In part one of this series on co-parenting after divorce, Darlene Taylor shares her insights, emphasizing the importance of prioritizing children’s needs, maintaining respect for an ex-spouse, and fostering personal healing. It highlights key aspects such as compromising, avoiding negative talk about the ex-partner, and the potential for friendship post-divorce to ensure the well-being of the children.
In today’s part 2 of this series, Taylor will share the importance of providing consistency for children, being open to creating a co-parenting relationship that allows everyone to thrive, maintaining a unified front as parents, avoiding negative talk about the other parent, and giving oneself grace during the process. Our own Isabelle Mildred continues her interview with Darlene Taylor:
(Isabelle Mildred) Can there be trust in co-parenting after divorce?
(Darlene Taylor) I think there has to be trust in co-parenting if you ever want to do it effectively. One of the hardest parts of divorce is remembering that—in most cases—you chose to parent with this person, believing they would be a good parent to your child. The end of your relationship does not automatically negate that. This is another area that I feel you have to give what you want to get back from them: trust that they can parent and run their household in a way that is beneficial and healthy for your children, because you want that same trust.
What does it mean to be flexible in co-parenting after divorce?
I’m fairly certain every state mandates that you file a parenting plan, which is incredibly helpful, especially in the beginning. But the reality is life happens, and if you can’t be flexible, particularly when it comes to parenting time, the only people who get hurt are your children. Not every family has a “normal” schedule, so some people will need to get creative and be willing to change plans in order for their children to have quality time with both parents. It’s also important that both parents be flexible and that it does not always fall to one to make concessions because that brews resentment.
How is co-parenting after divorce like dancing?
In the book, I described co-parenting like dancing in the sense that one person usually leads. In this case, one person leads the way to the high road, the place of cooperatively co-parenting. It may be challenging at first but, like in a dance, you have to follow the steps to show your partner how it’s done until you build the trust that they will fall in step with you seamlessly. That gets you both to the place where your kids are benefitting from your being able to put them first.
What is one thing kids need in co-parenting after divorce?
As much as possible, children of divorce need consistency. Children crave consistency because it establishes security and reduces anxiety, and this need is amplified for children of divorce. With so much change and uncertainty in their world during this time, consistent routines reduce their stress and help them build confidence when facing the unknown. The very nature of divorce shakes up everyone’s life, but if you can find ways to provide consistency and give kids as many things that they can count on as possible, it helps them adjust to this new reality.
What is the best way to parent after divorce?
I’m not sure there is one “best way” to parent after divorce; it really depends on the needs of the family. Every marriage is different, so every divorce and co-parenting situation is going to be different. It has to be. The things you, your co-parenting partner, and your children need are unique to you and the new family you’re building. If I had to say the best thing you can do, it’s this: Be open to figuring out a co-parenting relationship where everyone can thrive, whatever that looks like for you.
Why should co-parents have each other’s backs after divorce?
It goes back to consistency. Kids need to know what they can expect from their parents. As much as you can, still present yourselves as a parental unit even after divorce and show them that you are both on the same page as parents. This gives kids a sense of security. It will also keep them from trying to play one parent against the other, which creates more strain in the family and makes co-parenting even more challenging.
What’s one thing NOT to do in co-parenting after divorce?
In my opinion, the most harmful thing you can do to children is to let them hear you speak negatively about their other parent. Children understand that they are part of both of you, so when they hear you speak negatively about their other parent, they internalize it. It makes them feel as if you hate a part of them. That causes damage that can take years to undo and may be irreparable. Divorce is hard under the best of circumstances and your kids will likely be struggling emotionally. The last thing they need is for their parents to compound that trauma by creating wounds that are incredibly difficult to heal. If you can only do one thing, make it this. Think of it as a positive gift you are giving your children that will aid them in healing from the divorce.
How do you give yourself grace in co-parenting after divorce?
Understand that you will make mistakes along the way and that you are doing the best you can at any given moment. That’s all you can do. Of course, it’s important to take care of your mental health. But also allow space for the fact that you are grieving a loss and trying to create a whole new life and reality that you hadn’t planned for, and that is HARD. It’s okay that you don’t have it all figured out and it’s okay to change your mind or change course as you go. It’s all part of the process.
What should every parent hold on to after divorce?
Because so much in your life will be changing, it is important to remember who you were before becoming a spouse and parent or to decide who you would like to be now. Find or rediscover things that light a fire in you. Actively and intentionally do things that feed your soul.
I like to say, “You can’t pour from an empty cup,” meaning it is incredibly difficult to try to nurture someone else if you are not nurturing yourself. This is a great time to ask yourself what you want for your children, then take an honest look at your life and ask if you are cultivating that for yourself.
How can parents rebuild after so much loss in divorce?
You lose a lot in divorce, but that doesn’t have to be devastating. Loss builds strength and resiliency and can also remind us of who we are and what is important. If we let it, loss can make us better by giving us the opportunity to refocus our priorities. We can find pieces of ourselves that we have lost or discover new and beautiful parts of who we are becoming. Taking care of your mental health and surrounding yourself with supportive people are two ways you can begin to rebuild yourself and focus on the future you have in front of you and not what you have to leave behind.
What blueprint should you give your kids in co-parenting after divorce?
Relationships of all types are what life is really about, and we are all just navigating them the best we can. The reality is that most relationships end. And half of all marriages fail. So odds are, most of us will be dealing with heartbreak, and we all have to figure out how to deal with that pain in a healthy way. When your children are watching you maneuver this inevitable life transition, you are teaching them how to do it. Whatever they see from you will become the blueprint they use for how to deal with their breakups and other disappointments in the future. They are looking to you to show them how to move forward when your heart has been broken, or when life doesn’t go your way. There will be a lot of that, and they need to see a healthy example from you.
What shouldn’t you lose sight of in co-parenting after divorce?
As hard as it may be to get to a place where you can work cooperatively with your co-parent, you have to be able to compartmentalize your relationship. Look at them not as your romantic partner, but as a parent. Those roles are completely separate, but it is very easy to lose sight of that when you are still healing from the pain and loss of the divorce. Just because they turned out not to be the partner that you needed does not mean that they can’t or won’t be a great parent to your children. At one point you had faith that this person would be the kind of parent you wanted for your child, so lean into that now.
Darlene Taylor, MSW, CPC, is a co-parent and clinical social worker. She is leaving her mark on the world as a life and parenting coach who helps others to walk the challenging road of co-parenting after divorce. Her latest book is called, It’s Not About Us: A Co-parenting Survival Guide to Taking the High Road