How To Co-Parent With Your Ex-Lover

by Ashley Simpo
Originally Published: 
Ex-lovers co-parenting and walking down the street with their kid
Mint Images - Tim Robbins

My ex-husband and I started out as best friends. Then accidental lovers. Then we were obsessed with each other for a while. We got married, we fought like dogs, we ended and got back together, and then ended one last time.

That’s the short version of our story. All lovers have a story. And like a quilt it’s made up of scraps and pieces of things that once had so much meaning. Lovers come and go. Sometimes the thought of them chills you, sometimes it warms you  —  reminds you of your youth or your stupidity or your frivolity.

Sometimes you make a baby with your lover. And when you do, the two of you are bound together in a way that will sometimes feel like a cruel joke and sometimes feel like the only family you actually have. Because two things happen when you make a permanent decision with a temporary person:

You realize that life will not soften itself for you.

And you realize that everything you ever did together left a mark.

If you want to rub salt in your ex-lover’s wounds, this probably isn’t the article for you to read. If you aren’t ready to embrace the cardinal rule of parenthood (that it’s hard and not really about you), this probably isn’t the article for you to read.

I’m writing this for those of us who are trying to get it together. We’re trying to be parents and people at the same time. Trying to raise kids who won’t grow up feeling like they missed out on something. We, the jugglers of glass balls, have no road map for this.

But I have learned a few things along the way.

Healing is messy

No breakup is mutual.

Let me repeat: No. Breakup. Is. Mutual.

One of you is hurt more than the other — even when breaking up was the only logical outcome. And hurting while trying to raise children is like drowning while you blow up a life vest.

If you want to build a healthy, sustainable, long-lasting relationship with the only other person in the world who loves your kid as much as you do , you will both have to heal.

Healing from a breakup requires space. Be okay with that. Let the scrapes and cuts touch some fresh clean air, un-muddled by each other’s presence. Be okay with a little bit of silence, be okay with having a few strained conversations consisting of only “kid stuff,” be okay with someone who once looked at you like you were made of silk starting to avoid eye contact altogether.

Be okay with these things and they will pass. Your relationship is going to get better. It’s okay that you don’t like each other right now. Stay kind, stay as supportive as possible ,  but remember you are not best friends right now.

And that’s okay.

Setting up boundaries while co-parenting

Someone once told me that she had to get to know her ex-husband as a new person after they divorced. There is an unlearning process that happens when two people are forced to move on. Some topics may no longer be your business anymore. I remember biting my tongue when my ex told me he was going to be busy Saturday night.

Was it a date? Did she meet my son? Was it serious?

I felt entitled to the answers of the questions that popped up in my mind. But his Saturday night activities were no longer my business. For a while we limited our conversations to our son’s tuition, clothes he needed, funny things he said or did. Eventually we started laughing at old inside jokes and feeling like friends again. But that came after almost a year of learning things the hard way.

Your ex-lover doesn’t need to know who you’re dating. They don’t need to know where you’re going. They don’t need to know anything that may lead to an uncomfortable conversation. You’re entitled to your privacy, and so are they.

Don’t blur lines with your co-parent. Don’t exist in a tangle of comfort zones. Parenthood is hard, lonely sometimes . Especially when you’re single. Especially when you’re healing. But do the hard shit.

Break up. Move on. Be separate people.


I once had a completely ignorant and highly disrespectful argument with my son’s father. Later that same day, I told our son how Daddy used to be a pro-skateboarder and how cool he is for always following his dreams. In my mind exist two people. The man I fell in love with, saw magic in, and had a child with. And the guy I sometimes want to set on fire.

My son is only privy to one of those people: the dope one. Because our marriage along with it’s crash and burn is our business  —  his and mine — not our son’s. We keep our occasional “hatred” to ourselves and leave the beautiful bits for our offspring to sort through.

Let your children know they come from beauty. Because your roots will always have an impact on how far you feel entitled to grow.

Please get laid

You might need a few months or even a year before you’re really ready to move on with someone new. And when you couple that with being a single parent , who has time to date?

Find the time.

Move on. Find a handsome, exciting man or a gorgeous, amazing woman, and go have fun. Put some effort into a new love. Or a new Netflix and chill buddy. Because putting effort toward a love life also translates into putting effort into yourself. Take all those lessons you learned from your previous situation and be better for someone new. Get laid, get lost on your kid-free weekend, feel sexy, dance in the darkness, go kiss someone who thinks you fart strawberry-scented unicorn dust.

Don’t be one of those people stuck on punishing themselves because of their last “failed” love. No love is a failure. You’re seasoned now, that’s all.

So go be spicy. And please, please get laid.

Know your family

You can be mad about it all you want. But that man or woman you no longer want to be with is your family. It’s complicated when you have to simultaneously push them away and at the same time   embrace them more than anyone in your life.

Still, they are and will always be your family. Their new partners, also your family now. Be respectful of each other’s new partners, embrace them.

At the center of this amalgamated family are children who deserve to look around their various spaces and see a community of grown-ups who are helping them thrive.

Pick a day per week or a day per quarter  —  but make it consistent. Plan a road trip or a museum day or go see a movie. Spend time as a family, stay engaged, keep it light, and keep it fun.

There is no dusting off of the hands and walking away here. Settle in.

Enjoy (spoil) your kid

There’s a good chance that if you call me on a random Friday night I won’t pick up. Not because I’m out with the girls or on a hot date, but because I’m in bed with popcorn, my 3-year-old, his stuffed elephant (named “Monkey”), and a marathon of kids movies.

I have kept my son home from preschool on a random Tuesday, called off meetings, and cleared my schedule just to go lay on a beach with him and build sand turtles.

Sometimes we go get on rides at the kids’ park after school when I should be running errands. When he asks me for a new Hot Wheels car at Target even though we’re only there to get cheese and body wash, I always say yes.

His dad and I plot on gifts for him. We let him ball out a little more often than we did when we were together. I’m sure child-rearing experts will say spoiling your kids to make up for family changes is irresponsible.

But if something creates a joyful experience in your child’s life , you do it. And you do it as often as you possibly can. I’m not saying let your well-mannered child morph into an asshole because he no longer has boundaries.

But, like, let him eat cake.

Because the Internet

Technology is a beautiful thing. I embrace it fully when it comes to raising kids in two households. It makes things easier, and it makes them interesting.

Here are a few co-parenting life hacks:

Digital diary: Set up a free Gmail account for your kid (i.e., “[yourkidsname]”) and make it a point to create an email diary together. Both of you can send emails with stories or quick thoughts as you observe your child growing up from two separate perspectives. Throw in photos, voice messages, videos  — whatever.

Give your kid the password when they turn 18.

Skype, Hangout, FaceTime  —  always: My son’s father is in New York. We’re in California. But, thanks to FaceTime, his father is still part of bedtime. He’s part of our drive to school in the morning. Our son hears us talk about work, how he’s doing in preschool, bills. He doesn’t understand the complicated bits, but he knows Daddy and Mommy still laugh together, still care about each other, and still remain on the same team. If you can’t have traditional interactions, create new traditions.

They have apps for this shit now: Who has the kid which days? Can we switch — I have a thing that night? Who’s paying for next month’s co-pay? What’s your social again?

Get organized and stay on top of stuff. Don’t always be the parent who forgot to bring the cupcakes. They have apps for this shit now. Apps like 2houses and Alimentor offer solutions for managing child-related finances, medical records, custody calendars, and more. Download and do better.

A Few Words of Encouragement

If you’re like me, you probably beat yourself up on occasion. You tell yourself you messed up, you should have tried harder, you should have been more mindful. I have a moment at least once a month in which I almost convince myself that I’m completely ruining my child.

But I’m not. And neither are you.

You’re amazing. If you clicked on this you probably click on a lot of parenting articles and that makes you even more amazing. Stay open to the possibility that this is the exact journey you (and your child) are meant to be on. That this  —  the mess, the pain, the weirdness  —  is beautiful. Beauty isn’t perfection. Beauty is grace. Accept yourself as much as possible, because raising kids isn’t easy, and it comes with a rainfall of bad advice and people who may convince you that you are doing it wrong.

But you’re not. And neither am I.

Your ex-lover is a beautiful person. Don’t convince yourself that they aren’t as a way of rationalizing why it didn’t work. Things don’t work sometimes, and often the reason why is hard to put your finger on. But the subtleties of life are just as important as the flashing lights.

So embrace the fact that your ex is your ex.

Acknowledge the fact that, despite the breakup, you’re forever bound. Seek the grace that exists between holding on and letting go.

Dance in the awkwardness to come. Smile. Love yourself and every dumb decision you have ever made.

This is life now, kiddo. Welcome to adulting.

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