Co-parenting. It’s not really a situation anyone ever dreams of finding themselves in. To my knowledge, no one gets married, has kids, and then gets divorced, only to rejoice in finding themselves learning to navigate the murky waters of co-parenting. Co-parenting means that this person, with whom you used to share your life but no longer do, is always going to be IN your life. Sometimes, that can be a struggle.
Last summer, my husband and I were visiting his family in California with all five of our collective kids. His kids stayed with his family, and we stayed at a hotel close by with my children. At one point during our visit, his cousin suggested that my boys stay the night with them so Jason and I could have a night to ourselves. I politely declined. She insisted. I could tell she was trying not to be offended, so I explained.
Every single decision I make with regard to my children, I have to think about how I would feel if their dad made the same decision. Every. Single. Decision. Sometimes I get it right. Sometimes I get it wrong. But I was certain that if he took my children out of state to meet his new family, and allowed them to spend the night with people I had never met, I would be furious. Co-parenting takes away your right to make decisions about your children’s lives on your own.
I’ve been at this co-parenting gig for almost three years now. While I’m certainly not an expert, I have learned a few things that work. The one thing I have learned, is that we are not alone. And if we are brave enough to ask for help, or advice, we will get it. I’ve also learned lots of things that don’t work. Here are just a few:
Don’t assume you are always right. This one is a hard pill to swallow. There have been several times in my co-parenting career when my husband will (kindly) point out that I am wrong, and the father of my children is right. He is able to take the emotion out of things and see them for what they are. Something I am not able to do.
Don’t let your ex’s shortcomings/stupidity cloud your judgment. When making decisions, make sure it is ALWAYS about what is best for your kids. Sometimes you may have to swallow your pride and agree with your ex, but if it’s what’s best of the kids, then it’s the best decision you can make. You can only hope that your ex will do the same when it’s his/her turn.
Don’t ever make it about scoring a “win” against your ex. It’s tempting, especially when you know you’re right but that could lead to your children losing. You will drive yourself crazy if you try to keep score. There may be times when you have to be the bigger person. Most likely there will also be one of parent that is more of the “go-to” person for the kids. It’s bound to happen based on personalities, experiences and other factors.
Don’t have your children be the messenger between you and your ex. As much as you may not want to talk to him/her, it’s not their responsibility to deliver messages. When your kids get older and have cell phones, it’s OK for them to text the parent in regards to things like pick-up times or other little things. Anything that involves a response from the other parent should be taken care of by the adults.
Don’t be too hard on yourself. Co-parenting isn’t for the faint of heart. You’re going to make mistakes. You’re going to lose your cool and say something to your ex you probably shouldn’t, but stay focused on the prize…your children. It’s not always easy when you’re trying to make decisions with someone who doesn’t see things the same way that you do. (You’d still be married if they did!)
Ultimately, you are bound to this person, whom you decided not to be lawfully-wedded to anymore, for the rest of your children’s lives. First cars, high school graduation, college graduations, weddings, grandchildren… there is always going to be something that comes up that’s going to require you and your ex to make a decision or share space. You owe it to your children to figure out a way to make every situation work. Remember, they didn’t ask for their parents to be divorced, and they love you both. The last thing you would ever do as a parent is hurt them.
This post was co-authored by Tracey Olson. Tracey is a middle school teacher, co-parent of two fabulous teenagers, and wife to Tony.