Co-parenting can be a challenge for many former couples. It is often something that people don’t even discuss until they’re deep in the throes of already doing it. I’ve noticed with a few friends of mine that co-parenting isn’t thought of thoroughly until their ex-partner does or says something they don’t agree with, then voices get raised, and egos get bruised. There will be times that your feelings will be hurt through the co-parenting process, but your hurt feelings should not cause your child to miss out on valuable parenting and quality time from their non-custodial parent.
My ex-husband and I co-parent very well, and have since our separation and subsequent divorce. This isn’t to say that we didn’t have tense moments, hurt feelings, and hard heads. The difference is that we didn’t let any of these personal issues interfere with our parenting or access to the children. Parenting is hard. Being a single parent is harder. Being a single parent while you’re bitter or in the middle of an ugly custody battle with no end in sight is probably hardest of all. Now, I do understand that there may be very good reasons someone cannot peacefully co-parent. If there are drugs involved, the other parent is abusive, or narcissistic, and by narcissistic I mean likely has a diagnosis of the personality disorder and not someone who is simply vain or selfish.
For years I have been asked how my ex-husband and I co-parent so well, and how on earth does my current husband comfortably fit into that equation. Well, since I’m asked so often, I decided to share what worked for us with the hopes that it will work for you as well. If I can help anyone have a less stressful parenting experience then I am all for it.
- Plan before the breakup! I know for some of you it may be too late for this step, but in all honesty, my ex and I talked about how we would want to co-parent in the event of a split while I was pregnant with our first child. This is not to say that we were planning on getting divorced. We were actually married for nearly fifteen years. Making a plan was just something we wanted to do because we both went through ugly custody disputes as children. I think making a plan allowed us to fall back on this plan when we did split years later.
- Be respectful of your ex-partner and their role as a parent. It is so easy when you are the custodial parent to make rules and not consider the parent outside of the home. You’re making rules that fit your home and lifestyle, so it makes sense, but including your child’s other parent in the rule making can ease the transition and confusion for not only you, but the child as well. By including the other parent, you make the rules seamless from one home to the next, and from one parent to the next.
- COMMUNICATE!!!! I really cannot stress this enough. If your child is in trouble at school, or did something unacceptable at home, communicate that with the other parent when it happens, or as close to the event as possible. This again, reinforces to the child that both parents are on the same page and they are less likely to attempt to “split” the households by saying things like “well at mom’s house I can do this” or “dad said I didn’t have to be grounded at his house.” Even when I lived in a different state, I stuck to this rule. Communication helps with consistency and lessens hurt feelings because no one is left out of the loop.
- Prepare your new partner. This one is added in because of hiccups that I’ve seen around one of the parent’s new partners not understanding what healthy co-parenting looks like. Some new partners get jealous of the constant communication, or the family events, and it causes resentment which could disrupt your child’s life. When you start dating someone, before it turns serious, you should let them know that you actively co-parent with your ex-partner. Let them know what that looks like and explain the importance of it for your children. Set up a day to introduce your new partner to your ex-partner. As a parent you want to know who will potentially be around your child, so introductions should be part of the process. This also allows for your new partner to know how serious you are about co-parenting peacefully.
- Don’t keep the receipts. I mean, keep some of your actual receipts. You could use them for tax purposes, maybe. I’m referring to keeping score. Most things are laid out in whatever custody agreement you have, but when it comes to field trips and such, all you can do is communicate. It shouldn’t be about how many times one parent has paid over the other, but the fact that the child got to go on the field trip. I can’t tell you how many extra activities I’ve paid for, but if it’s a big thing like an instrument or braces, you talk about it and work out the particulars. Just don’t throw it in the other person’s face on how much you’ve done for your child.
- Put your children first. I’m sure you’ve noticed a theme in this post. If you’re putting the needs of your children first, then you are on the right track. Putting your kid’s needs above your ego or feelings over a sly or petty comment will keep your responses in check.
- Check your ego. Ego’s get in the way of us living our best lives. The way you respond to things can change the outcome of a situation as well as free you from walking around with hurt feelings. I have discovered that in many instances it is our expected outcome of a question or situation that hurts our own feelings, so I suggest hoping for the best, but preparing for the worst. If you don’t saddle your ex-partner with your expectations then you are less likely to bruise your own ego.
I hope these tips help those of you struggling or thinking about leaving a relationship when a child is involved. This list is not exhaustive and only covers what I know has helped me. If you have other tips that work well for you, I’d love to hear them! Leave them in the comments below and I’ll be sure to engage with you on how to make this co-parenting thing as positive as possible.