Thoughts On Co-Parenting: Doing Right By Your Kids

By Abby Bordner


Okay, you and your spouse have decided to divorce. You’re two reasonable people that have decided, for one reason or another, that you don’t want to continue as a married couple. And you have kids. (If you’re not two reasonable people, meaning there’s abuse, addiction or mental illness at the root of your divorce, some of my generalizations won’t apply.) Perhaps the one (and only) thing you can agree on right now is wanting to take care of your children in a way that the divorce has the least negative impact on their lives. Can we all agree on that?

I want you to know what your kids need from you right now. Divorce can send adults into fits of bad behavior, making a habit of making each other miserable. Please don’t let that be you. Divorce can be ugly but it doesn’t have to be. Ugly divorces are bad for kids. If you continue to hurt your ex-spouse, you’re hurting your kids.

It’s hard. And it will get easier. It is in these depths of despair and darkest hours of our lives that transformation can occur. People can transform their lives to feel more meaningful, more fulfilling and more abundant than you ever thought possible. Even in your darkness, know that this is an opportunity to bring your best, most resourceful, thriving self forward. I hope this transformation happens for you. You will demonstrate for your children that when life is difficult, you have weathered the storm with integrity. This is a life lesson that will have a huge impact on them. Be the person you’d want them to be when they face challenges in their lives.

And, by the way, just when you’re ready to be done with your ex, you’re not. You’ve got 18 years of parenting together so you’re still in a relationship. You still have to communicate, manage your emotions and agree on many details in their future. So, just as with a family member you don’t necessarily get along with, you’ve got to figure it out. You WILL be dealing with each other. You’ll get to practice good communication, good boundaries and patience as you forge ahead. You’ll need to develop some good coping skills. Which leads into the next step.

Now is the time to be a better person. Take care of yourself. Be honest. Take responsibility. Get counseling. Read insightful books. The person you become through your divorce is a model to your children. Are you learning as much as you can about yourself so you can use this opportunity to grow and change for the better?

Please speak well of your ex-spouse to your children. Your children’s two parents are their EVERYTHING. Both of you are their idols, the people they look up to and revere. It’s confusing and hurtful to children to have you each bad-mouthing the other one. Believe in your heart that, underneath the damage of the divorce, your ex wants what’s best for your children. And he/ she loves your children very much. Communicate that to your children with your words and actions. Bite your tongue before you say unkind, angry words about your ex. It’s just not a good habit and your kids suffer from it.

Make sure your kids know the divorce is not their fault. Don’t go into the messy, adult reasons why you’re divorcing. Give your kids the big picture that you’re two adults that have chosen not to stay married. I’m sure there was hurt, perhaps betrayal and lots of good reasons for your divorce. But with your kids, let them know both parents still love them very much and you both are adults that will work out the details of the divorce. They will be safe, have two homes and you’ll let them know anything that will affect them as you go through this. Then use your counselor to work out the emotions of it all, not your kids.

Amazingly enough, your new family configuration will get easier. You’ll be happy again. The swells of emotion you feel now will change with time. If both parents commit these steps, you’ll maybe one day enjoy each other’s company at a school event, holiday dinner, graduation or wedding. Hard to imagine, maybe. But well worth the effort.

Leave A Reply (2 comments so far)

  1. Beth
    1 year ago

    Any thoughts for those of us dealing with divorce when abuse, addiction and probable mental illness are issues? I’m so in need of support, but finding guidance for those of us divorcing – with children – people for whom it is impossible to be “reasonable” is terribly difficult. I can’t go zero contact, as all the abuse/addiction/mental health sites suggest is the only possible way to escape his reach. And there is very little hope of ever “co-parenting” in the ways parenting experts tell me is best for our kids. What I really need to know is – how do I protect the kids from his abuse/issues, while still preserving their relationship? How do I teach them that his behavior is unacceptable and that’s not really what love looks like without demonizing him? And how do I insulate myself from his abuse while still having to deal with him daily for the next sixteen-plus years?

    • Abby Bordner
      1 year ago

      Hi Beth, thank you for your comment. I’m sorry you’re going through such a difficult time. I hear your need to protect your children and protect their relationship with their other parent. AND create a way to interact that will sustain throughout their childhoods while dealing with an unreasonable and abusive parent. I would suggest mental health therapy support, as these are complex issues. I’m happy to help you find resources in your area. I’ll email you. Best wishes!