How to use mediation techniques to build a positive co-parenting relationship after divorce

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How to use mediation techniques to build a positive co-parenting relationship after divorce

After a contentious divorce, your ex is the last person you want to talk to — you'd probably be happy to avoid them forever more. But, if you have children together, you're stuck with each other for the foreseeable future, divorce settlement or not.

So how do you navigate this new type of parenting without inflicting any further damage on your children, without resorting to mind games, endless criticism of each other, and without your kids ending up stuck in the middle of two warring camps? Well, it's not easy but there are a few mediation-inspired strategies you can try that'll make co-parenting much easier for everyone involved — especially your children.

1. Find common ground.

All parents have those key values that they hold dear when it comes to how they want to raise their children. More often than not these values determine the household rules you set, whether they relate to homework and work ethic, the friends you want your children to spend time with, or the social events they're allowed to go to.

Children thrive on consistency so it's important to set aside a time to discuss your parenting values with your ex-spouse.

Try to approach this meeting with an idea of which areas you're willing to compromise on and which you aren't. It might be that homework rules are non-negotiable but you're prepared to back down and let your teenager go to that rock concert providing they stick to certain conditions.

When you're able to come to an agreement on your key parenting values it becomes easier to set consistent rules for the kids that apply equally whether they're staying with mom or dad and it'll be easier for any step-parents to make decisions when everyone's on board with the core values.

2. Don't undermine the other parent.

"You're so like your father" or "That's exactly what your mom would say". How many children of divorce have heard one of these phrases and known without a doubt that it wasn't meant as a compliment?

Even with the best of intentions this type of statement might have popped out when your child turns into the living embodiment of a person that you struggle to be civil to.

However, it isn't your kid's fault that their DNA is starting to shine through. Being made to feel bad about certain personality traits or to feel that they should try to curb certain instinctive behaviors because they remind you of your ex is only going to compound any mental anguish they're still holding onto after the divorce.

Similarly, criticizing your co-parents values, rules, or parenting decisions isn't going to win you any favors with your offspring who are more likely to rush to the defense of their other parent than they are to agree with your point of view.

The first thing to do in these situations is to examine whether your child actually has acted inappropriately or whether your feelings about your co-parent are coloring your reaction to their behavior.

If you think your ex has made a bad parenting decision are you sure that you're looking at the situation without bias? If you're still convinced that they are in the wrong, don't undermine your ex's decision in front of the children — communicate directly with them so that your kids don't feel like piggy-in-the-middle.

3. Don't use the kids as a go-between.

Whether you have a message from the kids' school to pass along, you need the kids to pack their swimming gear for their next stay at your house, or you want to take them to Hawaii during the summer vacation, asking your kids to pass the message along might feel like an easier option than speaking to your ex directly.

Be aware though that this strategy could backfire in so many ways. Even the best kids can misinterpret what you're telling them or decide to be somewhat selective when deciding which news to deliver and which to conveniently ignore (although the Hawaii message is guaranteed to get through). Mixed, or missing, messages can only lead to confusion and yet more animosity.

Instead decide upfront about which information is okay to pass through the kids and which you need to discuss with each other directly. Decide too on your preferred methods of communication. If, for example, your ex's number popping up on your cell phone screen throws you into an immediate panic attack, it might be better to agree to email only communication except in cases of emergency.

Once you've decide on how you're going to communicate with each other, it's important that you all stick to the rules.

4. Set boundaries for extended family.

If you thought that divorce meant you never had to deal with your in-laws again, I have some bad news for you. It doesn't matter how you feel about your ex's family, if they were a big part of your kids' life pre-divorce, you need to find a way to work with them now for the sake of your children.

It might be helpful to make it clear to your ex's family that you are not going to stand in the way of their relationship with their grandchild/niece/nephew but that certain rules need to apply, whether relating to the usual household rules you've agreed with your ex or whether they're welcome to come to your house unannounced now that your ex no longer lives there.

5. Don't go it alone.

As tempted as you are to retreat into your shell and lick your wounds, this isn't a time to isolate yourself. You'll find the whole co-parenting journey far easier if you have some additional support on your side. Don't be afraid to reach out to friends who've been in the same situation, or to seek out support groups for single parents.

If you're really struggling to set boundaries with your ex or their family, or to find common parenting ground to work from, it might be worth exploring professional help. Working with a mediator, a neutral professional who can see the situation from both sides, can offer a great deal of relief as well as useful advice and guidance you can use going forward. With a little help, you can find a path to a positive co-parenting relationship.


If you're having a hard time trying to figure out how to co-parent in a positive way, know that help is there for you. Get in touch now and I'll help you explore your options.

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Thursday, 22 August 2019