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The biggest factor in the health of children in the post-divorce period appears to be a reduction in conflict. Listed below are some tips for reducing conflict. Children are clearly best off when their parents parent cooperatively, making decisions together, attending school events together, remaining flexible on visitation issues, and disciplining together.

Cooperative parenting may not be possible at times in the post-divorce period. If so, “parallel parenting” should be tried. Parallel Parenting is a process of parenting next to one another because parents are unable to parent together or co-parent.

Here are some techniques for parallel parenting:
  1. Disengagement: Avoid situations or communications which might create conflict.
    • Don’t communicate unless you have to. Avoid communication about minor things.
    • Don’t tell the former spouse how to parent.
    • Avoid criticisms of the other parent’s parenting.
    • Avoid conflict in all communications. When your former spouse makes an accusation, don’t “set the record straight.” You will never change their mind. You will only escalate the conflict by replying with your view point.
    • Provide basic information only.
  2. Communicate by email or letter. When writing to your former spouse:
    • Be factual and concise.
    • Be business-like.
    • Avoid sarcasm.
    • Don’t share your communications with the children.
    • Don’t ask the children to ask your former spouse something or give your former spouse a request for something. E.g. Ask your father if he wants to see you on this Sunday, or, Ask your father how you are going to be able to participate in the school play if I don’t get your child support.
    • Limit non-emergency information to twice per month (more if child is under age 5).
  3. Things to Promote:
    • Ignore (rather than arguing back) when the other parent tries to tell you how to parent.
    • Support different styles of parenting in order to avoid conflict. Even in happy marriages, people differ on parenting. Pick battles very carefully. Most parenting differences are not worth fighting over. E.g., bed times or cleanliness of a room or house.
    • Accept that there is more than one “right way” to parent.
    • Learn to be less rigid and more accepting of the child’s other parent.
    • Don’t try to change how other parent does parenting job.
    • Do best job of parenting during the time child is with you, without criticizing other parent. Children usually resent a parent who criticizes the other parent.
    • Children are capable of being parented in two different styles.
    • Many children of divorce adjust quite well to two very different homes. Some may, in fact, enjoy it, if the parents reduce conflict.
Credit: “Children’s Adjustment Following Divorce: Risk and Resilience Perspectives” by Joan B. Kelly and Robert E. Emery.