After divorce you and your ex may not be husband and wife anymore, but you are still mom and dad to your kids. That means you have to learn a new way of parenting, which we refer to as co-parenting. This is when you and your ex-spouse most need cooperation for the sake of your kids.
But unresolved conflicts can manifest themselves into grudges and attitude problems that make co-parenting difficult, which in turn could place emotional burdens and oftentimes misplaced guilt on your kids.
Co-parenting doesn’t have to be ugly, however. When the world is telling you to blame your ex-spouse and embrace bitterness, you can work on turning your thoughts toward a peaceful working relationship.
There are lots of practical tips out there to help you manage the mechanics of between-home cooperation, but I’ve found that they are only helpful if parents and stepparents first have adopted the right attitudes. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind …”
Christians can overcome attitudes that lead to bitterness by changing their mindset. Here are some ways you can help prepare your mind for working with your ex-spouse.
First, remember that you are on the same side.
Divorce by nature is an adversarial process, and it fosters an oppositional attitude about the other person. There may be issues that cannot be resolved on a personal level, but in matters of the kids, you need to set your differences aside and be on the same side—the side of the child.
The goal of co-parenting is not to get your way or insist on your conveniences but to provide for the emotional, behavioral, and spiritual well-being of your child. Putting the child’s needs above your own is how co-parents negotiate their differences and end up on the same side.
Second, honor and respect one another.
When you respect someone, you go out of your way to speak well of them and show honor in how you treat them. Honoring includes recognizing the other’s strengths in parenting the child and being influenced by those strengths. Co-parents need to adopt this attitude about one another or they will find themselves competing, belittling the other’s role with the child, and speaking poorly of the other.
There are several ways you can do this. Note the financial, emotional, and relational resources your ex has available for the child and try to accentuate those resources. You can also discuss with your ex the goals each of you has for the child and how you can help each other accomplish them.
Let me give you an example of healthy co-parenting. When a pre-teen boy approaches adolescence, both Mom and Dad are aware of his need for masculine influences about biblical manhood. Together they can discuss Dad’s resources for teaching the son, orchestrating special manhood learning opportunities, and what the mother’s role will be in the experiences. This honors both parents but recognizes that Dad may have more to offer in this regard than Mom.
During another season of life, Mom may have a more central role in what the son needs. Over time, both parents are honored and respected as important contributors to the child’s development.
Third, presume competence.
Unless proven otherwise, assume that the other parent is capable of managing decisions for the child while under his or her care and competent to do life without you. It’s this last part that is so tough for some parents, especially high-functioning parents who are preoccupied with managing every part of their child’s life.
Presuming competence in the other usually means removing yourself from the equation. This requires patience, respect of boundaries, and the ability to give up control. If the other household has a different style than you, back off, and let them do it their way. Obviously, I’m not talking about moral issues here. Those need to be handled in a completely different way, at times involving spiritual or governmental authorities. But as long as the child is out of harm’s way, don’t worry about what’s going on at the other home.
A related attitude here is empathy. Try to put yourself in the other parent’s shoes in order to gain appreciation for who they are and the choices they make. Think about how you would feel if they treated you in a similar way. You might realize just how hard it is to deal with you sometimes!
Fourth, put away malice and put on kindness.
When applied to the task of co-parenting, Ephesians 4:31-32 reminds co-parents that ultimately their attitude flows from gratitude: “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
Being a cooperative co-parent begins with putting away the hurt, anger, and malice in your heart. This can be very difficult if you were deeply hurt during your breakup. Becoming a healthy co-parent in this case begins with recognizing that old marital hurts are not sufficient cause for ongoing co-parental battles. The former was about you; the latter is about an innocent child who does not deserve to be caught in the middle.
Putting away anger is just the start; you are also called to be kind toward the other home. For some that is not a challenge, but for others reading this, you may be asking, “How can I extend this much grace and patience to someone who hurt me so badly?” The answer is by remembering how much God in Christ has forgiven you.
Verse 32 teaches that gratitude for what God has done for you is what fuels your ability to be kind and forgiving to others—even challenging, obstinate co-parents. This verse doesn’t make it easy to be kind, but it does give you a goal to shoot for.
Remember, your kids will be the ultimate benefactors of your healthy co-parenting attitude. If you can’t seem to find it within yourself to be kind to your ex-spouse out of the goodness of your own heart, do it for your kids. It may be hard now, but in the years to come, you will see the benefit of your sacrifice.
Copyright © 2018 by Ron Deal. Used with permission.