Area divorced couple teaching others how to co-parent peacefully
Kari Peterson and Chad Sogge, who divorced in 2003, were able to take their kids on a recent trip to Disney World - along with their new spouses and the children from those marriages.
It was shortly after that trip that Peterson of Glyndon, Minn., decided to write a guide offering parents tips on how to raise their children successful together after separation or divorce.
While they say they're still learning to co-parent successfully after divorce, Peterson and Sogge, of Barnesville, are making it work.
They divorced in 2003 when their two boys were 8 and 2 years old.
Peterson said she searched the internet and bookstores for information on how to successfully co-parent and while she found a lot of books on healing emotionally after divorce, she didn't find what she was looking for on how to successfully raise children together after a divorce.
"It would have been helpful to have that how-to guide as far as what to expect and what to do," Peterson said.
Instead, she and Sogge learned through experience and she's put those lessons into the how-to guide she wrote after that December Disney trip: "Co-Parent Successfully: A Guide to Raising Children in Two Different Houses" and her interactive website: www.coparentsuccessfully.com.
The website includes tools like a scheduling template, an expense tracker template, and a ground rules agreement form.
The guide is an ebook that sells for $2.99 on Barnes and Noble's website BN.com, amazon.com, or itunes.com.
Peterson encourages parents to take a boardroom approach to raising children together after divorce by taking the emotion out of it and focusing on what's best for the children.
"After any divorce emotions are very high," Peterson said. "We've found that no matter the situation, if you focus on what's best for the kids and you do what's best for the kids, you make the right decision."
Peterson and Sogge divide their time and their financial responsibilities with their kids 50/50, they said. The kids alternate homes every other week, but when they're at one parent's home, they still spend two days with the other parent.
They will also do things like sit together at sporting events because their oldest son said he only wanted to have to look into one place in the stands to find his family.
"Communication is the most challenging," Sogge said. "There's a tendency to under-communicate and that can lead to assumptions."
Parents also have to be careful not to make their kids the conduit for dialogue, he said.
"The moment they feel like the middle person, that's a ton of stress, that's a ton of anxiety that they carry," he said.
The more he and his ex talk, the more they can make sure they're working toward what's best for their boys, Sogge said.
Kids will still try to get something from one parent when the other says no, even after the divorce, so communication is key, he said.
"The reality is when you get divorced and you have children, your relationship with that person doesn't end," Peterson said. "I think immediately after we got divorced, we knew we had to do what was best for the kids, but we didn't know how to handle the schedule, expenses, communication."
"And it wasn't the most optimal time to sit down and work through and talk about how to handle those things," Sogge said. "It was just an incredibly emotional time."
No matter the approach, the basis for effective co-parenting after divorce seems to be effective communication.
Sabrina Schindler of Moorhead and her ex-husband share custody of their son and daughter.
What works for them is to have their kids alternate homes every two weeks, Schindler said.
"We had attempted a weekday/weekend arrangement for a while and that was a disaster, then we tried every other week but it felt like we were constantly changing," she said. "Two weeks was long enough to feel like we get quality time before they go to the other parent."
They also have a standing agreement to adjust their schedules as necessary or if, for example, Mother's Day falls during one of Schindler's ex-husband's weeks, she will still get to take the kids for that day, she said.
They split expenses down the middle and neither collects child support, she said.
"My belief on that topic is that we got divorced because we weren't right for each other, that doesn't mean either of us were bad parents," Schindler said. "I trust that he will always provide for his children and he feels the same about me."
Schindler said there are still occasional fights, but ultimately it's not about her and her ex, it's about the kids.
"As long as they are happy, then we will deal with whatever we need to deal with between the two of us," she said.
Cami Elliott of Barnesville, Minn., said she and her ex-husband work hard to make sure their daughter feels free to spend time at either home.
They keep their parenting time schedule flexible to accommodate their daughter's busy schedule of activities, she said.
Her new husband and her ex-husband's fiancée support their efforts and their daughter feels comfortable at either home and completely loved by each parent, Elliott said.
"We have worked very hard and it hasn't always been easy, but we can definitely see the benefits," she said.
Cynthia Davies of Plymouth, Minn., formerly of Fargo, and her ex-husband, Brian Davies of Fargo, used a collaborative divorce structure in their divorce, where they always met with both attorneys and made collaborative, respectful decisions that were predicated on what was generally fair and equitable for all parties and in the best interest of the children, Cynthia Davies said.
After the divorce, they carried that structure into the way they raised their children, she said.
"Although it wasn't always easy sailing, most often the decisions about the children were mutual and required some give and take, not only on the part of parents, but the children as well," Cynthia Davies said.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526