It may come as little surprise to some, but research suggests that focusing on their children instead of their relationship problems can help divorced couples be better parents.
Most people believe that when they get divorced, they’ll continue to fight, noted Dr. Marilyn Coleman, a professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri.
“We found in our study that’s not always true,” she said. “Some couples get along from the very beginning. And for about half of the women we interviewed, the couples whose relationships started badly improved over time.”
“Conflict within a marriage or after a divorce is the most harmful thing parents can do for their children’s development,” Coleman said.
“If kids go through their parents’ divorce, they’ve lost some access to both parents. If the parental fighting continues, the children have not only lost access, they’re still involved in the conflict — in the ugliness — and it harms the kids.”
Coleman and a colleague interviewed 20 women who shared physical custody of their children with ex-partners. Nearly half said they had contentious relationships with their former significant others and the other half reported amicable relationships.
Of the women reporting cordial relationships, a few had always gotten along; the rest of the relationships had gone from combative to cordial, Coleman said.
“It’s almost as if the parents in the bad-to-better relationships matured,” she said. “Mostly, it’s because the parents began focusing on their children. The parents saw how upset their arguments made their kids, so they decided to put their differences aside and focus on what was best for the children.”
The women in amicable relationships reported that their ex-partners were responsible parents and that money was not a source of conflict. In addition, they said they communicated with their ex-partners frequently and in multiple ways, via text, phone and email.
Cordial parents also dealt with differences in parenting styles more efficiently by communicating issues that arose. In addition, the women who had better relationships with their former spouses did not try to limit their children’s interaction with their fathers, instead finding ways to conveniently transition the children between two homes.
Coleman warns that shared custody does not ensure cooperative, happy relationships post-divorce. Making the co-parenting relationships work requires conscientious efforts from parents, she noted.
“The courts tend to use a one-size-fits-all philosophy when dealing with divorces and determining custody of children, and that really doesn’t work for some parents — especially if there has been abuse or if high levels of conflict continue,” Coleman said.
“The goal for divorced parents should be to maintain the best co-parenting relationships possible by moving past prior relationship issues and focusing on children’s well-beings.”
The study, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly: Divorced Mothers’ Experiences with Co-parenting,” will be published in an upcoming issue of Family Relations.
Source: University of Missouri