Never in a million years did I think that all 3 of my children would have different dads BUT all I can say is-life sure is unpredictable!! Situations happen in life that are not in your control & the only thing you can do is what’s best for yourself & your kids. Through the ups and downs one thing I’ve learned along the way is how to successfully co-parent with the other person. Has it been hard? You ‘betcha. Do we still have struggles sometimes? Yup. The most important thing to remember is just because you don’t work together as a couple doesn’t mean you can’t work as parents! Finding the perfect balance that’s filled with respect, grace & tolerance is a lot of work but I’ll tell you one thing-it’s worth it.
When I first had to co-parent with my oldest daughters dad it was ROUGH. By rough I mean we couldn’t ever communicate, we always assumed negative intentions from each other & never saw eye to eye on ANYTHING regarding our daughter. I had my daughter 2 days before I turned 21 so we were very young. I’m sure age & maturity had something to do with why it was so rough for us back then but over time one thing stayed the same-we both wanted what was best for our daughter. Practicing compassion was something we both lacked but quickly realized it was something we both needed. Putting yourself in the other persons shoes is one of the most important factors to co-parenting. Sometimes it’s easy to think selfishly (especially when things get nasty towards the end of the relationship) but it’s not about you two anymore- it’s about the kids. If you have any unsettled anger or resentment from the past you need to find a healthy way to take care of it. Depending on how the relationship ended you might need to seek professional help from a therapist and that’s ok! Getting yourself healed enough to set the past aside to positively impact your children’s future is so important. Take the time to settle those feelings no matter how painful or negative they are. It’ll be worth it not just for children, but for yourself.
The toughest co-parenting situation for me (even currently) is with my ex husband. Our relationship ended very negatively & caused a lot of pain for me personally. I used the pain to grow in a positive way but I’m human and every once in a while still struggle with certain things. Growing through that pain positively was difficult & a lot of tears were shed but it was definitely worth it. Supporting someone who was once the most toxic person to you seems insane right? Wrong. Showing support for the other parent, especially in front of the kids, helps them understand that you two are still on the same page. It sets an example for them that no matter what they can’t manipulate mom & dad against each other. Which if you ask anyone who’s separated from their partner some kids will act out ANYWAY that can pulling out all the bad behavior moves. It’s already hard enough getting the kids used to a new routine/schedule that doesn’t involve both of you, showing no support for each other just makes it harder. Getting together with the other parent to establish a set of guidelines at both houses helped me and my ex husband stay on the same page while communicating better. Whenever we would pick up our son we would give the other person an update on him like if he was grounded, behaved well or not, and any other little details we felt were important. Sometimes it’s time sensitive to give the other parent updates on things that happen during your time with the child. I’m not talking he threw a fit so I grounded him kind of update but if his school has an event going on or something happened at the doctors office-those kind of updates. Keeping the other parent in the loop with things going on in your kids life helps them feel included & like they’re still apart of things everyday. It’s already hard enough spending time away from the kids you once were around all the time. Learning to be ok with the alone time hit me hard before I had my third child. It’s perfectly normally to grieve the alone time at first because well change is hard & those are your babies! But after the initial shock wears off use the alone time for yourself in a positive way. Being a mom means we never have the time to be selfish or do things for ourselves, especially single moms! So if you are getting help from your partner take advantage of that free time to heal your wounds, do things you never had the time for & explore who YOU are. Not only will you thank yourself but so will your kids.
Compromise is hard, especially when hurt feelings are involved. The thing that helped me during tough co-parenting times was thinking of my ex’s as business partners. Sometimes they really annoy the shit out of you but regardless of feelings you remain calm & collected because it’s business. You might not want to compromise with the man who broke your heart but you would compromise with your business partner especially over something completely logical. Believe it or not you can solve problems without being best friends. A lot of problems in co-parenting can simply be solved with compromise. Meeting in the middle makes everyone happy, including the kids. If you absolutely cannot find a middle ground you might need a mediator or therapist to help the two of you come to a peaceful understanding. There are local resources that will help separating parents with an already stressful time so don’t be afraid to ask for help, it’s one of the bravest things you could do!
Sharing holiday time has actually never been an issue for me co-parenting wise. When we first moved to Colorado part of the agreement I had with my daughters dad was he got to see her on Christmas & spring break plus summer. It was expected I would not get her during Christmas and I was okay exchanging that because I would have her 98% of the time. Putting myself in the other parents shoes helped me come to terms with that. Did I want to have my daughter home on Christmas? of course. Did I want to be able to move state lines having my whole family intact while letting my daughter continue to grow the relationship with her dad? of course. So I made the agreement that was best for my daughter & her dad. Now that we both live in the same state we go and do things together! It’s much easier coordinating our schedules when you live down the street. For Fourth of July we all got together to watch the fireworks and weekend park meet up’s to ride bikes or hangout happens often. With my ex-husband it’s a different story but we’re working on it. We have yet to reach a place where we can hangout with the kids in the same space. A lot of pain & trauma on both ends caused such deep craters that getting to a decent level of co-parenting has been hard. For a while we couldn’t even talk to each other so we communicated only through email or text. We’ve finally been successful co-parenting without any fights or problems for about 6 months now, so I’m proud to say there’s progress. Maybe one day we’ll get to the point we can all hangout & be civil as the years weed out the messiness. In order for me and my ex husband to share joint time with our child we make sure to let the other person know ahead of time with important dates besides normal visitation. For example, my ex’s family was coming into town and he wanted our son for a few extra days that week. Since he had let me know about this and asked weeks in advance I totally agreed. Planning ahead is respectful and easier for both parties when done correctly. It allows you to maintain the flow of your everyday family life while adjusting every once in a while for holidays or special events.
Obviously when you aren’t together with the other parent anymore new people come into the situation. It’s sometimes a little awkward coming into a situation where kids are involved and everybody has their own way of dealing with these kind of things. For me personally it’s always been easier to just be upfront and honest with my ex once I knew the current relationship was serious. I made an effort to let my ex know before I introduced the kids to this new person (I’ve only done this twice but it’s what worked for me). Unfortunately factors come into play & sometimes you are forced to make a judgement call when the other person just refuses to compromise. It’s only practical to assume one day your child will have a step-parent someday & when the time comes for you to meet this new person view them as an ally not an enemy. You want to be this persons friend but sometimes going into the situation has mixed emotions attached. Things get messy but it doesn’t mean they have to stay that way! I’ve had both ends of the spectrum happen for me & even when I’m hated for just being the ex-wife I’ll still continue to not show hate to her. I’m the person who chose to leave my ex husband so for me there’s no reason for bitter or hard feelings.
The last piece of advice I have to give about co-parenting is don’t be a spy. You’re not a detective for the FBI so just calm down & don’t assume the worst. By that I mean don’t use your kid as a pawn to figure out what’s happening over at the other parents house. If you think it’s something serious, like neglect, talk to the other parent directly or involve CPS, but never involve the child. Trust the other parent has good intentions for your child & has a good radar for the people they’re bringing around your child. After all, you aren’t the only one who created & cares for this little human. But every circumstance is different and sometimes people aren’t fully capable of being a parent alone. Trust your instinct but whatever you do- don’t involve the child.
To sum up what we just read, these are in my own personal experience 10 things to a successful co-parenting relationship.
- Show compassion
- Heal the past/anger
- Show support for each other
- Set guidelines for both households-together
- Give the other parent updates
- Learning to be ok by yourself
- Planning big events ahead of time
- Befriend the new person
- Don’t be a spy
Lots of other articles & blogs had given me tips along the way especially when I was going through my divorce these last few years. There isn’t an exact pattern to co-parenting it’s mainly what works best for you & your family. It might take a little while to get into a routine with it all but there is no rush, take your time. Do your own research, reach out to the other parent to get them involved & don’t forget to focus on the kids. Sometimes relationships ending gets really messy and very emotional. Even though you wouldn’t ever forget about your kids, you might forget to help them focus on the positives during this tough situation. Let them be kids & encourage them to be honest about how they’re feeling. It’s a rough time for everyone, so be kind & gentle-especially to yourself. You’re doing the best you can along this new journey. As time goes on and the fog clears, you’ll be really glad you chose to remain on the positive side of it all.