The DOs AND DON’Ts Of shared Parenting

DO: Respect your child's relationship with the other parent.

No matter how you feel about your spouse, tell your child that it's okay to love both Mom and Dad. Help them pick out cards and presents for the other parent and encourage them to spend as much time as possible with the other parent. Experts often say that you know children are coping well if they can tell you about their time with the other parent without worrying about upsetting you.

DON'T: Bad-mouth your spouse in front of the children.

Whatever the rotten thing your ex-husband did or unreasonable demand your ex-wife made, your children don't need to feel the brunt of your anger with your former spouse. While it can be tempting to rebuild your self-esteem by trying to win your child's affection at the expense of your ex, it's very damaging for children.

Children see themselves as a part of both parents. When you criticize your ex in front of your children, you're actually criticizing a piece of them. It's as powerful as telling your child, "You're a bad person." Even if they seem to take sides with you, deep down they will feel very conflicted, torn between two people they love.

DON'T: Use children as messengers or spies.

It can be very easy to pass messages to your spouse through your children. After all, children are supposed to do what their parents tell them. It can be even more tempting to try to find out how your spouse is living by questioning your children for information.

Children often feel caught in the middle of a tug-of-war when their parents get divorced. This can be one of the most stressful aspects of divorce for children. They want to please both of their parents and will feel very conflicted when forced into the middle of your marital dispute.

Try to see it from your child's point of view. For example, what if you asked your 12-year old son if Dad's girlfriend came over during the boy's weekend visit with his father? On the one hand, your son won't want to lie to you, but he also won't want to betray his Dad's trust in him. He knows that the truth will probably upset you and will feel guilty about causing more problems between his parents.

If he enjoyed spending time with his Dad's girlfriend, he might feel guilty about that, too.

DON'T: Treat children as confidantes or caretakers.

Children need to be children. They can't take on the role of parents for younger siblings or cope with adult problems. While you can be a support system for your children, your kids can't be a support system for you. If you find yourself struggling with the emotions of divorce, consider talking to a therapist or another adult.

DO: Maintain a routine.

Children crave structure and schedules. Divorce throws the old habits out the window, which is very disruptive for children. So, you need to create a new schedule as soon as possible after your separation. Try to maintain the same rules and level of discipline at both homes.

For instance, it helps if you agree on a child's bedtime, even if one of you tends to be more relaxed about the rules than the other. Your child will feel more at ease with a set bedtime schedule, especially since sleeping in different beds can be difficult. It will also be more physically healthy for your child to go to bed at the same time every night.
If you have to sell the family home, the custodial parent should try to stay within the same area so that children don't have to change schools. Alert the child's teachers to the divorce so that they can help with the transition and watch out for any behavioral problems.