Making It Work: Effectively Co-Parenting Children of Divorce

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Making It Work: Effectively Co-Parenting Children of Divorce

by Michelle Murray,
Family Divorce Parenting

Jacob did not react well when his wife of sixteen years said she was leaving him. He became angry, irrational, and had no idea how to regulate his emotions. He lashed out at his estranged spouse whenever possible, even in front of his two young children. He made no effort to disguise his anger or disgust for her or her behavior. Although his children were a calming factor for him, he could tell in his children’s eyes that he terrified them. He was afraid of losing them because he didn’t know how to stop his feelings of rage.

Jacob’s story has a common ring to it. Divorce is never easy for anyone. It can be a stressful time full of emotion for all involved. Children especially might have feelings of loss, sadness and, perhaps abandonment. In no uncertain terms, their world is turned upside down. Not only are they exposed to conflict and extreme life changes; but they also have the unpleasant task of redefining their own relationships with their parents.

That being said, given the importance of parental relationships for a child’s physical, mental and emotional well-being; it is essential for two people to co-parent effectively.

Although parents generally have the best of intentions to do just that, more often than not, conflict between parents tends to affect all related relationships negatively. The majority of breakups result in children being separated from one of the parents, usually the father. Further to that, because of the separation, their relationship with that parent may become badly damaged.

Even though the dynamics have changed over the years, it is still a popular assumption that the mother is the best one to be the primary caregiver of the children; whereas the father takes on the role of a “visitor” emphasizing his minor place in the children’s life. (Haimi et al., 2016)

According to Haimi and Lerner (2016), “…this parenting program was simple to implement, not demanding legal or psychological analysis, [but] reflected the non-established belief that children will be harmed if they have more than one home.” (p. 4)

Within a few months, Jacob decided to leave for a new job in another town just to avoid any conflict with his estranged spouse. Jacob’s need to leave his children put a great strain on their relationship. The children missed him and felt abandoned. Not only that, but their self-esteem was badly damaged. Why couldn’t Jacob love them enough to stay? They did not understand Jacob’s need to get away from a potentially volatile situation, especially considering he was only allowed to ‘visit’ his own children anyway.

Jacob’s abandonment of his children is a phenomenon common to many who are believers of those assumptions mentioned earlier. However, if we were to look at the changing dynamics of custodial arrangements, we would see that parents are adhering more to a healthier attitude about co-parenting. Studies have shown that children in joint custody situations adapt better than children who grow up in the previously mentioned arrangement.

Although living arrangements are a big factor in a child’s stability after divorce, meeting a child’s basic needs during separation and divorce requires a parent to consider other factors as well. Specifically, a child’s reaction to parental separation and divorce is highly dependent on a child’s age, emotional development, and relationship history; as well as how parents treat each other (Family Justice Services, 2011, p. 1)

The amount of decline in a parent-child relationship can be directly attributed to the amount of conflict that occurs between the parents. However, the ability for two people to co-parent effectively is highly dependent on their communication skills and personalities; not to mention their ability to put angry feelings aside and stay open-minded.

Often, children do not maintain an equal attachment to both parents. Instead, they are pushed or pulled to one side or another. According to Family Justice Services ([FJS] 2012), this disruption in the relationships may be caused by the parents’ inability to distinguish between their spousal and parenting issue resulting in one or both of them using positive or negative means of destroying the child’s attachment to the other parent. (p. 12)

It stands to reason, with all of the negative feelings surrounding a divorce, that some adverse perceptions may be expressed to the children. However, just as parents go through many emotional changes, so do their children, These feelings might include abandonment, loss, depression, guilt, self-blame, lowered self-esteem, confusion, anger, powerlessness, and insecurity. (FJS, 2012, p. 28)

Within a cooperative parenting structure, some of the negative effects of separation between children and parents can be avoided or at least effectively dealt with. With this structure, parents work together for the best interests of the child. In this way, parents can encourage good communication and can make transitions smoother between homes. Further to that, parents can work together in the best interest of the child and can jointly discuss issues and major decisions about the child. (FJS, 2012, p. 27)

It took some time for him, but Jacob adjusted to his new life and redefined his relationship with his ex-spouse and children. Jacob returned to the town his children lived in and took on the responsibilities of co-parenting his children. He and his estranged wife discovered that they could work together through communication and cooperative decision making to do what was best for their children and make the transition from a single family paradigm to extended family a little less daunting.


Government of Alberta: Justice. 2012. Parenting after separation program. Family justice services. p. 1-27.
Haimi M, Lerner A (2016) The Impact of Parental Separation and Divorce on the Health Status of Children, and the Ways to Improve it. J Clin Med Genomics 4:137. doi:10.4172/2472-128X.1000137