There’s no two ways about it: Co-parenting is hard work. When you’ve been through a separation, often the last thing you want to do is think about your ex. Unfortunately, that can quickly spill over into your co-parenting dynamic, making life difficult for your children.
Adjusting to their parents no longer living together is a big deal for any child. Your children need stability and love now more than ever. That’s why you need to build and maintain a healthy co-parenting relationship.
Whether you’re already in a co-parenting situation, or you know you’re going to be entering one soon, make a New Year’s resolution to be the best co-parent you can be.
It Starts With You
Even if your ex is being cooperative, co-parenting can be fraught with tension. It’s all too easy to get frustrated with them, or try to push them to do things the way you want to do them.
But you can only control one thing in a co-parenting relationship: Your own actions and reactions.
Make a commitment to yourself and your children to be mindful of your actions and reactions in the coming year. Yes, sometimes you will get frustrated and upset, but the time and place to vent that is not around your children. Handle situations with calmness and poise even if you have to do it through gritted teeth.
It’s Time To Cooperate
Cooperation with your ex is an absolute must. Sit down together and decide:
- Who will have the children for holidays
- Ground rules such as bedtime, snack food allowance, phone privileges, pocket money, restrictions on time spent on TV or video games etc
- Who else will be involved with the children (close friends or extended family)
- How to deal with events such as school concerts, graduation, hospital stays or parent-teacher meetings
Your children need consistent boundaries and to know what to expect from their parents. You and your ex must present a united front and be willing to collaborate on every aspect of your children’s lives.
Cooperation also means keeping your partner in the loop with what is happening in your own life and your children’s lives. You should never find these things out from your children – that’s not their role, and will put undue stress on them.
Never Put Your Children In The Middle
Putting your children in the middle of your relationship with their other parent is a surefire way to hurt and stress them. Of course you don’t want to hurt your children and that’s why you must avoid:
- Bad mouthing their other parent in front of them
- Undermining their parent’s views and decisions – if you have an issue, take it up with your ex
- Using them to get information about their other parent
- Asking them to choose sides
- Doing anything to damage their relationship with their other parent
No matter what you feel about your ex, your children have the right to a safe, healthy relationship with both parents. Do your best to facilitate that, and don’t let anger, hurt or jealousy spill over to your kids.
Be Respectful Of Your Ex
It you can be friendly with your ex, do. You don’t have to be best buddies or spend time together outside of co-parenting, but do try to be friendly when you’re in same room.
If you can’t be friendly, at least aim for civil and avoid jibes and snark. The aim is to provide a warm and tension-free atmosphere for your kids.
Treat your ex with respect. If they call or text, respond, even if just to acknowledge that you got their message. If you need to swap days for being with your kids, or you’re running late and need them to pick your eldest up after football practice, ask nicely. Acknowledge any help or support they give – a simple “thank you” can go a long way.
Build Your Own Support Network
Separation is a difficult time, and painful feelings and issues can arise months or even years later. You need a strong support network to help you get through the stresses of separation – just make sure that support network isn’t your children.
Your children should never feel like it’s their job to offer you emotional support, or that they should cut back on their own lives to be there for you. Whatever you do, never vent to your kids about the separation or your ex.
Take time to nurture your emotional needs by spending time with friends, looking for an online support group or seeing a therapist if you need to. Make sure you have quiet time here and there to nurture yourself and recharge your batteries.
Take care of yourself so your children will get the best of you. They need stability and to see you coping and moving forward with a good attitude.
Above All, Be There For Your Kids
Co-parenting won’t always go according to plan. Even with the best will in the world, you and your ex are only human and emotions will sometimes get in the way. Plans will get canceled or scheduling conflicts will arise.
No matter what happens, make sure your kids know you are there for them. Model respectful, adult behavior and show them a good example of how to handle issues when they arise.
Above all else, make sure your kids know that you are a source of stability and love for them every day.