And the benefits? "They're tremendous, given the alternative." Children form a stronger connection to family, are more confident, adjust better and perform better academically, if divorced parents are able to focus on the child and work as business partners.
Cramer learned that it was better to adjust to the needs of her ex. "My son treasures this time (with his dad) and I make those times work even if they are an inconvenience to me."
Many who see Cramer and her ex-husband sitting together at their son's sport games ask them how they get along so well. "We don't talk about the things that irritate us."
On the same page
For Christina Robert, mother of 3-year-old LuaClaire who lives in the outskirts of Minneapolis, being a co-parent can be one of the biggest day-to-day stresses. "One of us is an hour late dropping our daughter off and it turns into an ugly legal battle," she said.
A proactive approach is crucial to avoiding conflict between two ex-spouses, said Elizabeth Thayer, author of "The Co-Parenting Survival Guide: Letting Go of Conflict after Difficult Divorce." Disputes most often arise when there is ambiguity, and dates, times or schedules haven't been well-defined.
Thayer advocates a weekly phone call or email between ex-spouses that addresses a standard agenda outside of the presence of the child, in case an argument arises. Sharing an online calendar can be useful for both parents to be aware of upcoming activities and events.
When birthdays arise, Thayer advises: Be present. Participate. Have some family celebration, even if you have a reconfigured family. Otherwise, you are making your kids choose between their parents and you're reminding the child you're divorced. "That's a message that is exhausting to kids, over time."
Other holidays and events can and should be handled differently, based upon family structure, custody arrangements and religious differences, Thayer said.
Consistency in discipline can also help smooth over issues as they arise. Parents can better work together when laying the groundwork for anything from toilet training to curfew, Thayer said. "Consciously listening to the other parent and believing that you both love those kids can really open doors for a positive relationship."
Happy parent, happy kid
The stamina required to be a good-natured co-parent often demands individual attention, McGhee said. Kids observe when their parents are stressed; they soak it up like a sponge and will mirror it in their own behavior.
Give yourself time to go from "we" to "me," McGhee said. There is a lot of loss there. It's the loss of what wasn't, and the hopes and dreams of what could have been. "Give yourself an opportunity to grieve and then focus on moving forward with life."
A strong support network — whether it's through family or other co-parents in similar situations — can be crucial, Thayer said. She also advised becoming involved in a community organization or finding a positive work environment.
"My ex and I share one important thing — a love of our son," Cramer said. "In the end, little else is more important."
Rachel Lowry is a reporter intern for the Deseret News. She has lived in London and is an English graduate from Brigham Young University. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.rachellowry.blogspot.com.
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