10 Tips To Master Co-Parenting
Are you separated or divorced, and having a difficult time co-parenting with your ex? If so, you are not alone. Parting ways with someone is often a difficult experience. And when you have a child with this someone, things can get complicated.
Amanda Dutton of Healthy Life Counseling in Gainesville, Georgia authors this week’s blog post on co-parenting. She writes of her own experience and offers insight into behaviors to embrace and avoid when learning to co-parent with your ex.
If you are interested in learning more, check out the Resources page for links to some of the top rated co-parenting books.
Co-parenting doesn’t have to be hard. Seriously.
I’ve been in a successful co-parenting relationship for over 9 years. Has it been perfect? Nope. Has it been a learning experience? Absolutely.
In the beginning, we were both a bit stubborn. We each wanted equal time with the kids, so we tried to shuffle them back and forth every week. It didn’t take long to see the effect this was having on the kids: their behavior was out of control, sleep was difficult…they were not handling the constant changes well at all.
Eventually, we both took a step back and got real.
What were we doing? We were being selfish and not taking into consideration what our “wants” were doing to the kids. We regrouped and decided on a more traditional schedule.
We are now both remarried, so there has been the added dynamic of having an additional partner in the mix. This could have caused more difficulty, but instead, it offered an opportunity for us to evaluate what works best at this point in the kids’ lives.
How we approach the idea of co-parenting determines how easy or difficult it will be. For everyone. Based on my own experience, I’ve compiled a list of the top behaviors to embrace and those to avoid when working toward becoming a co-parenting master.
5 Co-Parenting Habits to Embrace
- It’s not about you. Face it. You may have had a very difficult relationship, but your focus now should be on the kids. It’s time to set aside your differences with your ex and do what needs to be done for the sake of the kids. It can be hard after a particular trying separation, but ultimately, the children will benefit from the effort. Many children feel responsibility for the end of their parents relationship, even though they shouldn’t. Don’t fuel this feeling, focus on helping your kids cope.
- Communication is key. Find a way to communicate that works for you. If verbal communication ends up in a war, try e-mail as a beginning. While the hope is that you will be able to talk at some point, getting some means of conversation going is a start. Lay the groundwork with a simple “Hey, can we talk about how we can best support Jo preparing for the SAT’s? I’d like to know your thoughts and come up with a plan to make things go as smooth as possible.” This opens the door for the other parent to know that you value their opinion and is worded in a way that shows wanting to work together.
- Agree to disagree. In that same course of thought, understand that your thoughts about how to help your child may not align with those of your ex. As long as there are no serious consequences (legal, moral, safety, etc.) involved in the ideas of the other parent, LET IT GO. Yep, that’s right. You can voice your concerns, but step back and allow this experience to remind you that there are things that you can control and those you can’t.
- Respect parenting differences. I don’t always agree with parenting decisions made by my ex; however, they are not decisions that are damaging our kids or are fundamentally against our core values. I let my kids voice their feelings about anything that occurs, but I don’t offer solutions. That’s really hard. I want to call up my ex and tell him “that’s not how you need to be doing that!” But I don’t. Instead, I encourage my kids to respect that parent, voice their concerns if they feel they need to do so, but otherwise they should remember that ultimately, they are still the kid.
- Include the step-parent. Let’s face it, the step-parent is going to be part of your kids’ life. Whether or not you accept the step-parent, they are there. And the kids see that. How you treat the step-parent is as important as how you treat your ex. Remember, you are modeling how an adult should act. Your children are watching everything that occurs so how you treat each other, and how you treat the step-parents, helps determine how your children feel they should treat others that they may not “mesh” with later in life.
5 Co-Parenting Habits to Avoid
- Arguing in front of the kids. Under no circumstances should you let your kids see you in a heated argument. Especially about who they should be with, how much time they spend with you, or what activities they should be allowed to do. Your communication issues are between you and your ex, and problems in that communication aren’t something that the kids need to hear.
- Making kids choose sides. Remember, you are both going to continue being parents of your kids whether or not your relationship survived. The kids should be allowed to love you both as much as they choose, in their own way, without repercussion. Encouraging kids to pull away from one parent or the other can be confusing and cause unhealthy views of parenting relationships.
- Allowing kids to play sides. Kids are smart. They learn very early on that one parent is more likely than the other to give in to certain requests. When you enter a co-parenting relationship, this can be used in a way to play one parent against the other. Especially when one parent has access to the child less often than the other.
- Trying to be a Super-parent. As in the previous habit to avoid, the parent who sees the child less often tries to overcompensate for the missed time with the child, becoming the “Disneyland Parent” that we have heard of many times. There is no benefit to this, and in fact, giving your child these “above and beyond” extras don’t equal being a good parent. They want your time, your attention, your love.
- Having kids be the messenger. Finally, keep communication with your ex directly between the two of you. Having your child be the messenger is unhealthy and puts the child in a situation where they may hear or be told things they are not prepared to understand. Co-parenting is an adult situation that needs to be handled as such.
Our kids see both myself and my ex at every event and activity in which they participate.
They know that they can come to either one of us with an issue and that if needed, we’ll talk about how best to help that child. We both feel that our kids are pretty well adapted to having separate households because they know they are supported in both places.
We’ve continued to make everything about them, not us.
You and your ex are both parenting your children, so the focus should remain there. While your relationship may not have been successful, your children can be. In a co-parenting situation, both you and your ex are in control of how much influence your behavior will have on molding your kids’ success.
What are some co-parenting successes that you and your ex have had? What are some roadblocks? How can you/have you overcome them? Share your thoughts so that others can benefit!
Amanda enjoys working with moms who have forgotten to put themselves first and with women who have had bariatric (weight loss) surgery and are struggling with body image, self esteem, and the emotional issues that relate to the often underlying food addiction. Her practice is focused on the concept that a healthy person takes care of their body and their mind. Amanda writes for various publications, presents at conferences and workshops and maintains a blog on a variety of topics, including her own experiences with weight loss surgery, co-parenting & self care. To learn more about her, please visit her website and check out her blog!
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