While I originally wrote this piece for single moms and divorce, it is just as pertinent to all parents. Read between the lines...
Let’s face it, co-parenting in divorce can be a bitch. I mean, you divorced this person, right? Which means that you likely had a really hard time communicating, sharing values, not scratching each other’s eyes out with a can opener at every disagreement…
You’ve finally found your escape and your freedom—or you’ve been left holding the bag and you’re pissed as hell—and now you’re supposed to spend the rest of your ever-loving life collaborating with this person?
If you are lucky enough to be divorcing someone who is as dedicated as you are to your children, and who isn’t dangerous or mentally ill, then yes, you most certainly are.
Not because you agree with your ex-spouse on all of their decisions, but because you know this isn’t about you. This is about your kids, and now that you’re not living in hell, now that you have room to breathe, you’re going to figure out exactly how to this.
Because if you couldn’t make your marriage work, by God you’re gonna make your divorce work.
And here’s how you’re gonna do it:
1. Put the children at the center, not in the middle. Remember that every single time you defy your ex, or make a unilateral decision, you are putting your children in the middle of your mess. You may be mad—you may even be really justified in being mad—but putting your mad at the center puts your kids in the middle. With every turn, ask yourself, “Is this really in my children’s best interest?” If the answer is “No,” take a deep breath and move on.
2. Put the problem out in front. Often, when we are arguing over something, what we are actually doing is putting the problem between us. When we are struggling to communicate about our children, that issue is your kids. Imagine you and your ex are each holding onto one of your children’s arms, pulling in opposite directions. You’d never do that right? But that’s exactly what you’re doing when you argue over co-parenting. Instead, imagine together putting your child in front of you, then standing shoulder to shoulder, examining the issue at hand, as a team. That’s what effective co-parenting should look like.
3. Make no unilateral decisions. Remember that you are 100% a parent—and that means your ex is too. If you are lucky enough to be divorcing someone who is involved and shares custody and expenses and all that good stuff, then they get an equal say in all decisions. So, when you think it’s time to wean your son off his pacifier, you don’t get to do that without discussing it with your co-parent and coming up with a plan together.
4. Always present a united front. When children of divorce realize their parents don’t get along, they will often use that information in a power-play. They don’t do this consciously or maliciously; they’re just picking it up from you. But if they know that while Mommy and Daddy may be divorced, they are still unified in their parenting, children will feel safer and more secure. Saying simple things like, “Mommy and Daddy/Mommy and Mommy/Daddy and Daddy have had a conversation about this, and we have decided that xxxx is best,” will teach your kids that they can’t pit you against each other. Moreover, they will feel confident and secure knowing that the rules apply with both parents.
5. Ask yourself, “Would I rather be right, or happy?” Sometimes we lose the little battles in favor of the bigger picture, and that’s ok. Give up your scorecard and recognize that overall, what’s really best for your kids is that they have parents who love them and support each other’s parenting. If your ex keeps them up late on a Tuesday night and they’re tired on Wednesday afternoon, it’s not the end of the world. You may be absolutely categorically right in your argument, but working together and letting the little things go will make you a much happier parent—and person—overall.
Remember, you don’t have to like your ex, or agree with every decision they want to make. But you do have to work together—at least till your youngest is 18 (and even then, probably longer, because marriages and grandkids and all that)—so wouldn’t it just be better if you worked together and made this as smooth as possible?
It takes less energy to be nice and collaborative than it does to be mean and oppositional. At the end of your life when you look back, ask yourself what you want to remember.
After all, it’s just a choice.