Welcoming love into your life can be a wonderful, triumphant experience after all the work of healing from a divorce. But the addition of that extra helping hand inevitably makes parenting and co-parenting more complex. Even the best circumstances will have challenges.
It’s important, then, that all the involved adults follow these keys to co-parenting. You’ll notice that they are a blend of all the above points – healthy co-parenting and compassion for each child’s emotional response to your remarriage.
4) Healthy boundaries for the stepparent.
It can be really difficult to have a new spouse who has to take a back seat of sorts to the major decisions of childrearing. But it’s essential that you protect your co-parenting relationship with your children’s other biological parent.
All the major decisions and important discussions about your children’s upbringing belong to you and your ex. This will require a delicate balance, as your new spouse will be living with your children and will inevitably play a central role in their day-to-day lives.
It’s important that s/he not simply assume a parental role, but respect the roles of the biological parents. And the biological parents should respectfully ease the new stepparent into co-parenting roles.
5) Open communication — among everyone.
You will have to retain your co-parenting communication with your ex. You will also have to bring your new spouse into that dynamic so that all the “parents” are on the same page for your children’s welfare.
Yes, the major decisions belong to the biological parents. But everyone is involved in raising and loving the children. And your new marriage also deserves respect and transparency.
6) Non-negotiable respect.
No matter what you or your new spouse think about your ex or former marriage, you must never express disrespect in front of the children. This is especially true for the new stepparent.
Likewise, your ex should never speak disparagingly of your new spouse in front of the children.
7) Naming the stepparent.
Going back to the experiences of a child when a parent remarries, the new stepparent represents confusion in loyalty. Encouraging children to call a stepparent “Mom” or “Dad” just adds to that confusion.
It is also inappropriate and will anger and hurt your co-parent. In most cases, using the stepparent’s first name is the safest, most natural approach for children.
8) Setting everyone up to succeed.
The keys to co-parenting after remarriage don’t disregard the new spouse. S/he is going to be involved in the day-to-day lives of everyone in your home (including any kids s/he may have brought to the marriage).
Find out what your new spouse is willing and able to do with regard to parenting. Give him/her room to include each child in activities they both enjoy and can share.
What role does your spouse want to play? And how can you support that role while protecting the integrity of your co-parenting relationship?
By allowing your new spouse to be another source of love and support for your kids, everyone will adjust with less fear and confusion.
9) Talking about feelings.
Again, depending on where your children are age-wise, they are probably going to experience an array of feelings. Everything from abandonment to guilt to anger is likely to show up.
Be open and honest with your kids about their feelings, and be willing to get professional help if necessary. Everyone should feel heard and validated.
And children need to know that their feelings are a natural response to such enormous changes in their lives. They also need to know that all of their parents have their best interests at heart.
10) Remembering your focus.
It’s bound to happen – your ex is going to say or do something that makes your blood boil. Or you’re going to disagree on a major decision. You will be stuck trying to co-parent with no apparent “co” on board.
In these derailing moments, there is only one question that matters:
Is this about me or my kids?
The addition of a stepparent to a child’s life can be wonderful or miserable. Despite a child’s natural feelings and behavioral changes during the adaptation, a stepparent can represent a huge bonus. Extra love. Extra attention. Extra support.