Here’s a great exercise for married couples. Imagine you’ve split up and have to work out the nitty-gritty of parenting together with two separate households. Which rules would be the same? Which different? How would you negotiate homework, discipline, bed times, the ratio of kale vs Pop-Tarts in your child’s diet? It’s common wisdom that when parents divorce, being able to cooperate and respect each other as co-parents makes all the difference in how the kids fare. Many married parents don’t realize the same holds true for their children. Even in families where parents rate their marriage highly, the kids suffer when there are constant disagreements about parenting. But unlike divorcing couples, if you’re happily married yet come from different parenting planets, no court order is going to usher you into counseling or parenting classes. You aren’t “forced” to learn the fine art of negotiation, or to work on respecting each others values.
If your and your spouse’s co-parenting skills could use help, why not try some advice aimed at divorced parents? Case in point: this recent post from divorce coach Rosalind Sedacca on Huff Post. Below I’ve applied some of her co-parenting rules to married couples:
1. Make sure kids get alone-time with both parents. Even in intact families there can be an imbalance in how much parenting each partner does. This is especially true when there’s a stay-at-home parent and a breadwinner. It’s easy to fall into a pattern where the out-of-the-house parent doesn’t spend one-on-one time with each kid. But it’s critical that both parents make it a priority for each child to have a relationship with both parents individually.
2. Don’t argue about the kids in front of the kids. No child wants to be caught in parental crossfire.
3. Don’t turn your child into a confidante or friend. When you’re pissed off at your spouse, don’t confide in or vent to your kid. It’s not her problem and shouldn’t be her burden.
4. Don’t make your child the messenger. You’re right, it’s not fair that somehow you’re always the one who gets stuck driving the soccer-practice carpools. But if you want your spouse to know that tonight is his or her turn, communicate directly. Don’t put your kid in the middle. Your child shouldn’t have to start sentences with, “Mommy [or Daddy] says you have to…”
5. Don’t think like a solo parent. Even if only one parent works outside the home, you are still equally responsible for your child’s well-being. Neither of you should make major parenting decisions alone.
6. Be flexible. As Sedacca says, “Every time you bend, go with the flow, compromise and cooperate with your co-parent you model the kind of behaviors that benefit both of you in the long-term. Flexibility reduces defensiveness and builds bridges toward better parenting solutions. Remember, every time you forgive and indulge irritating behavior without creating an issue, you are doing it to make life easier for your child. Isn’t he or she worth it?”