusing the other of being too extravagant or too cheap, too selfish or too unrealistic. Or, they can do what all the research on divorce advises parents to do: Communicate in the spirit of compromise and collaboration.
But as most divorced parents will tell you, communication between exes after divorce is generally challenging. Not only are children overwhelmed by the turmoil of divorce, but one or both parents is apt to experience a host of complicated emotional responses, including sadness, guilt, anger and /or resentment. Learning to manage their emotional responses—in the midst of creating a new life—– is not easy. And creating a new co-parenting relationship with one’s ex is yet another challenge.
And yet, creating a new relationship with one’s ex is exactly what Judy Rabinor, PhD author of Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex recommends.She guides divorcing couples through what she calls the “Befriending” process, helping them process their emotional responses while resolving the myriad of day to day issues divorced parents face. She calls upon divorced parents to create a new family structure honoring co-parenting as a lifelong responsibility and bond..
In the case of Greg and Elana, she recommends they take into consideration the unique resources and limitations of each parent. For example, Greg has more financial resources than Elana, Elana has a less stressful job, but shoulders the time consuming burden of caring for her ill father. If they can openly discuss all this, here are some options:
Greg can offer to pay more than his “share” of the cost;
Greg can offer to take responsibility for the travel arrangements for his son;
Greg can abandon the idea of a special program;
Elana can volunteer to contribute the amount she feels comfortable with;
Elana and Greg can find a less expensive program
Alfonso can get an after school job
If Elana and Greg can keep Rabinor’s 5 C’s in the front of their minds, here’s how a conversation might go:
- Greg COMPASSIONATELY speaks with Elana about their unequal financial situations;
- . He COMMUNICATES with the intention of being generous, calm and caring;.
- They both are able to listen to one another and COLLABORATE;
- Each are willing to bend and COMPROMISE to find the best solution for their son;
- When Alfonso gives his first concert, they will truly CELEBRATE his accomplishment together.
A divorced parent as well as a clinical psychologist Rabinor bring a wealth of professional and personal experience::
I’d been married for fifteen years, my daughter was eight and my son twelve, my marriage was unraveling and my ex and I felt helpless about repairing it. Imagine my surprise when one day, my soon-to-be-ex-husband calmly said to me, “Why should the kids live with you and I get them only on the weekends? Maybe they should live with me during the week and you on the weekends.”
I was stunned. He argued that as a real estate developer in his own business, who worked at home with a flexible schedule, he was the more available parent than me, a psychologist who worked out of the home with fixed hours. But once I got over my initial panic I realized my soon-to-be ex was serious about co parenting our children. After a great deal of negotiation, we arrived at a compromise. Our children would live half the time with him and half the time with me. We were pioneering what has now become a more conventional arrangement for divorcing parents– joint physical custody.
At the time I divorced, I could never have imagined we would develop a relationship that would become supportive and comforting, even friendly. When we first separated and were newly divorced, it wasn’t that way. We were distant, sometimes aloof, often angry and/or wary of one another. Yet for the most part, we were able to keep the phrase “in the best interest of the children” as our guiding North Star. Together, we celebrated their birthdays, attended school conferences and sat in the bleachers, cheering at swim meets and gymnastic competitions. We collaborated with each other to help the children resolve problems with school, homework, friends and our family life. Eventually, as time went on, we became more trusting and comfortable with each other. All this occurred over many years, not without many painful moments.