When my ex and I first separated in 2014, it was honestly a mess. We were both hurting, resentful of each other, and angry with ourselves. We were also uneducated when it came to co-parenting. We didn’t want to be together, yet our children needed to maintain their relationships with both of us. How could we give our children what they needed–strong, healthy relationships with both parents–even though we didn’t really want to be around each other or speak to each other?
Here are the steps:
- Evaluate your expectations. There are things you don’t like about your ex. There are ways that they care for the children that you do differently. When you believe your way of parenting is best (I’m so guilty of feeling this way–I’ll tell you about that another time!), you constantly find yourself wishing your ex would do things the way you do. I’m going to be that friend that tells you like it is. The reality of co-parenting is that you can parent the way that you want to, and your ex is free to parent the way that he/she wants to, and neither of you are truly right or wrong. (The only exceptions are if the other parent is repeatedly not following the court order or if it involves abuse or neglect of the child. In those cases, document it, and take appropriate action.) Most of us spend a lot of time arguing with our ex and complaining about them to others, stating things like, “If he would just listen to me and put the kids to bed at a decent time, they wouldn’t be so crabby when they come back to my house!” That type of mindset is toxic to a co-parenting relationship, and here’s why: you are making your satisfaction of your co-parenting relationship dependent upon whether or not your ex will uphold your expectations. In reality, your ex is going to do what he/she wants, regardless of what you expect. Even if you text your ex, “Make sure you get them to bed by 8:00 PM tonight,” if your ex wants to put the kids to bed at 8:30, 9:00, 9:30… he/she’s going to do it anyway. Your ex could even text you back and say, “Okay,” but still keep the kids up until 9:00. And that’s okay. Unless he/she is being truly neglectful or abusive, your ex is entitled to choose the routines, meals, discipline, activities, clothing, etc, when the children are in his/her custody. If a child is struggling behaviorally, developmentally, etc, then I strongly recommend you both speak to a healthcare professional or counselor, who will give specific ideas on how both parents can address those specific issues for the sake of consistency with the child. Otherwise, there’s honestly not a thing you can do about your ex’s parenting habits. You can expect that the children will be taken care of when they are with their other parent, but any time you find yourself telling yourself or your ex how the children should be taken care of, stop and re-evaluate those expectations. It will save you so much frustration.
- Respect your ex. You don’t have to like your ex, but you do need to respect them. Respect your ex’s time with the children. Be on time with scheduled exchanges. If you have a schedule in which they are with the other parent for five or more days in a row, it’s okay to have a brief phone call or two with the children on the other parent’s time. But be respectful that they are spending much needed time with their other parent, and it isn’t necessary to “check on” the children daily. In my experience, my ex and I each have the children for 3-4 days in a row, and we rarely call the kids on the other parent’s time or text to see how the kids are doing. If there’s an issue, I call or text him, and vice versa. Otherwise, I know that when they’re at dad’s house, he’s taking care of them the best way he can, and that’s their time to enjoy being with their dad. Finally, respect your ex as a person–do not speak negatively to your children or around your children about their other parent. Refrain from quizzing your children about the time they spent with your ex. It’s okay to ask, “How was your time at daddy’s house?” But let the child determine what they want to share with you and then move on to enjoying your time with your child.
- Avoid social media venting. When we are irritated or upset, a lot of us like to vent. I vent to my husband all the time. Sometimes we just want the validation of having others say, “You’re right! I would be mad too.” But here’s the downfall of social media venting: the people you are venting to are already on your side. Your social media connects to your friends and family or a group of people who share common interests with you. And they’re only hearing YOUR perspective of the situation. Likely, you will obtain the validation you were looking for, but what good does this do for you and your co-parenting relationship with your ex? It creates more resentment, it fuels your feelings of frustration, but it doesn’t solve the problem. Instead of venting, try rephrasing the negative situation in a way that asks for positive solutions from others. For example, instead of posting, “Should I be mad about this: my ex lets my children stay up until midnight on Saturday night, and they’re so tired and crabby when I get them on Sunday!”, rephrase the problem in search of a positive solution. Leave the ex-blaming out of the equation altogether: “What are some ways you’ve overcome having a difference in opinion about bedtimes with your co-parent?” Seek out solutions instead of validation. Keep in mind step 1 as well, that if what you’re tempted to vent about is part of those daily decisions made by the other parent (and it does not involve abuse or neglect), it’s time to re-evaluate your expectations.
For the sake of our children, we all need to learn how to co-parent effectively. Even if you are dealing with a difficult ex that has not yet learned how to follow these steps, you can be the one to take the lead. Have patience with yourself as well as your ex, and know that we all get frustrated with our co-parent partner at times. No co-parenting relationship is perfect. But the more we strive to accept our differences and respect each other, the easier co-parenting will become, and that’s what’s best for both you and your children.
What are ways that make your co-parenting successful?