Unless you are faced with serious issues such as domestic violence, substance abuse, or an emotionally unstable ex, co-parenting is the best way to ensure both parents maintain a close relationship while making their children’s needs a priority. Sounds good in theory, but let’s be honest, seeing your ex regularly along with not being with your kids, can be frustrating and trigger an abundance of emotions. Ok, take a deep breath and know that this is very common, most of my clients find this aspect of their divorce the hardest part.
So, let’s first define what is a “healthy co-parenting relationship?” It is when you put your emotions such as anger, resentment, and hurt aside and focus on the needs of your children. Also, it is when you separate your feelings from your behavior regarding your ex.
It may sound easy to some, but let’s be honest here, when going through a divorce it’s very difficult for people to accomplish this. Joint custody arrangements can often be exhausting, infuriating, stressful, and oftentimes seeming as though you will never be able to overcome your resentments in your relationship and see no end in sight. However, with the right mindset and tools, it can be done, and I promise, your children will thank you for it. Let’s look at 3 REALISTIC tips I have found to be lifesavers:
Tip #1: Separate your feelings from your behavior. This is a tough one for many of my clients. Your “go-to” is to vent your frustrations with your ex to your children. Don’t do it! Never vent to your children about the divorce, frustrations with their other parent, or anything that will only stress and upset your children. Divorce is traumatic enough for children, remind yourself that by venting to them you’re only adding to that. You may never completely lose all your resentment towards your ex, however, you can and should compartmentalize those feelings. These are your issues, not your children’s.
Included in this, is also to never put your children in the middle and act as messengers. Re-read that statement! This only puts your kids in the middle of your conflict or issues. Remember, the goal is to keep your children out of the co-parenting issues. So, take a deep breath and stay focused on your child’s best interest and act with purpose and kindness.
Tip #2 Work on improving communication with your ex. Trust me when I say, the tone in your communications with your co-parent is everything! Remember, men and women communicate very differently, and if you add some resentment, bitterness, sadness, and anger to the mix, you will have a lethal combination in that text, email, or voicemail.
Let’s address your tone first. I recommend to my clients to view their communication interactions as though they were a business meeting. You want to stick to the “business” which is your children, be respectful, calm, and cordial. Take the emotions out of the equation, be direct when addressing the issues at hand, otherwise, you’re likely to start discussing other topics which may be emotional triggers for you and your ex-wife. Keep these communications “kid-focused.”
Next, would be to listen to what your ex is saying. This is a learned skill; many people are not good listeners, and your ex should know you are hearing what she is saying. Convey to your ex that you understood what was said and their point of view. You may not agree, and that is ok, but this is how you will be able to keep the lines of communication open and often. At first, it may be incredibly difficult to communicate with your ex. The mere thought brings about feelings you’re trying your best to not have. However, the more often you communicate positively, the more likely your children will see you as a team and united front as parents.
Lastly, would be to make requests rather than demands. I know you may have thought when you told your ex not to be late again dropping the children off, however, they may see this as a “demand” rather than a request. How about rephrasing it to say, “Could you bring the kids on time on Friday, I have plans & don’t wish to be late?”
Tip #3 Co-parent as a team. The truth is every household is run differently. No matter how much you try to keep things the same for the kids, the vibe and energy of your household are most likely different than your ex’s. Here are 3 things I recommend that may want to keep the same in both households. Teaching kids they are living under the same set of expectations in both households will give them the security and trust they will need.
Schedule: Whether it’s school or extracurricular activities, homework, meals, and bedtimes should try to be as close to similar as possible in each household.
Rules: Have a consistent guideline for what is or is not acceptable behavior. It’s stressful and unhealthy when the kids when they go back and forth to extremely different sets of standards of behavior.
Discipline: This is when parents play “fun mom” or “fun dad” and ignore the restriction from the other household. I get it, you want your time with your kids to be happy and fun and have your ex look like the “bad cop.” However, it only shows your kids you are not a team and united front as parents. It’s best if you were to follow through with the restriction placed on your child even though the infraction did not happen under your roof. Show solidarity!
Tip #4 Never use the word “visitation” with your ex! If you want to trigger your ex-wife, this is how you do it, by reminding her of the upcoming “visits” she has. I’ll go out on a limb here and say, whatever you do, don’t call her time with the children as visitations. If you do, there will be an emotional response I promise you won’t want to be around to witness. I’m willing to bet on this one!
If you want to trigger your non-custodial parent, this is how you do it, remind the other parent about their “visits” with their kids. I’d like to thank the family court system for providing this lovely language to make non-custodial parents feel like strangers or someone that should be talking to a child through a glass pane. Don’t be that person that passive-aggressively uses this language, you can do better.
Tip #5 Be flexible. There’s only one way to say this is, “shit happens.” You or your co-parent will come home late from work and one of you will need a favor from the other. This is an opportunity to build trust. Unfortunately, in the battle over parental control, many parents make no exceptions. Being stubborn and “getting even” with your ex, will only make things problematic for yourself. You may need her to cover one of your weekends with the children due to work or feeling sick. I’m not, however, suggesting being a doormat by any means but like I said, “shit happens.” Think of it as a deposit in your “flexible bank account” with your ex. After enough deposits, you’re in a better position of a “withdrawal” and request some assistance when you need it.
Men often make the mistake of thinking they can do this on their own. If you want to be successful at this, make sure you have a support network in place, and remember at the end of the day, we all make mistakes. Just do the best you can, you’ve got this!