Co-Parenting Agreements Put Your Kids’ Best Interests First Taking care of your kids after your divorce

Co-Parenting Agreements Put Your Kids’ Best Interests First Taking care of your kids after your divorce

Co-parenting is your single most important right, as well as your single most important responsibility with your ex-spouse post-divorce. If you can co-parent amicably (and no doubt that’s a challenge), your children gain stability and the chance to maintain close relationships with both parents. But just how can you deal with or even avoid the stress that comes from trying to co-parent when your relationship with that other parent is broken? It is easy enough to say it requires maturity and intent on both sides, but that doesn’t tell you how to do this. Advice: A co-parenting agreement that spells out respective responsibilities and limitations, enabling each of you to avoid unnecessary conflict with the other.

From Spouses to Co-Parents: Redefining your relationship around your child

Creating a joint custody and parenting arrangement, especially after a hostile split, can be exhausting and infuriating. How will you get past the painful history you shared with your ex and conquer the resentment? Decision making, interacting at drop-offs, or just speaking to a person you’d rather forget all about can seem agonizing. So it’s not easy. But it is the best way to guarantee that your children’s needs are met, enabling them to rightfully retain close relationships with both parents.

Consider redefining your relationship with your ex as one focused entirely around the well-being of your children, rather than about either of you. Your marriage is over, but your family still exists. Once your relationship with your ex becomes centered on your kids, you can both move on from the past. The first step to being a mature, responsible co-parent is to always consider your children’s needs first and, in doing so, you’ll find that you’re actually serving your own needs as well.

What is a Co-Parenting Agreement?

A co-parenting agreement (or plan) is a contract that you and your ex-spouse create and agree to. It sets forth the guidelines you will follow as post-divorce parents. This plan specifies how your children will be cared for, who will care for them, and where and when they will live or spend their time. A parenting plan, also called a “Custody and Visitation Agreement,” not only lays out time shares (the schedule for when the children will be with each parent) but also for decision making (how parents will make shared decisions about major issues such as your children’s health, education and welfare plans and contingencies).

A solid plan should cover more than just the details of pick-up and drop-off and homework time; it should also explain the parenting philosophy, overall goals and shared commitments to which have each and/or both committed. Specifically, the plan should:

  • Cover how the parents will meet basic needs for guidance, love, protection, healthy diet, medical care and sufficient rest.
  • Consider each child’s unique abilities, personalities, and special needs. Your plan should adjust to each child instead of forcing the child to adjust to it.
  • Provide secure and stable routines.
  • Cover consistent and fair times for vacations, day-to-day care, management and choice of homework and school activities, and holiday times/locations.
  • Prepare for key contingencies such as how a new partner of an ex-spouse will impact parenting and college tuition, as well as how far apart parents may reside in the event of a move, etc.

The age of each child dictates how detailed and flexible you need to be. Young children have an overwhelmingly strong need for consistency between homes while older children are more adaptable but may require more rules since they are beginning to develop their own lives and have their own associated responsibilities and activities. This means that eventually your own kids will have more say in how they spend their time. Establishing Parenting Plans can actually help future relationships by enabling new romantic partners to read what you and your ex agreed on and to understand, objectively, your intentions and commitments to your children.

Co-parenting plans by state

The non-profit Shared Parenting Works offers an online resource that allows you to access parenting plans by state, since each state has its own laws regarding child custody. Access co-parenting plans by state here.

A great template for developing a plan that accounts for everything from financial expenses (including claiming tax deductions and school tuition) to child care, birthdays and holidays, vacations, residences, parenting intentions, decision making authority, education, religious intentions, pets, nutrition, and changes in parents’ romantic relationships, among others, is available here. Due to the template’s comprehensiveness, not everything may apply; simply use the portions of the template that you need.

A useful guide to co-parenting that includes The Legal Agreement; What Is Co-Parenting and Why Do It?; Communicating With The Other Parent; Talking to Your Kids; When Your Kids Visit The Other Parent; Consistency; How Children at Different Ages May Be Affected; and Conflict With the Other Parent is available here.  Review the guide carefully, since co-parenting involves many things that go beyond what can be put to paper — such as how you should speak to your kids about the other parent and how to interact with your ex and your children to put the priority in order to maximize your kids’ consistent and healthy development.

Co-parenting tips

Kids will adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and have better self-esteem when they:

  • Feel secure about and are confident of both parents’ love
  • See both households are consistent, so they know what to expect and what is expected of them.
  • Observe their parents working together, which also helps them understand and model positive problem solving and conflict resolution skills
  • Have a healthy example to follow as they grow into their own futures
  • Are not put in the middle of their parents’ conflicts and unresolved issues
  • Are never used as messengers between parents, and are not exposed to their parents’ conflicts about their past relationship.
  • Are never told negative things about one parent by the other or are made to choose one parent over another.

Co-Parenting agreements are valuable in a number of different respects. They help focus parents on what is important—the welfare and interests of their kids. They reduce conflict by establishing clear guidelines for everything from financial responsibilities and shared expenses to birthdays and holidays — as well as religious upbringings. Further, they help establish consistency and foster a sense of security in children just as those kids are adjusting to the divorce of their parents. The result is that co-parenting agreements help exes parent as a team, making them more effective parents, period. You want your kids to be less able to manipulate you or to play you against each other; and agreements enable you to do this by presenting a clear and united front, especially in terms of discipline and expectations.

Divorced parents who enter into an honest conversation about co-parenting and commit to developing and following a comprehensive co-parenting plan have everything to gain. Parenting is a challenge, albeit a rewarding and loving one,  even under the best of circumstances. When you add dual households, residual relationship issues between parents, and the tremendous stressors that arise out of divorce, complications increase exponentially. Even so, this needn’t negatively impact children’s upbringing and development. Successful co-parenting between exes is very possible. It’s up to you as a dad to decide how successful you will be and to ensure you are doing what a good dad does best: putting the best interests of your children first.

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Online Dating For Divorced Men: The First Hello Long Term Relationships vs. Casual Dating after Divorce

Online Dating For Divorced Men: The First Hello Long Term Relationships vs. Casual Dating after Divorce

The First Hello – Long Term Relationships vs. Casual Dating 

Congratulations. You managed to find someone who piqued your interest on a dating site, and she might want to meet you.

Now what?

The following is my attempt to give you some advice in two entirely different directions depending on what you really want to achieve, since different answers and choices can lead in different directions. The most relevant question here is: What are you hoping for?

Allow me to just be blunt. Some of us are serial daters. We love to meet women, we love to court them and bed them, but then, well, we’re pretty much done with them. Sometimes it’s because we have serious commitment-phobia, and sometimes we just like the thrill of the conquest and not the white picket fence part. Personally, I like to think of myself as spectacularly fun dating material but lacking most of the requirements for long term relationships. I also lack a plush bank account, stability or startlingly handsome good looks. So, I date. You, on the other hand, might have what every woman ostensibly wants (a bottle of Chateau d’Yquem and an AmEx Black Card), and you might be looking to settle down. My point is that whichever direction you desire to go should determine how you move forward.

In simple terms; if you’re looking for a long term partner, my advice would be for you to strive for brutal honesty and complete transparency. You want to scare her off, if possible. While that might seem counter-intuitive, it actually serves your long term interests well. You want a partner, not a waste of time or a weekend adventure, so your focus should be on vetting out all those except the women you really think you could have a good go with. The best way to do this is just to be honest and ask difficult questions. It shows her you are serious, and it shows you who she is, in depth.

On the other hand, if you’re like me and just looking for variety and spice, then you need to approach the entire meet/greet/play from a completely different angle. Do NOT tell her your life’s dreams and aspirations. Don’t ask for hers. That isn’t the point here. Here, the idea is to make her swoon. One of my favorite lines is from the Stephen Sondheim musical Into The Woods: “I was raised to be charming, not sincere,” spoken by Prince Charming when Snow White catches him sleeping around with Sleeping Beauty.

OK, I might take some flack here for being apparently misogynistic in this regard though again, I repeat that being clear on your end goal is important. Having fun is not the same as finding a new mate. It just isn’t. Of course, you shouldn’t be lying to anyone or cheating or being intentionally deceitful. It might improve your chances of getting laid, but it won’t help your karma much. Besides, liars suck: we all know this. So don’t be one. That doesn’t, however, preclude your ability to keep details hidden, to allow yourself to be perceived as slightly opaque or mysterious, or to keep the conversation focused on her. Think of this strategy as airbrushing your best features.

If you’re seeking long term results, you want to make sure she can appreciate who you really are, and you want to show her your warts so that she might come to love them. If you just want to have fun on a Friday night, might I advise that showing your warts is not only unnecessary, but counter productive to a good time. If you show up in a suit, you don’t need her to know it’s your only one.

So, here are two little lists (in no way complete) I came up with to give you some clear ideas on how to approach your next conversation with a potentially interested party, keeping in mind the agendas of casual dating vs. a serious relationship.


Keep these in mind if you are only dating:

– Remain mysterious

While you don’t need to be so secretive as to seem suspicious, there is also no reason in a dating scenario to bother her with your life story. That’s not what we’re here for. Keep the focus on her, but…

– Don’t ask too many questions

Of course, ask questions about her. Just try to keep them light and conversational. Fads, trends, the latest news, etc… we’re not looking to find out if our political or religious views match yet or how many bad relationships we’ve survived or the name of her dog that just died. Save the messy stuff for later talks if you find you’re getting serious.

History is great if you’re working to establish common ground. Talking about the present is great when you are looking to move forward, which is what dating is.

You absolutely want to talk about her as much as possible, though you should be careful not to be entirely irrelevant to the present. I’m not saying that knowing where she went to high school might not be interesting, or learning that her sister lives in the same city you grew up isn’t serendipitous; I’m just saying it isn’t important. Question her instead about her desires, her tastes, her interests, her work perhaps, her schedule and availability (to know when to ask her out again).

– Close for a meeting

This mainly applies to online dating. If you’ve received a message of interest, and you want to date, then your next message should be to ask for one. Offer a few ideas and an alternative time, “Would you like to go feed ducks at the park, or maybe meet for a cup of coffee? I’m free tomorrow, or if that’s too soon, how about Thursday afternoon?” Note: You also want to be certain to include a sincere compliment that shows her you’ve noticed her as well — and a thank you in that response, at the least.

– Plan A, B … maybe C

When you meet your date, be ready to keep her entertained. Have multiple ideas of where to go and what to do in mind, so you can appear casual and confident with a plan. Seriously, most women love a man with a plan, and love a man who can turn on a dime with another one even more.

– Unless they want control, you take it

Not all women want a man with a plan. Sometimes they have their own. It’s always a good idea to check in at the beginning of an engagement to see where she stands. Just ask her, “Listen, I have some ideas about what to do tonight, but I wanted to know if you want me to just take charge, or if I should ask you first?” Deferring to the woman gives her the chance to let you know, and subtly shows off your gentlemanly ways. If she says anything along the lines of “Just surprise me!”, which most will, that’s your invitation to make all the right moves.

– Be open minded / Go with no expectations

When dating, the key word here is; Fun. Having fun means being open to whatever happens, and seeking intentionally to do things that are silly, irreverent and able to bring out the kid in ourselves. We need to approach our dating that way. After all, we’re likely going to know in the first five seconds whether we have a chance of anything progressing beyond the date, regardless of the date itself. So have fun, and be open to someone else that you may be otherwise uninterested in. You never know; perhaps the person holds back so the first impression was aloof, but the moment you cracked the right joke, the ice melted.

– Be clear, courteous, concise

Think about your words before they tumble out of your mouth. If you’re meeting her, give good directions or ask for them. Show her that you are personable, intelligent, competent and capable by speaking confidently, with grace and clarity. If you’re shy, practice with a friend. Learning to speak so others listen is an important skill worth developing.

– Flirt

Finally, this is a skill that others have devoted tremendous amounts of time towards explaining, so if you don’t know how, go learn. Since this is a date, if you think that things might heat up, then you should push for that. You’re not trying to demonstrate yourself as good husband material right now, you’re trying to get laid. A kiss goodnight is not really your target resolution for the evening.

 

On the other hand, try this approach if you are seeking a long-term relationship:

– Remove mystery, be real

Ask for — and tell — the truth. We’ve all had messy lives. While you might not want to begin your communications broadcasting your less savory traits, you need to be honest about them. Do not avoid difficult questions in the early stages here. Embrace them. You’ll see quickly if the person in front of you is willing to accept you for you. Put the warts up front.

– Talk about upbringing, family, goals, history

Instead of the shallow, trivial conversation, ask instead about things you’ll really want to know about this person you are considering spending a great deal of time with. Don’t be afraid to push a little and see what they are willing to talk about. It doesn’t have to be weighty, but it should be authentic.

– Attempt no closing statements and let her take the initiative if she wants to meet you by making yourself available but not pushing

In this way, you aren’t working to steer her in a direction so much as trying to ascertain her feelings towards you. If she wants more, she’ll ask. Remember, there is no rush when seeking a long term partner. If she doesn’t seem too interested, that’s just fine in this scenario.

– Watch closely for red flags

Red flags might be more easily dismissed on dating, but should be clear warnings in long-term seekers. While her love of a music you find vile might be easy to deal with when you are seeing her once a week, if you come home to it every night, it’s going to be an issue. Just pay attention to whether you feel comfortable and relaxed with her, or if you feel as though you are having to prove yourself.

Be certain of your expectations and desires and only flirt once you have determined you really do want to know more

While we may choose to engage others for short-term pleasure seeking or simply in order to have a nice person to pass a little time with, even in a favored “Friends With Benefits” category so many single men profess to prefer, we shouldn’t lose sight of our long-term goals especially when we find ourselves genuinely attracted to someone. If you believe that this new person may very well be someone you desire to be with long term, then it behooves you to move slowly in your romantic gestures. That way, when you act, it will carry that much more weight and sincerity. A rose is nice, but a gift from the heart is far more valuable. A kiss goodnight here means volumes more than a one-night fling. Save yourself because you’re worth it, and so is she.

 

Closing thoughts

I make no guarantees whatsoever that my advice is going to turn you into a dating guru. I just know that you attract what you ask for, and if you’re seeking one while believing you’re seeking the other, you’re going to have problems. I also know that dating requires attraction and chemistry in the short run, and you can enjoy many different types of people even if you might not be able to have a healthy long term relationship with them.

Simply put, dating is fun. Relationships are work.

Of course, the person you commit to the long term with should be fun, too. In fact, even more fun than someone in a dating relationship. The difference is that you’ll need to spend the time to find the things that really connect you, not just those casually shared appreciations. These require levels of communication and honesty that take time to develop.

While I do suggest considering the approaches above, there is nothing to say that your casual date won’t turn into a long term commitment, or that while seeking a long term relationship, you’ll have a few short-lived dates (in fact, that’s almost a certainty!) Just knowing how to approach the next pretty woman who makes your heart skip a beat can make all the difference in the world.

Good luck out there!

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Living With Other People’s Kids 9 tips for surviving children who aren't yours

Living With Other People’s Kids 9 tips for surviving children who aren't yours

Living with other people’s kids

If you’re a single guy — whether due to lack of nuptials or through divorce — at some point in your life you are going to end up living with children who aren’t yours. Whether they are the progeny of your girlfriend, housemate or sister, the fact remains: it’s hard to get through life without encountering other people’s kids.

When you do find yourself in this situation, how exactly do you figure out what the rules and boundaries are? Certainly, you have a few simple responsibilities towards these little walking germ factories regardless of who sired or birthed them. But how do you deal with the gray area of helping others’ kids without becoming overburdened by them, or worse, overstepping boundaries in discipline, philosophy or education.

Of course, we all want the kids to be alright, and it is just being a good human to ensure that those around us feel safe and cared for, regardless of age or relation. When it comes to other people’s kids (let’s just call them OPKs), we need to be very clear about how we intend to maintain healthy relations with them and their creator and where we might need to speak up, draw the line, or have a meaningful conversation.

Perhaps the most singularly important advise about OPKs is this; they aren’t yours. You are not their parent or guardian. At best, you are related. At worst, you have no relation at all outside of simple living arrangements (the roommate’s kid, or the next door neighbor’s child) or you are in the most difficult arrangement of all; living with the children of your new love interest, the dreaded position of step-adult. I say this is the hardest because how you choose to deal with OPKs will hugely determine your future in this new relationship. Put simply: Lose the kid, lose the parent. And vice-versa.

Disclaimer: I have no certifications or qualifications that make me any kind of expert in this field. I only know what I have lived through and have what worked (or didn’t) for me, so use at your own risk.

In my defense, I have lived with plenty of kids, and even have a pretty normal college student of my own. I am also known as “Uncle Monkeyface” to a group of four growing boys. My sister seems to feel I’ve instilled into them various positive masculine traits. Perhaps that’s because, even while knowing I am hopelessly unprepared as a role model,I take my role seriously. Seriously means that, as I write this, I am listening to my current flatmate argue over how many more bites of sandwich are acceptable for her six-year-old son to consume before being allowed more video game time. I, too, have been the step-adult on a few occasions, sometimes doing so poorly, more often well.

What have I learned? One of the great truths about kids is that, by and large, their behaviors are universal. We’re all mostly wired the same, so the same approaches often work in most of our encounters. I haven’t met a kid under the age of 14 yet who can’t be frozen in their tracks by a sudden, stern adult voice (I like to call it “Cop Voice”, that voice of authority that all parents learn that even as adults we still freeze when we hear it), nor have I met a toddler who can resist a bright smile and anything glittering or jingling. Understanding that from the point of OPKs, you are a really big person and potentially either really safe or really scary, so you’ve got to be conscious of your interactions to create healthy living space with OPKs.

Without further ado, a few guidelines, in no particular order…

1. Not my circus, not my monkeys.

It is NOT your responsibility, except in emergencies, to train, educate, clean or correct either the child or the parent. Be wary of accepting more responsibility than you are comfortable with.

2. Engage at your own risk — and reward

Although you don’t have to, you still might want to interact, support and help. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this at all; just make sure you are clear on your level of engagement because once you start, it’s hard to stop.

3. Ask for clarifications from parents

If you are in a position where you feel you need to (or just want to) help instruct, play with or discipline the little person in your midst, make certain to clarify with the parent to what extent your supervision extends.

4. Be kind

This is obvious and applies everywhere. Be kind. Get it?

5. Know your boundaries because they won’t.

Children are great at pushing limits. Know yours, and don’t let them cross it. If/when they cross it anyway, be clear what options are available to you (from simply informing the adult in charge, to actually taking action on your own. Just make sure you know the rules first (#3)).

6. Don’t judge, but do notice

You might witness behaviors from the parent or the child that you don’t approve of, and that’s ok. Ask yourself whether the behavior really needs addressing, or whether it’s merely a personal preference:  something you can simply watch without reacting to. Whose problem is it, anyway?

7. Offer criticism gently and praise often

I cannot stress enough that you need to treat your cohabitants with a great deal of compassion and a bit of kid gloves now and again. If you must speak out, do so from a position of offering support. Always make it a point to tell children they are appreciated. It goes a long way for everyone involved.

8. Avoid conflicts and do not interfere

Refer to #1. If it’s not your problem, don’t make it one. Try to take the position of the audience, not the referee or worse, the judge.

9. Never get in the middle

If you don’t understand this by now, it’s too late for you. Unless you are extremely close to your housemates (at least family, if not closer) you are simply asking for trouble by stepping into a parent/child conflict.

I hope this advise helps you to have wonderful and positive relationships with children of all ages! Good luck!

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