Parenting: No one starts out knowing how to do it, and most of us don’t expect to be doing it alone, or with a new partner as our kids get older.
I’d like to share five lessons I’ve learned over several years of navigating co-parenting relationships:
1. Sometimes your kid’s other life comes first.
One of my kids lives somewhere else and has a whole life there. He is being raised by other parents, goes to a different school, and has friends we don’t know.
When kids reach a certain age, their friends become their priority, and you can’t just pull them away for mandatory family time. If you insist on a certain day and time for your own benefit, they won’t thank you for it.
When birthdays come around, we want to see him, but sometimes we opt out. We make special plans when it’s our turn and support his other parents throwing him a huge party with all his friends.
He has vastly different experiences there than here, and different things he likes about both places. We respect the differences and enjoy what we have. Trying to take things away from the other parent always results in an unhappy child.
Make it work for your kid and respect them.
2. Choose your battles.
When we have our kids, we try to spend as much quality time with them as we can. This does not mean arguing over which part of the holiday is “ours.” My kids don’t sit around whining over which house they are at, because they are happy at both.
Fighting for that extra day isn’t (always) something you are doing for your child.
Recognize if you’re caught in a power struggle. In many cases, you can do the same things and have the same experiences in five days that you can in six, and a good relationship with their other parent is priceless.
3. Your kids are always watching.
Blended families are becoming more common. Children in traditional families are watching their parents interact and learning about adult relationships through the example they set. Blended families have twice that responsibility.
It’s our job to show our kids how to navigate a shift in the family dynamic. They watch these different parent and step-parent interactions at every pick-up and drop-off.
Show them what you want for them in their own life should they be in your shoes one day.
4. It’s not a competition.
One day my son is going to be an adult with his own family and be able to look back with perspective. If I’m unhappy with the toys and gifts he is receiving or the family values are different between homes, it doesn’t matter.
I raise my son to be the best person he can be by my own morals and values and ignore the rest. He will grow up, look back, and see us all for who we really are and make his own choices.
I believe that my tolerance, respect, and ability to keep him from being in an uncomfortable situation will keep me on his good side when he’s grown up and makes his own choices.
Parenting is not a competition. If you were still with your ex, it wouldn’t be, so it shouldn’t be now.
5. Don’t co-parent too closely.
In my experience, there’s a line you don’t want to cross.
It’s hard to see exes having barbecues together and joint parties on Facebook while having a polite but distant relationship with your own.
Boundaries are a good thing.
What may work for some will not work for others, and forcing a bunch of people who don’t want to be friends into the same room to smile for a camera can potentially be negative for a child. If eye rolling or under-the-breath comments are likely, just say no.
You don’t have to be friends (unless you want to), and you won’t fool the kids.
Every family dynamic is very different, but so often I see parents fighting “for their child,” when what they’re really fighting is a negative ex, a bad breakup, or their own fear that they aren’t good enough. Fighting against the other parent does not always equate to fighting for your child. They won’t thank you for it. Make decisions with open eyes. What you want will not always be what’s best for your child, but if you can differentiate between the two, everyone wins in the end.