While my ex-husband and I did a wonderful job of getting through our divorce without major drama, the same cannot be said of our co-parenting relationship. As most people in this situation will tell you, the things that you loathed about your spouse will be magnified times 1000 once you are forced to parent with them but no longer have a traditional relationship with them. The reasons that your marriage didn’t work will be more defined and heightened when it comes to parenting your children together, and the smallest things can be grounds for all out war.
Everyone will tell you to put the children first. Not to put them in the middle between you and your ex. It is easier said than done, but you have to make this the Golden Rule. As a parent, we all start with the best intentions but I believe everyone struggles regardless of how dedicated you are. Here are a few things that I have found work for me, and some things that I plan on implementing in the year to come.
- Follow the rules and consequences of the primary house. In most situations, children are with the primary parent 80% of the time. They get confused when there are two different sets of rules. Children need to know that BOTH parents are on the same page otherwise they will find the areas that you aren’t and take advantage of those. It doesn’t make them bad kids; it makes them human.
- Don’t argue about the little things. Suggested bed times, nap times and taking vitamins every day are not items to wage war over. It’s pointless. Your ex-spouse is not trying to control you.
- Don’t text with your ex. It is too intimate of a communication style for two people who no longer have an intimate relationship. Email. Talk on the phone only when necessary. Even if you have a great relationship with your ex, at some point it will turn because there’s a reason that they are your ex.
- Document everything so there are no misunderstandings. Keep your emails back and forth in a separate folder that you can refer back to later if you need to.
- Step-up regarding school and extra curricular activities. Get on email lists, print out the calendars, and know what is going on in your children’s day-to-day lives. Don’t rely on your ex to do it for you; it’s not their job.
- Don’t be sneaky. Ever. Going behind your ex’s back to do something for your child sets a horrible example. If you have disregard for your ex and show that to your children, you are giving them permission to do the same thing. These consequences may not be seen when they are 6 or 7, but wait until they are 16 or 17. Those lessons can’t be undone.
- Don’t be afraid to be in the same room with each other. Make sure that your children know that if they need BOTH of you – they’ll get both of you.
- Never make your children choose. It’s beyond awful to make them choose between the two of you. If your ex-spouse does this, be the bigger person and don’t. Your children will thank you for it when they are older.
- Don’t be a lazy parent. Answer the phone when your ex calls; don’t make your child do it. Parents are supposed to communicate with each other – not through the child.
- Buy presents for birthdays, Mothers/Fathers day and Christmas. Regardless of what the other person does. Even if they are remarried, take your children out and get them something for their other parent. Or encourage them to make something. It will go a long way in showing your children that you really do have their best interests at heart.
- Let go of some of your mutual friends. Unless it is someone who is an every-day-life-long-can’t-live-without friend, scale back.
- Don’t be “friends” with your ex either. This is a recipe for disaster. Let them have their life – you have yours. Don’t spy on them on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc. Be a grown up and let them have their own life. Embrace the “unfriend” button!
- Keep your new partners in their place. This is the most difficult part of co-parenting; when other people who love your children enter the picture. I am a firm believer that bonus-parents can love a child just as much as bio-parents can. I also firmly believe that bonus-parents have one of the hardest jobs around. I understand all of that (and I’ve experienced it first hand). The co-parenting relationship needs to stay between the parents when at all possible. It’s a difficult situation to manage for a parent – dealing with a new spouse and potentially new children while maintaining a positive relationship with an old one. They are often put in the middle between the two – and so is the child. It’s not an impossible situation, but it takes a lot of work. You have to respect the other person’s right to make decisions for their child – even if you don’t like it or them. The co-parents need to work together in a situation like that so that the rules of both houses can be respected.
I hope that some of these points that I’ve outlined are things that you are already doing, or will think about doing in the year to come. Children deserve to have the best childhood possible, and that includes two parents that work with each other, not against each other.
I’d love to hear any thoughts or ideas you have on the subject.