When addiction destroys a marriage, it leaves a lasting mark on both people in the relationship: the person with substance use disorder, and their former spouse. These scars are lasting and will affect each individual differently moving forward, but when there are children involved, post-divorce parents must come together to make sure their co-parenting ideals are in order. The children of divorce should be protected from the issues that remain between their parents. Addiction adds difficulty to this dynamic because of the nature of its effect on loved ones over time, through misuse and previous attempts at recovery.
- Continue to show dedication. Often times loved ones experience relapse just as much as the person with substance use disorder. Staying committed to the recovery process and self-improvement can help regain the trust of children and former spouse.
- Define the terms. It should be made clear whether either or both former spouses agree with coming into contact in person regularly. Designated people should be involved to aid drop-offs and communication, if necessary.
- See this as a business partnership. Once a marriage is over, the feelings may be complicated, but both parents should see this as a business relationship where they are working together to do what’s best for the kids.
- Attend therapy. Consider family therapy with each parent and children, especially if they witnessed issues with substance use around the age of 8 and older. This can help children speak freely in a safe space with productive advice from a trained professional.
- Children are not pawns. They should not be used as leverage, messengers, or collateral for issues between parents. They should not be the ear for venting about the other spouse. They have their own healing to do, and this behavior can severely affect them as they grow into adults.
- Stick to the plan. Holidays and special events can be stressful, so stick to the agreement unless reasonable extraneous circumstances occur. If things go wrong, allow for flexibility without inflaming the situation.
- Create a positive environment. Children are strongly affected by their surroundings. When interacting, keep things cordial and light without exposing them to a combative scenario. Do not bad mouth or complain about your former spouse in front of the children.
- Discuss the rules. Don’t allow co-parenting to become good cop bad cop. This can create an enabling relationship for the spouse in recovery who is looking to “make up” for their past mistakes by overindulging their children.
- Stay consistent. Depending on the age of the children, keep bedtimes consistent, and general house rules the same. Discipline and scheduling should be as complementary as possible to maintain balance.
- Speak respectfully. Think about tone when interacting. Requests are better posed as ideas or questions rather than demands. This should be done in front of children and in private.
Co-parenting can be successful for people in recovery and for people whose ex-spouse is in recovery. With a mutual unconditional love for the children that are a result of the bond that once existed, parents can overcome the challenging circumstances addiction once posed to the relationship.