I was recently asked why I thought I’ve had success navigating the treacherous waters of parenting with an ex post-divorce. I wish I had a silver bullet to our success. It’s not been an easy road by any means, but even though we were flying blind, I think we’ve worked out most of the kinks.
I sat down with him to talk about our success and to see if we can figure out the steps we took (and are still taking) to rock co-parenting.
We prioritize the kids’ emotional and mental health.
From the beginning, we knew that despite the failure of our marriage, we would do everything in our power to insure that the kids were as healthy emotionally as the situation could allow.
We constantly checked in with the kids, talked through their feelings and let them know they were loved every single day. We listened to their grievances and made adjustments accordingly. All of our own personal issues were set aside so that we could focus on them.
We support each other’s decisions.
This one is not always easy. Was I okay with my eight-year-old watching that PG-13 movie or standing that close to the edge of the hiking trail? Um…no. And I let him know that. But the key was to not let the kids know that I disagreed with any of his parenting decisions or allowances during their time with him.
Creating any doubt or insecurities about his parenting choices would have been a detriment to their well-being and attitude while they are with him. They need to feel that they are in safe hands when they are not with me and there is zero point in involving them in any small disagreements we may have.
Their dad and I have evolved over the years and so has our co-parenting relationship. Now, if we are ever in doubt, we check in for approval from the other parent. Which leads me to the next point …
We ask each other’s opinions.
Ok, so not for everything. Who has time for that? But we have built up enough trust as co-parents to really regard the other’s point-of-view on important rules or life decisions. Is 14 too young to attend a high school party? Should we consider out-of-state colleges for the oldest? We treat each other as sounding boards and here’s the key word…respect each other’s thoughts on parenting issues.
We don’t sweat the small stuff.
It’s tough not to have control over what your kids do, eat, drink, watch, read, etc., when they are not with you. Have you heard the term “part-time parent”? Yeah, it can kinda sucks sometimes. But let’s be real — going to bed an hour past their usual curfew isn’t going to wreck their lives. Having ice cream every night for a whole weekend won’t either.
We just don’t sweat the small stuff anymore. And P.S. — you know how not to feel like a “part time parent”? Have a great co-parenting relationship! I always feel engaged with the kids even when they’re not with me because of the communication I have with their dad throughout the week.
We never put the kids in the middle.
We keep discourse between ourselves. Let me tell ya, putting the kids in the middle of disagreements will just breed resentment and anger in your kids. Just. Stop. Children of divorce love both of their parents. We never vent to the kids about something we are disappointed or upset with. We don’t play angry voicemails or show them texts. We have friends for that (and therapists). We also have our pets. I’ve had many a vent session with Zollie. He’s the best listener. We try to remember, these are our issues, not the kids’.
We follow the same lifestyle rules.
I know this one is pretty tough for a lot of blended families. It’s common for the more insecure parent to over-indulge the child to gain favor. We just don’t play that game. We keep our rules relatively consistent so that the kids know that the same behaviors are expected at both homes. We discuss things like social media accounts, allowances, chores, after-school activities, etc.
It helps that we have pretty much always been on the same page about what we expect from the kids behavior-wise. When we started parenting in two different homes, it would have been easy to drift away from common goals. It’s one of the things that we’ve learned through the years — having the same rules and consequences in both homes strengthens our co-parenting.
We try hard not to push each other’s buttons.
Listen — if you were married for any amount of time, you certainly figured out how to push each other’s buttons. You know what will prickle the other’s mood or what will trigger a certain unpleasant reaction. First of all, you’re not married anymore, and secondly — you’re an adult! Don’t do it. And if one of you is having a bad day and says something regrettable, don’t let that lead you into an argument.
If my ex is feeling especially grumpy, I just choose to ignore that snippy little comment and make an excuse to get off the phone. There is no point in reacting. I can call him later when he (and I) have calmed down instead of getting sucked into drama just because we’re having a bad day.
We are flexible with our time.
We’ve been so lucky to have never needed an official court order to tell us when to see our kids. I know that in most situations post-divorce, it is absolutely needed/recommended. For us personally, the thought of involving a stranger (i.e., a judge) to dictate our time with the kids was so unimaginable that we just never even considered it.
Now, we remain flexible with our time with the kids. We do have set days when the kids are with each of us, but we frequently switch days, give the other extra time or adjust as needed. We involve the kids when possible so that they never feel shuffled from one house to the other. They are part of the decisions and have choices.
We get the kids excited about their time with the other parent.
I know it can be tempting to talk to the kids about all of the wonderful things they will do upon their return to your home. We have always practiced the opposite. When I learn about their weekend plans, I get them excited to leave as opposed to excited to return. “Wow — you guys are going to love learning to surf this weekend with Papa!” As opposed to — “I can’t wait for you to get back! We’ll be taking this amazing trip to xyz, having a party and poopin’ rainbows!”
We want the kids to truly live their best lives, to look forward to and enjoy their time with the other parent. We don’t want to compromise the already limited time they have with the other parent. We are secure enough in our relationships with the kids and within our own co-parenting relationship.
We’re not perfect. Sometimes we mess up. We don’t rock co-parenting all the time. We do though, always strive for consistency and teamwork. We compromise whenever we can and we continue to care about each other as the parents of our kids. I mean, we’re kinda stuck with each other, after all.
We’ll be needing to make parenting decisions for a whole lot longer, so we try to remember that focusing on positive communication and cooperation is key. As is remembering that we chose for them to be our children’s parent in the first place.
This post originally appeared on Lights, Camera, Family!