How can you communicate about child custody issues? When children and divorce go together, things can get complicated and emotional.

When a marriage breaks down it typically means that the relationship stopped working, and your ability to speak with and make important decisions about your children with your soon-to-be ex is most likely impaired.

Over time, some  divorced parents are able to put those feelings aside, but there are plenty of cases where one parent lashes out at the other, becoming combative or starts sabotaging their parenting relationship. In these relationships, one of the parents may be forced to be the only one keeping a level head, and putting the children’s best interests first.

The key to these type of relationships is to always take the high road. Unfortunately, it means making sacrifices – but it’s a better option than putting your children in the middle of what is, ultimately, not their fault. If your ex is not on board with co-parenting, you must make the most of what you’ve got. In the longer term, your children will understand that you behaved with dignity and respect and understand how hard you strived to provide them with a peaceful and uneventful childhood.

1. Commit to Peace

Commit to yourself and your children to do everything in your power to lead a peaceable existence. Leading all of the transactions with your co-parent with this in mind will help to take the drama out of situations. You may flounder, but if you continue to commit and recommit to this basic principle of co-parenting, your children, and maybe even eventually your ex, will respect you for it.

2. Have a Plan

Get your parenting plan in writing with the assistance of a parenting coordinator, mediator, arbitrator or, if necessary, a lawyer. This may seem counterintuitive given the first tip – but you need to make sure that all your bases are covered and you may need assistance to do so. Consider decisions about the children’s schedule and their educational, medical and financial needs. The more that you can decide up front, the less your stress will be when decisions have to be made.

Once the plan is in place, respect your ex’s parenting time and demand the same respect of your own time. This may mean making sacrifices – like not attending some of your children’s events to ensure that your divorce issues don’t color their special days. Your children will appreciate that you kept your focus on them instead of the divorce.

 3. Focus on Your Children

Try to ensure that your children feel safe and comfortable in your home. Don’t pepper conversations with questions about what happens at your ex’s home. You cannot control what goes on in your ex’s house. Don’t fixate on it. Instead, focus on making your time with your children the best it can be.

Help your children anticipate change. Remind kids they’ll be leaving for the other parent’s house before the visit. To make exchanges easier and make kids feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent’s house, ensure they have the basics—toothbrush, hairbrush, pajamas, coats, boots – at both houses.

Give your child space to readjust to being back in your home. Allow them the space and time to adjust to the different environment and routine. Kids thrive on routine—if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it can help the transition.

It may be a long hard road, but eventually your kids will come to see negligent or irresponsible or uncooperative parents for who they are, without any editorializing from you. Being the responsible co-parent can be exhausting and feel like a thankless job, but in the end, your kids are worth it. After all, kids may feel conflicted and bad about themselves if parents say bad things about each other – they are part of each of you.

4. Restrict Communication

This may seem counterintuitive to having a productive co-parenting relationship – but remember, you don’t have one of those. A difficult ex will use verbal communication to twist things and increase conflict. Keep all communication in writing via e-mail or text. If your ex is getting nasty, don’t engage. Remember – you don’t have to respond to everything – just the important things. Keep it level headed and non-reactionary – providing relevant information. Focus on the issues and not on the heat of the conversation. Above all else – listen. If your ex appears to be trying to explain something, take the time to figure out what it is before responding.

If you’re angry or sad and you’ve written something to your ex, don’t hit send until you’ve had time to think about it. Take the time to think about the consequences. Make sure that you haven’t written it to put another mark next to your name on the scoreboard. Put all of your transactions through a filter – if my children were to see this how would they feel? If my ex said this to me how would I feel? Be aware of and in control of your emotions.

Never, ever use your children as messengers. Your dealings with your ex should be with your ex and not be visited on children

5. Take Time for Yourself

Regularly dealing with high conflict will take its toll. You can take steps to minimize the conflict – but it’s still very difficult to completely remove the emotion of the situation. When the children are with your ex, instead of worrying about things you can’t control, take some time to decompress and assess your own health. Make sure you have a good support network, and take the time you need to come to grips with your situation. If necessary, don’t be afraid to access professional help – either for your physical, mental or legal well-being. Venting your emotions is important – but make sure it happens when you don’t have the kids.

By incorporating these tips into your co-parenting relationship, you will ensure that your children feel secure and have a higher self-esteem. Studies have shown that children can adjust to different rules in different homes, but they also benefit from consistency. If you’re consistent in the way they’re treated in your home, and the way you interact with your ex, your children will emulate you and learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.