If you have had a bitter, drawn-out divorce, the thought of dealing with your ex all over again might be draining. Even if the divorce was amicable, there is a good reason why the marriage didn’t work in the first place. You will likely have unresolved feelings of anger, betrayal, a sense of loss and even hatred towards your partner.
When kids are involved, however, you have little time to sort through your feelings. It is in their best interest to keep things as stable as possible. Granted, they might have to get used to a new kind of routine where they split time between two homes.
However, if both parents acknowledge that kids need a stable, loving environment to thrive, they will do their best to make co-parenting work.
But just because most things, especially when dealing with an ex, are easier said than done, here are some tips to help you navigate the waters:
Put the Kids First
Your feelings of anger and bitterness towards your ex will not resolve in a day. You might never want to see your ex again, leave alone talk to them. During those times, it is best to remember that this is not about you but your children. As such, put them first, focusing on their needs such as schooling, clothing, health and social activities. Remember that your ex is still a parent to your children, and they need to have a healthy relationship.
Resist the urge to use the kids to punish your ex. Do not make them messengers either, as this puts them at the center of your conflict. No matter how much your ex has hurt you; do not bad mouth them in front of the children, or force them to participate. Speaking ill of your ex forces your kids to take sides and assign blame which is unhealthy. To successfully put your kids first means putting your feelings aside for their sake.
Even if you hope to never talk to your ex again, co-parenting will have you speaking to them more often than you would like. You can make the process less painful by deciding to be amicable from the word go. You don’t have to meet in person for every little thing, so make use of emails and text messages.
You might want to keep a shared custody calendar or organizer where you key in important dates and events. This helps in keeping your ex informed without having to talk to them every time. Avoid having heated discussions in front of the children and as much as you can, resolve these respectfully.
Keep the lines of communication open to your ex as long as it’s about the kids. Do not punish them by ignoring texts or calls that might be about the children’s welfare. Communicating amicably might also call for restraint. Pick your battles, and do not let every little issue escalate into an argument.
Set clear boundaries & schedules
Co-parenting is hard enough without doing it haphazardly. Sit down with your ex and come up with a program and rules that will guide you in navigating the new normal. Decide who has the kids when, who picks them up, who takes them for ball practice. Such schedules will help the kids in making much-needed adjustments.
Well, children will be children, and if they sense gaps in your parenting style, they will quickly exploit that. Most importantly, however, children need the consistency that comes with boundaries. As such, be on the same page with your ex on small things that affect the children.
For instance, if the kids are allowed junk food in one home and not in the other, this can bring confusion and arguments. If one parent is letting them stay up late and one sending them to bed early, they might start playing favourites. Don’t let them have to choose, like as if they were picking a winning horse to bet on the Kentucky Derby.
This can lead to them acting up when they are with the ‘offending’ parent. To avoid all these, have a clear discussion on the rules, boundaries needed to keep the family running.
Make important decisions together
At one point or another, major decisions about your children’s welfare will need to be made. Things such as where the kids go to school, their health and finances are some of the issues that require mutual discussion. Decide who will attend which school event or accompany the child for a health check-up.
A certain degree of openness and accountability will be required, especially where one parent is paying for child support. Keep accurate financial records to avoid arguments. Do not use expensive presents to bribe your child or make the other parent feel like they are not trying hard enough. If you don’t agree on any of the major decisions surrounding your children, remember that a little compromise will not hurt.
Seek help for yourself
A divorce will likely leave you feeling hurt, betrayed, and angry. Even as you navigate the waters of co-parenting, it is important that you seek help for yourself. Think of this as something you are doing, not for your ex or your children, but your own personal healing.
You might want to see a therapist to work through some of what you are feeling. Take up a hobby, do yoga, meditate, and lean on your friends and family. Healing from a divorce will not only help you find yourself but will also make you a better co-parent to your children.