Co-parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce

After becoming “the poster children for divorce” in their community, Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas started the blog Co-Parenting 101 “to provide a place for cooperative co-parents to share their stories so that others might be encouraged, and to challenge the stereotype of the always-messy divorce.” Their streamlined paperback presents the wealth of information the two acquired in a well-organized format and authoritative-yet-conversational tone that makes it easy to read and relate (e.g., “You can’t commit to honoring your child’s relationship with the other parent and commit to punishing that parent forever at the same time. Guess which ‘commitment’ has to go.”).

CoParenting101

After demonstrating the benefits of successful co-parenting to both adults (less depression, grief, anger, and money lost to legal fees) and children (lower rates of attachment issues, depression, teen pregnancy, behavioral problems, suicide, drug abuse, poor academic performance, school dropout, and delinquency), they offer “do” and “don’t” lists that lead the way to “civility, compromise, and cooperation.” 

DO: “Vent about your ex only when your children aren’t around” and “insist that family and friends also refrain from bad-mouthing your ex.” DON’T: “Burden your children with details about money and other problems related to the breakup.” DO: Take the high road. (Spoiler alert: It pays dividends for you as well as the kids.) DON’T: “Indulge children with gifts or by being overly permissive in an effort to ‘make up for’ the divorce or assuage [you]r guilt about it.” DO: Let your child know they are “free to love both parents openly” by being positive and interested when they talk about time with the other parent. DON’T: “Treat your child like a confidante, counselor, or fellow ‘victim.’” DO: “Recognize that during his parenting time, it’s his house, his rules, his way.” DON’T: Implicitly or explicitly ask children to agree that divorce was the right call. DO: “Put on your game face, cry in the car after your child has left, do whatever you need to do to hold it together so that your child is truly free—emotionally free—to go with the other parent and enjoy herself.” The lists go on.

Philyaw and Thomas also cover the basics of different legal mechanisms (mediation, collaborative divorce, litigation) as well as the various schedule options and other logistics. But their strength lies in encouraging self-regulation and acceptance of a bottomline that should be familiar to parents, happily married or not: “There will be times when you’re called upon to be uncomfortable or shoulder a burden so that your children don’t have to.”

In part, they do it through modeling. Philyaw and Thomas live on the same street. They have always invited one another inside for transitions to give their girls a feeling of ease, even in the years when that was emotionally rough for the grownups. Though both have since remarried, they all spend Christmas Eve and day together. They sit together at school and extracurricular events. The “whole family—children, spouses, and stepchildren—socializes from time to time and goes on annual vacation.” Most kids, they say, “dream about their parents getting back together, and having their parents get along is almost as good…. Kids want reassurance that even though the family they have known is breaking up, they are still part of a family.”

Throughout the book’s pages pro-tips are sprinkled, little practical gems derived from collective experience that facilitate bigger principles. If you can afford it, buy two of all but the most expensive things your child owns so they don’t have to lug bags and both houses feel like home. Set up a staging area like Philyaw’s “Dad Basket” to keep artwork, forms to sign, and other things headed for the other parent as a physical manifestation of ongoing cooperation. Find humor in the hard moments. And remember, “it’s never too late to commit to improving your co-parenting situation.”

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