Earlier this year, celebrity reporting websites shared that actress Jennifer Garner and actor Ben Affleck were spotted at their young son’s basketball game. According to onlookers, the exes were talking to each other and appeared to be amicable.
Situations like this are not limited to Hollywood stars. With the divorce rate in the United States hovering around 50%, co-parenting among divorcees is more and more prevalent. With the goal being to amicably work together to promote the wellbeing of their children, it is considered to be one of the healthier options for raising children after divorce or separation.
Legalities aside, parents need to act in the best interest of the child. Tompkins County Courts of New York compiled a set of rules that divorced parents should abide by when interacting with their children, called The Bill of Rights for Children Whose Parents are Separated. Its purpose is to protect the best interests of the child by reducing conflict. For example, while the divorce may be contentious, parents should not make children aware of the “bitter or nasty legal proceedings.” The Court also stresses that the children should not be asked to “choose sides” in the separation or divorce. Children have the right to express their feelings, whatever those feelings may be. At the end of the day, both parents are involved in the child’s life to some degree, and telling the child negative things about the other is very detrimental. The child may view the accused parent or the accusing parent negatively.
In order to effectively co-parent a child, it is best to avoid “getting legal.” It is preferable not to use legal terms such as ‘court ordered visitation,’ ‘custody,’ or ‘custody schedule,’ and speak in more personable, everyday language that is understandable for the child. Such terms may create strain in the parent-child relationship. Instead of referring to one’s ex-husband as an “ex,” it may be more helpful to call him “dad” in front of the child.
It is also advised that both parents be on the same page and establish similar rules for their children. If mom says the child cannot play video games after dinner and dad says otherwise, it sends mixed signals. Children should have similar routines with parents at both homes in order to maintain consistency. The parenting styles do not necessarily have to be the same, but it is important that they are at least compatible.
Co-parents can discuss a game plan of sorts that may go beyond the legally-binding custody schedule. For instance, Garner and Affleck were seen with their son on his sixth birthday and attending church together. While some parents may opt to evenly divide days with the children, Affleck and Garner committed to spending time together with their children, thereby placing the children’s best interests as their priority.
Co-parenting is not an exact science, but rather more of a balancing act facilitated by compromise. There is not a handbook that spells out how to interact with an ex, let alone how to co-parent. It takes some trial and error when raising children. However, traditional parenting in a nuclear family does not come with a handbook either so keep that in mind as you navigate co-parenting.