Co-Parenting with Your Ex
If I can be perfectly blunt, co-parenting with your ex might be the most difficult part of the divorce. Some of the people I respect the most in the field of single parenting have moved away from the words “blended family” because it sounds a bit simplistic. Blending families and co-parenting are usually very challenging. However, many people are getting it right and there are solid principles behind becoming successful at co-parenting. Obviously, it’s easiest when both parents who are now divorced can swallow their pride and put the interests of the kids first. I know of one couple who decided to divorce because of the poor communication and conflict resolution between themselves. They went to counseling to learn how to co-parent their kids whom they both loved deeply. They were very intent and committed to bringing them up with love, purpose and faith. After several meetings with the counselor, they learned to become better communicators and the couple decided to remarry – this time with different communication principles. Today they have a successful marriage. Pretty amazing.
For most, that’s not the case. I met with a couple several times this year who were both committed to helping their kids thrive in the midst of their divorce. They were not very good communicators. He was incredibly defensive and she had not been very affirming in the relationship. I ended up giving them some practical advice but more than that, I told them the same good news that Neil Clark Warren, the founder of eHarmony.com told me. “Good communication is a learned trait.” He went on to say that “You can always learn how to communicate more effectively.” Here are some practical points for those with a sincere desire to co-parent as well as they possibly can.
Think quality over quantity.
- When you are with your kids, invest in them. Do things that connect. Give them your attention but don’t spoil them out of guilt or lack of seeing them because they also need normalcy. Life with kids is sometimes mundane. Share with your ex those mundane moments so one person isn’t the “Disneyland Dad or Disneyland Mom” and the other is responsible for chores, boundaries, homework and all the responsibilities.
Learn to work with your spouse.
- It’s possible you got a divorce because you didn’t communicate well. The number one reason for divorce 86% of the time is poor communication. Don’t expect this to be easy but learn to communicate and work with your spouse in a more effective way than you did when you were married. Think of working with your ex spouse like a person that you might not get along with at work but need to communicate with them.
Befriend his/her new love if you can.
- You are doing it for the kids’ sake. Some people communicate better with their ex’s new spouse than they do with the spouse.
Play to your ex-spouse’s strengths.
- This can only help in the long run.
Commit to cooperation.
- You don’t have to be friends but you do have to cooperate to benefit your kids and anyone else involved in the relationships.
- Check your ego at the door.
Let go of as much control as you possibly can.
- It’s not about you anymore. Your kids will do better if you aren’t trying to control the other parent’s time. Easy to say…hard to do.
Be as consistent as possible.
- Similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households. Your children should know what to expect at each house and the more consistent, the better.
Get your feelings out somewhere else.
- Use friends, pastors, and therapists to get negative feelings off your chest, but check your negativity at the door with your ex-spouse as much as you can.
Stay kid focused.
- Keep your focus on the kids not all the other things like the new girlfriend or boyfriend, how each other spends money, etc.
Never put children in the middle and never use them as messengers.
- Keep your issues about your ex to yourself or support system and not to the kids.
Make sure you take care of your own mental, spiritual and physical health.
- Your self-care is healthy for the kids
- The best parent tries to stay as emotionally, physically and spiritually healthy as they possibly can.
If your ex-spouse will do it, read books together to get on the same parenting page.
- “United they win, and divided they fall.”
Work on details.
- Things like holidays, birthday parties, kids’ sports schedules, vacations. Try not to surprise your ex with anything about schedule (of course things will come up but do the best you can).
Find a support system.
- The people who do best at co-parenting aren’t doing life alone. They have developed safe relationships who can affirm and come alongside them.