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How (and why) to take the high road in co-parenting after divorce

In any breakup that involves children, everyone hears the same message: don’t put your kids in the middle of your conflicts with your ex. What many people expect to happen is that they will come out of family court with a physical and legal custody order and a parenting plan -- typically one negotiated ahead of time. It seems pretty straightforward, and if everybody just sticks to the plan, there shouldn’t be much conflict, right?

Unfortunately, life is messy, and court orders don’t have much of an impact on that fact. Instead of ending relationship conflict, sometimes the divorce seems to escalate the tension. Now you’re trying to co-parent with your ex, and it’s more stressful than you expected. What can you do?

To help answer that question, the Huffington Post recently surveyed some of its relationship experts for insight, based on years of experience, on how to co-parent positively and why it’s so important.

Most of the advice boils down to three main points: 1) use your values, 2) be respectful but have boundaries, and 3) respect your children’s relationship with your ex.

To begin, believe it’s possible to co-parent positively even if you weren't great relationship partners. Believe that changes on your part can make a difference. Taking the high road requires maturity and patience, but you can build those skills over. Be the change you want to your children to see in the world.

The way you co-parent is a direct lesson to your children on how to resolve conflict. Model what you want your children to respectfully work through disagreements, and about fair play. Remember that childhood is short, and the less conflict-filled it is for your kids, the better.

One of the hardest things about co-parenting may simply be keeping yourself from getting hurt. Another can be stopping yourself from trying to micromanage your ex’s parenting, are hard. Communicate directly with your ex when practical issues arise, and keep the topic away from your feelings. Pick your battles. Maintain good boundaries and figure out how to control your own anger and frustration.

Remember that your kids’ relationship with your ex is not the same as your own. Don’t bad-mouth your ex -- it’s confusing and hurtful to them, and it can easily spring back at you later.

Whether your ex is cooperative and steady or non-compliant and insulting, the only thing you can control is yourself. What you choose to do -- even if your ex won’t go along -- is what your children will remember.

Source: Huffington Post, "Parenting After Divorce: 3 Things You Need To Know To Co-Parent More Peacefully," Feb. 5, 2013

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