Philosophy: Choose your battles.
By no means am I an expert on relationships. I just have three year’s worth of real-world experience at co-parenting.
Co-parenting is hard to navigate at first. There are almost always hard feelings and open wounds to work around. It’s so easy to break up and distance yourself from the other person in order to heal. But kids are a lifetime commitment, so is handling their other parent.
Although it’s not easy to do, there are a few skills to master when it comes to dealing with this new version of a relationship.
Surrender some control right now. It might even feel good. No longer will you be able to have 24/7 control over what goes on at home when it comes to the kids. If they’re happy and safe, all is well.
They may not be eating exactly what you’d make them or wearing exactly what you’d put on them, but if they come back to you and they’re healthy, it’s all good.
Choosing Your Battles
If there are some things you can’t let go of, choose your battles. Certain things like how and when they take medicine is certainly a battle worth choosing. What kind of cereal they eat probably is not.
It means more to have a good working relationship with the other parent than to pick fights over trivial things. You have to talk. A lot. As hard as it is, removing feelings from the equation usually lends a better perspective. I hate confrontation, and, unless it’s something critical, I take a deep breath and let it go.
This one is tough. This one takes remembering the kids are always watching in order to master. Make it a point never to talk badly about the other parent or their family or anything that is important to the other parent in front of the kids.
I work hard at making myself indifferent when it comes to those things anyway, but if something strikes a nerve, I always side with their dad and try to explain his reasoning for doing what he’s doing.
Some day they will be old enough to make their own decisions and draw their own conclusions about him and his family and my own family and me. When that time comes, I don’t want them to form opinions shaded by my own hurt, anger or resentment.
I had to learn not to suck at this one and the single best way to do it is to remember one thing: it’s all about the kids. At first, it’s especially hard. There are so many things to say and ask that have nothing to do with the kids. Forget. Them.
In order to co-parent successfully and remove emotional ligatures (if that’s what you want to do), keep it all about the kids. Keep it strictly texting and email if need be. That way, there’s time to process questions and answers before saying something that will be regretted later.
But keep it all about the kids. If the other parent can’t seem to do that, it’s OK. Don’t respond to anything unless it’s regarding the kids and feel free to tell them up front that’s what you’ll be doing.
There’s an ebb and flow to this sometimes. The cuts will heal and small talk finds its way back. Something may happen and all you’ll talk about is the kids again. It’s ok. Doing this protects your sanity, which is especially crucial for co-parenting.
This is especially true if you have an exceptionally nosy 8-year-old. You may not even need to ask questions. You may get all kinds of information. Most of it is little half-truths.
Kids hear things. They have great imaginations. They also spill every secret you tell them. Those are things worth remembering. If there’s a question about what’s going on at the other parent’s house that seems like something you should know (and not from your 8-year-old), ask. That’s why it’s important to keep communication open and working.
Doing this also lets the other parent know what the kids are focusing on and how they’re interpreting what’s going on around them.
Remembering the Other Parent
Just because your relationship with them ended, does not mean your children’s did. If the other parent is willing and capable of being a co-parent, try to be grateful that your children have someone else in their lives to love them. There’s no such thing as too much love.
I always try to get small gifts for the kids to give their dad for Christmas, birthdays and Father’s Day. Not only do they want to have something to give him that they can’t go get all by themselves yet, but it shows them I still care that he’s their dad.
I know this is easy to write and easy to read and really hard to do. I know every situation is different. Some parents are better off not being in their kid’s lives period. That makes for an only-parent situation (I’m also intimately familiar with this one) and that’s a whole post in itself.
But if you’re fortunate enough to have a co-parent who’s willing and able to do their share, I hope some of these skills help get you through the tough times. There will be more ahead for all of us.
No one said it would be fair or easy, but we’re all in it together.