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  • Writer's pictureCarol L Hornbeck, LMFT

Cooperative Co-Parenting After Divorce: Working Together to Help Families Heal

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

An experienced therapist can provide the support parents need to heal from their own pain and focus on making their children’s needs a priority.

Often I am asked by parents who have made the decision to divorce: “how can we make sure the kids are okay?”

One of the most valuable gifts divorcing parents can give their children is to enter into cooperative co-parenting counseling together. Through this process, divorced parents can reduce conflict and form a new partnership based on the needs of their children.

Forging this new partnership can be challenging. For many parents, the personality differences, value conflicts and other factors that led to the failure of the marriage can also make it hard to work together in their new co-parenting relationship.  An experienced therapist can provide the support each parent needs to heal from their own pain and focus on making their children’s needs a priority.

Some of the essential steps in forming an effective co-parenting relationship include:

  1. Disengaging from your personal relationship in order to form a business partnership. Conceptualizing your new arrangement in this way enables you to set mutual goals based on the child’s needs, and develop strategies to achieve them.

  2. Sharing  an understanding of the effects of divorce on children at each developmental stage. Because children’s thinking and comprehension change as they grow, adjusting to divorce is a long-term process that impacts them throughout childhood, adolescence and into adulthood.  When parents have insight into these effects, they are better able to offer emotional support to their children at each age.

  3. Developing effective ways to manage conflict that do not put children at risk. In order to heal from the divorce, children need to know that both parents love them unconditionally and can always be depended upon.  This is hardest for children who feel caught in the midst of ongoing conflict even after the marriage ends.

  4. Agreeing on boundaries and rules that facilitate healthy communication between co-parents. Only when parents become proficient at communicating directly with each other can children feel safe and free to love each parent.

The benefits of developing a mutually respectful, effective co-parenting relationship include:

  1. Reducing children’s stress. The high levels of stress are seen in children when parental conflict continues after the divorce can lead to emotional, behavioral, and academic problems.  As children witness their parents working together respectfully, they become less anxious and their health and behavior improve.

  2. Reducing the parents’ own stress.  Since no one gets married expecting to divorce, most people experience feelings like grief, anger, sadness, confusion and betrayal.  Without adequate support, parents may struggle with anxiety and depression symptoms.  Prolonged high stress levels compromise the immune system and increase the risk of developing addictions. Improving emotional and physical self-care by reducing the stress caused by conflict  improves overall health and well being across the lifespan.

  3. The satisfaction of knowing that you have worked hard to provide for your children’s well being.  The upheaval of divorce and surrounding events can fill parents with guilt and worry as they watch their children struggle.  The development of a solid co-parenting relationship reassures children that even after divorce, they still have a family and loving relationships that will nurture them to adulthood and beyond.

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