Separation and divorce are never easy. When children are involved, the process becomes infinitely more painful. Just as your world is turned upside down from losing your significant other, you also have to cope with the reality that you will be losing precious moments with your children. No one wants to have less time with their kids, and kids don’t want to miss either of their parents. But it is important that kids don’t end up feeling like they are a rope caught in the middle of a violent game of tug-of-war. So how can you make this transition as easy as possible for everyone?

1. Don’t talk down to the other parent or get in arguments in front of your children.

As difficult as it may be to keep from snapping at the other parent, bite your tongue and make a note to call your ex later to discuss the issue. Letting your kids see you fight will only cause them more pain and angst that will hurt them in the long run.

2. Let your children know that you’re happy they are getting to spend time with the other parent before they leave for the weekend.

This one is hard because on the inside you will be screaming and aching and hoping the other parent calls to say the kids can just stay with you…forever. But, chances are that somewhere, deep inside, you know that it is in your children’s best interest to have a good relationship with both parents. So make sure your kids know that too. They are going to miss you when they leave, so let them know it’s OK they are leaving, and that you’ll see them when they get back.

3. Remember that you have to take turns with the kids; and if it’s not your turn, you don’t get to make their schedule.

This may sound like an obvious rule and an easy one to obey, but many parents break this rule because they so badly want to be the “favorite” parent. Example: Your mother calls and says, “I’d love to take you and the kids to Carowinds on Saturday. Is that OK?” You know it’s the other parent’s weekend, but you give the OK for Carowinds and then hurry to tell your kids that Grandma is taking you all to the park this weekend, all before checking in with the other parent. Then when you do check in with the other parent, you learn that they already have (not so exciting) plans on Saturday that the other parent is refusing to break or reschedule. So you go back to your kids and tell them, “I’m sorry, but we can’t go to Carowinds with Grandma on Saturday because Daddy won’t let you go.” Now you’ve come out looking like the fun parent and he’s the bad guy. Always check with the other parent before scheduling an activity during their time with the children. That way you avoid disappointing the kids and placing blame on one side or the other.

4. Keep the lines of communication open, and be consistent.

Don’t let your children start playing Mom and Dad against each other go get what they want. Make sure you and the other parent are still on the same page about the ground rules for the kids. When something comes up that your child gets in trouble over, discuss it with the other parent. Talk about how the child was disciplined, and if appropriate, ask that they carry the discipline over to their house. If the child was told “no iPad for three days” but it has only been two, the other parent should not allow the use of the iPad for one more day. This way your children don’t start seeing trends that will allow them to get out of punishments, or get something they want, but one parent won’t let them have. This stability will help your children settle in to this new lifestyle more smoothly and quickly.

5. Be flexible when possible.

Don’t keep your kids from doing something fun with the other parent just because you’re jealous of the time they’ll get together, or because you wish it was you taking the kids on a fun outing. Ask the other parent to take pictures of their activity to send you so that when your kids get back, you can talk to them about it and share in their excitement. And don’t forget to be excited with them. Don’t let your children feel bad for having a good time, even if it was without you.

6. Don’t EVER make your children choose.

Having to choose between Mom and Dad is a position your children should never find themselves in. This separation and divorce are not their faults and you should never put them in the middle. When both parents want the children one weekend for some special activity, birthday, or event, don’t ask the kids what they want to do. That is not their job – it’s yours and your ex’s. You may not be able to agree, and if that’s the case, then flip a coin. Agree to alternate years for birthdays, holidays, etc. But do not EVER make your children choose between their parents.

7. Get a schedule and agreement in writing as soon as possible.

Often this is done through a separation agreement. It is important to try to address all potential issues that may arise so that there is no question as to how an issue should be handled if and when it comes up. Getting a valid agreement in place can save everyone a lot of confusion and frustration moving forward. It also often provides a sense of comfort for both parents, knowing what their responsibilities and obligations are, and having everything in writing. If you’d like more information on separation agreements, you can find it here.

The overarching theme with all of these rules is to remember to put your children first. Regardless of why your relationship ended, or how angry you may be, make sure to remember that your children love both of their parents. Daddy is a hero and Mommy is a princess. This is the way your children should continue to see their parents, and you have great control over that. Make sure you love your children more than you hate your ex. Co-parenting can be difficult, frustrating, and sometimes downright maddening; but following these rules can help to make the transition from a single household family to a two household family a bit easier for both parents, and most importantly, your kids.

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