Let’s face it, most people do not imagine life apart from their partner when growing their family and parenting their children. They don’t plan for parenting in separate households…but for many families today, this is a reality.
We often hear of knock down, drag out fights and difficult relationships making parenting in two households difficult and the impact on the children considerable.
I have a ten year old and his father and I have come a LONG way in those ten years to co-parenting peacefully and I’d love to share some advice.
- ALWAYS put your children first. No matter how upset you are with the other parent, no matter how wronged you may feel, no matter how devastated you may be, this is not about you. It may be difficult to separate your relationship feelings for your child’s parent from your parenting relationship with your child’s parent but it is important. Retrain your brain to think of the two feelings separately. If you want to discuss relationship feelings, agree to do so separately from parenting feelings, and without your children present.
- Set up boundaries for both of you. If you were once a couple, boundaries can be difficult to embrace, but now is the time. Decide which topics are off limits (new relationships, money spending habits, extended family issues, etc.) and set boundaries for times that are appropriate to call/text/email the other parent. Figure out which method of communication is preferable for both of you and agree upon that method. Texting is ideal because messages can be saved/backed up for record keeping, if necessary. On this note, do not relay messages through your children.
- Choose a schedule and stick with it! There is nothing that will make your relationship more difficult than flaking out on your child. It may cause resentment and will leave the other parent scrambling for care if they have made plans as well as lead to disappointment for the child. Of course, things come up and life happens but amicably resolving those reschedulings and keeping them to a minimum is ideal. Flexibility is key and your child should always be first.
- Embrace your child’s new stepparent. This is another toughie for many. I was fortunate that my son’s father chose an amazing woman to be his wife so she was easy to love but I know for many this is a huge hurdle. Finding things you may have in common with the other parent and getting to know him/her will go a long way.
- Enjoy activities together. Be sure to always invite the other parent to your child’s events and if you’re doing something fun and new, why not invite his/her other parent? Whether you’re heading to the zoo or grabbing a pizza, it is courteous to invite your other child’s parent from time to time. When your child knows you get along, he or she will feel more peaceful and comfortable.
- Relax. Your child’s parent may not do things exactly the same way you do. You may have different viewpoints on what a nutritional dinner looks like, how much game time your child should get, and how your child’s day should be structured. Accepting that you are only in control of what happens in your own household is important. You should; however, come to common grounds on important topics like discipline, safety, bedtimes, medications, and childcare.
- Share important information. Report cards, special awards, fun field trips, new skills, and things your child’s parent may miss on the day to day. A text with this information can go a long way in building a great co-parenting relationship as you show your child’s parent that you care and are making an effort to include them in your child’s life.
- Commit to positivity. Do not talk negatively about your child’s parent whether they’re listening or not. Make encouraging comments about the other parent to reinforce that bond (ex: “I can’t wait to tell Daddy how great you did at baseball practice today, I know he will be so proud!” or “I know Mommy does a great job at reading Harry Potter and it’s her favorite to read with you, maybe we can read Stars Wars together.”)
Judge Haas of Cass County, Minnesota shared some of the most profound advice I have ever read on co-parenting, “Your children have come into this world because of the two of you. Perhaps you two made lousy choices as to who you decided to be the other parent. If so, that is your problem and your fault. No matter what you think of the other party-or what your family thinks of the other party-those children are one half of each of you. Remember that, because every time you tell your child what an idiot his father is, or what a fool his mother is, or how bad the absent parent is, or what terrible things that person has done, you are telling the child that half of him is bad. That is an unforgivable thing to do to a child. That is not love; it is possession. If you do that to your children, you will destroy them as surely as if you had cut them into pieces, because that is what you are doing to their emotions. I sincerely hope you don’t do that to your children. Think more about your children and less of yourselves, and make yours a selfless kind of love, not foolish or selfish, or they will suffer.”
Written by: Melissa Nauss, Owner & Lead Doula of Stars and Stripes Doulas of New Orleans