As a therapist in Washington DC and nearby Bethesda, who works with divorcing parents, I attended a lecture several years ago presented by Dr. Edward Farber who specializes in this very subject. I had been working with divorced parents for years at this time, yet was pleased to take away a fantastic nugget of information from the class. Dr. Farber asks each divorced couple at the start of counseling, “Do you love your child more than you hate your ex?” He indicated that if he could get each person to agree that they did love their child more, the counseling was going to be successful. To me, this is the cornerstone of my co-parenting work with divorced couples.
Once there is commitment to loving your child more than giving into the hateful feelings, parents can begin to think about acting with the thought, “What is in the best interest of my child?”
In my experience, parents often have a lot of hurt and angry feelings during and post divorce. Seeking co-parenting counseling during that time can offer clarity and thoughtful strategic actions with a neutral third party as it pertains to raising the children. I am very clear with my divorced couples that they never have to wonder whose side I am on; I always tell them, “I will always be on your child’s side.”
Co-parent counseling post divorce is NOT couples counseling. The purpose of the sessions is not to discuss who did what to whom in the past. This type of counseling is future thinking. Moving forward in co-parenting helps the children manage their new way of life post the loss of the family unit.
The topics discussed in counseling depend on where parents are struggling the most. Three common ones that I often help support and negotiate are communication, living arrangements and child rearing decision-making. Each of these subjects could be an article onto themselves but for the sake of this excerpt, here are some ideas.
Communication: If there is a lot of animosity between the parents, try to practice the idea of “mailman talk.” (Dr. Farber) This translates to trying to talk to your ex, while in front of the children, like you would talk to your mail carrier. Keep it superficial and very light. For example, “It is such a lovely spring day.” Or “ See you on Wednesday.” When information needs to be exchanged regarding the children, if one or both of the parents are unable to keep it civil, try using digital communication via text or email. Bottom line, try to keep the discord away from the children.
Living arrangements: A predictable schedule is best for children so that they can plan and anticipate at which house they will be each night. Some families like to do “a week off” and “a week on,” while other families like to split the week. While keeping a schedule to help the children manage their lives between two houses, it is also helpful to keep a level of flexibility as it benefits the children.
Child rearing decision-making: This area can often be the bulk of co-parenting counseling. As children grow and evolve post divorce, there will be ever-increasing decisions to be made. If the parents have difficulty negotiating and compromising, co-parent counseling can help negotiate the decisions on behalf of the best interest of the children.
The amount of counseling parents need post divorce depends on how quickly the parents can learn the skills to communicate and implement their new system of communication. Most parents find the work difficult at first, but quickly learn that it’s possible to effectively co-parent with their former spouse. Co-parent counseling during and/or post divorce will help parents and children adapt more easily to the new normal.