“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Separating and divorcing parents face two major tasks. One is more obvious and often receives the most attention — the legal task of establishing legal custody and a residential schedule for children.

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As necessary as the legal task is, it is not what is most important to the long-term outcome for both the children and for the parents. Residential schedules, for example, are also important, but not as important as to how well parents communicate and cooperate with each other. Many years of study and research tell us very clearly that how well parents coParent with one another is by far the best predictor of how children turn out and how much children and parents enjoyed the family experience after a separation.

All separated parents coParent; the only difference between different families, is how well they do it. Some parents play it well and have children who turn out very well; these parents also enjoy the process of parenting together. Some parents play it from moderately well to poorly. These parents have children who have higher risks of many different types of problems and parents who find the process of parenting together frustrating, even hateful. This latter group of parents often misses out on huge portions of their children’s lives, feeling helpless and powerless to address concerns about the other home, living with in flexible schedules, missing out on wonderful opportunities, and finding their lives dominated by bitter disputes and enormous resentments.

Parents cannot avoid coParenting. They can only control how well they play it. Parents always communicate with each other. Parents, who coParent well, communicate directly and constructively. Parents who coParent poorly, communicate through the children, or nasty notes, or by not taking the children to their scheduled activities, and so on.

It is not pie in the sky idealism that bitterly divorcing parents can coParent well. Perhaps the most impressive proof that this reasoning is false logic, is the fact that about one-third of separating parents, after a sometimes bitter and conflict filled divorce period, coParent very well and another one-third do it moderately well. coParenting well as separated parents is not as complicated or as emotionally challenging as having a successful marriage.

It might be frightening to parents to start coParenting well right at the time of a separation and divorce. The thought of communicating with the other parent when there is bitter frustration, blame and resentment might seem overwhelming and abhorrent. However, starting to coParent well at the time of the separation and divorce has the best payout down the road. It is even harder to start later, and some damage to the children and to the parenting relationship might already have been done. The message is simple: avoid wasting time.

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About Dr. Kenneth H. Waldron

Dr. Kenneth H. WaldronKenneth H. Waldron, Ph.D., is a psychologist in Madison, Wisconsin, with a practice focused on divorce. His practice includes divorce mediation, coparenting counseling, custody assessment, parent education, and consultation to courts and court-connected mediation and investigation services.