5 Tips on Co-parenting After Divorce
If you’ve read any blog I’ve ever written about divorce, I always say the same thing at least once—no matter the circumstances surrounding your separation, getting divorced sucks.
That being said, there are things you can put into practice that take away some of that suckery. In fact, you can find some peace—even joy—in co-parenting.
I share a son with my ex—age10.5. And from the moment I told him I wanted out, he was all I could think about.
Will I get to see them enough?
How can I support them financially?
Is this going to destroy their lives?
Four years later, and we’re still standing. Not only that, we’re happy. Not in the Instagram-highlight-reel kind of way. But in the deep-down, life-is-good kind of way. Are there hard moments/days/weeks? Duh. We’re still a part of the human race, and tough seasons are unavoidable regardless of your marital status.
How did we get here? Well, it’s been ugly. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. We’ve screamed, we’ve threatened. I can only speak for myself, but I will admit to being petulant, less-than-honest, vengeful, and rude on (more than one) occasion. Guess what? You’re not going to behave perfectly when it comes to divorcing the person you swore you’d spend your life with.
Your ex may be cruel. May be at fault. May be absent. May be impossible to please. But there’s no way around it—they are your kid’s parent. And maybe they don’t matter to you, but I can promise, they matter so much to your kid. Because of that, we need to make a concerted effort to co-parent the very best way we can.
I’m for sure no expert, but here are some tips I’ve learned in successfully co-parenting with your ex:
Your relationship is now transactional. I’m starting with this one because it was the toughest for me to come to terms with. My ex and I were friends—best friends . . . until we weren’t. After we divorced, I thought I could hang on to that part of our relationship. This wasn’t a conscious effort on my part. It was something I noticed over time. Not necessarily because he did something wrong, but because I expected the impossible. Once you move from married to divorced, there has to be a dynamic switch. Sure, you can spend time together as a family unit, but understand there need to be boundaries. With what you share with one another and how much of your emotional “tank” is being filled by their actions, reactions, and emotions toward you. I read somewhere that it’s best to view the new relationship as transactional. I know that sounds kinda cold, but it’s not. It’s healthy. As such, you should certainly nurture that relationship and invest in it. But you have to remove emotion—even negative emotion—from your words, thoughts, and actions.
What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Are my southern roots showing? No, you’re not your ex’s bestie-for-the-restie anymore, but you can be their cheerleader. I KNOW, I KNOW. This may make your skin crawl because maybe they don’t deserve your positivity, support, or public affirmation. But your ex’s success and well-being can only create a better, more stable atmosphere for your kids to grow up in. So, while it may feel counterintuitive to want good things for them, you should. You also shouldn’t set them up to fail—especially when it comes to failing your kids. Divorce is not a parenting contest. Likewise, there is no “justice” in divorce. Maybe your ex did you dirty or maybe you’re of the opinion that they’re not even a very good parent. But if you seek to be seen as better in any way than your ex by exploiting their weaknesses privately or publicly, you are simultaneously chipping away at the quality of life your kids experience when they are not within your four walls.
Watch your mouth. This is one you’re going to read in just about every co-parenting blog there is. And yet . . . it’s one that, again, doesn’t feel right. When someone asks me why I got divorced, my first reaction is to word-vomit all the pain and heartache I have experienced through the process. But there’s a problem with my perspective of my divorce. It’s not the truth. The same is true for my ex’s perspective. The same is true for yours. You’ve heard the saying before, but I’ll say it again here: There is your perspective, there is their perspective, and the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle. I try very hard to only say positive things about my girls’ dad. The truth is, I’ve got no clue what he went through. I’ve got no idea what he goes through now when he goes to bed at night. All I know is what I see, hear, think, and experience. But that’s such a limited view. I would be completely ignorant to speak on more than that. This tip applies heavily to questions raised by or comments made by your kids. One thing my ex and I have consistently done well is speak highly of one another to our children. If I can’t think of much nice to say in the moment, I always have, “He’s a great dad. He loves you so much.” Then, lock those lips and bounce the subject matter. I want my kids to think their dad is a hero. Demeaning him only demeans the legacy my kids stand to inherit.
Grace, on grace, on grace. Since we’re not married anymore, it feels really lame and unfair to have to apologize to my ex when I mess up in a way that affects him or his life. But I still try to. While our relationship is very different from what it once was, we’re still two people who are connected by one precious heartbeat for the foreseeable future. Knowing that, I try to keep my side of the street as clean as possible. Likewise, when he drops a ball that I have to pick up and juggle with my own, I have to offer him grace when he seeks it. Otherwise, we end up with a super-long list of each other’s debts—and animosity, resentment, and bitterness build. I don’t want to dread seeing him or talking to him. Because eventually, your kids will suffer from the lack of forgiveness or my lack of humility. I don’t have to like it. I just have to do it.
Mind ya business. The only minutes of my ex’s life that are my business are the minutes he spends with our kids. Outside of that, he can dress up like a clown and dance the Macarena on Times Square and it’s not my place to have any sort of opinion on the matter. In fact, even though I may disagree with some of the choices my ex makes when he does have our kids, unless it’s directly jeopardizing their health or well-being . . . it’s not my business. *PAUSES TO BREATHE DEEPLY BECAUSE I WANT ALL THE CONTROL*
I know that not every divorce story involves two people who actively make an effort to co-parent. But if you look back over these truths, pretty much all of them can be done with or without reciprocation.
Wherever you are in your co-parenting journey, I encourage you to pause and think back to the very beginning. Where was your immediate concern? I’m willing to bet it’s the same place mine was—with your children. With creating the most positive, stable environment for them to grow up in.
Sometimes, we get drawn away from that. We get lost in wanting to be seen a certain way—by our ex or by others—and we wrestle with our desire to be right, be justified, be paid back for the wrong done to us. All of those things are understandable, but none of those things gets you back to your original goal—the kids. The kids, the kids, the kids. When we bring it back to them, we bring it back to what matters most.