How divorced parents can have a happy Thanksgiving (and existence)

For divorced parents, this weekend is not only a minefield of potential blow-ups – where will the kids eat the big meal? How fast can I get them to their dad’s house? Why did my ex-wife tire them out before my visit? – it also marks the gateway to a season of more of the same.

But for parents who are dialled in to the growing culture of “co-parenting after divorce” espoused by family lawyers, mediators and self-help authors, it doesn’t have to be a nightmare. It might make you a better parent.

The co-parenting field has blossomed in the past 10 years. More men are assuming joint custody after divorce and expect to be full-fledged parents. More couples are seeking out “collaborative law” practices to keep them out of nasty court disputes. And, in a society obsessed with ferreting out the latest thinking on good parenting, the well-known negative effects of divorce are to be avoided at all costs.

“Children suffer when their parents are fighting and arguing,” says Brian Galbraith, a family lawyer in Barrie, Ont. “There’s a saying we use: Do you hate your ex more than you love your children? Because if the focus is on the children, parents can co-operate and make decisions together.”

And there are a growing number of cheerleaders who have been through it and say it can be done. In Tammy Daughtry’s new book, Co-Parenting Works! Helping Your Children Thrive After Divorce, she outlines research that shows that after about two years, a divorced couple can succeed at uniting as parents.

The end of year one is the hardest, she says. But, “by the end of the second year, most research shows parents can come back to a stable place, possibly more stable than before their divorce.”

The key, she says, is to work toward behaving like “co-operative colleagues” rather than foes.

That’s the philosophy behind a new co-parenting tool called the Parental Planner created by a Sherbrooke, Que., couple, France Gionet and Paul Doyon, who are each co-parenting kids from previous marriages.

The planner, available in some lawyers’ offices and at, functions mostly as a calendar of events, with spaces for sharing news about a child’s mood, school events and expenses.

Like a travelling executive, the child totes the planner with him to each household. It features plastic sleeves for such items as health cards and school permission slips.

Don’t underestimate the power of an errant permission slip, either, Ms. Gionet says. Imagine one parent signing a form about an outing and forgetting to tell the other, but the outing takes place the day the non-signing parent has custody.

“So let’s say Dad signed the permission and forgets to tell Mom,” she says. “Mom doesn’t know about it, so she doesn’t know that she’s supposed to take her kid half an hour early because the bus is leaving early. So when the child gets to school the bus has left and he’s missed the outing. That’s just not fair. … This type of situation is not for the child to be penalized.”

Aside from stemming organizational chaos, the planner steers parents away from the pitfalls of the blank journals many lawyers and family coaches recommend to co-parents, says Ms. Gionet.

“Some people get very creative: Don’t forget the talent show next year. It would be nice if you came this year. You know, she noticed last year that you weren’t here. You should think about your daughter more often and not think about yourself. … Three pages like this,” she says. “Some people get very inspired. And then when it goes back, there are three more pages also. It’s pathetic. It’s not helping. It just fuels the anger.”

In her version, parents are asked to paste a photo of their child on the first page of the planner to remind themselves whom all this to-and-fro is really about.