Co-Parenting is a fine art when you’re a happy, functioning couple. You both bring to the table your individual experiences, values, and expectations. When you’re divorced or divorcing, co-parenting can make any situation worse if you let it. Co-Parenting through and post divorce is like a dance, only the steps and footwork aren’t pre-written. You need to choreograph your own number, and customize it to your situation, expectations and standards. While figuring it out, you’re constantly seeking that delicate balance between finding your single parent rhythm and not stepping on your parenting partner’s toes.
I have always been a good co-parent, but I have had my share of miscalculated beats and missed steps. The dance has become smoother now and while the dance is something you simply have to start and get good at, here is a list of Do’s and Don’ts that will hopefully make your dance smoother.
1.Daily Household Routines
You’re inevitably going to have different rules than your ex. Perhaps you’re the stricter one, the cleaner one, the “not as fun” one. If so, fear not…here are some tips to handling some of those “We don’t have to do that at Mom’s/Dad’s house” complaints.
SCENARIO: When you’ve set a household rule that there’s no screen time until rooms have been clean, and you’re met with resistance, eye rolling or the general, “Mom doesn’t make me do this”…
DON’T: “Well, your mother has always been a pig and I’m trying to teach you now so that you don’t get into the same poor housekeeping habits”. Just no. Never attack your ex’s character or criticize them as a person.
DO: “Well, how lucky for you but when you’re here, you need to follow our household expectations”.
2. Don’t Get Emotional
When your child tells you something that your ex says or does while the kids are with him/her, don’t take this as your opportunity to slam your ex and communicate your disapproval to your kids.
SCENARIO: Mom said that this weekend we can go to ______ even though you won’t let us.
DON’T: “I will have to speak to your mother because there’s no way I am letting you go there”.
DO: “Unfortunately I don’t have any control over what your mom does when you’re with her. I’m sure she has her reasons for taking you there and I hope that you have fun.
The above is appropriate of course, as long as the blank doesn’t pose a safety risk to your children. If you feel that it does, I would suggest saying nothing to your child and ask your ex in a non-accusatory way to help you understand why he/she is taking them and lay out your concerns in a non-personal manner.
3. Stick to Facts; Not Feelings
When discussing matters involving your children, it’s tough to be anything but emotional. When discussing these matters with your ex however, it would serve you best to keep it professional. I always encourage writing out your arguments supporting your position and present it to your ex in a calm, fact-based way. Keep your feelings out of it and stick to the matter at hand. Do not drag irrelevant history into your arguments.
SCENARIO: Your daughter tells you that she never eats breakfast when she’s at Mom’s house.
DON”T : Call your ex and accuse her/him of not providing a nutritious meal for your daughter.
DO: Tell your ex that you’re concerned that your daughter says that she doesn’t eat breakfast at your ex’s house. Something along appropriate lines would be…
“_____ says that she doesn’t often eat breakfast at your house. Can you help me understand the situation?” This gives your ex an opportunity to explain and you may be surprised to learn that when approached in a non-abrasive way, you and your ex may actually be on the same page. If you’re lucky, you’re able to work together to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
The truth is, that co-parenting is a long term gig. The sooner you can learn how to navigate in a non-confrontational and professional way, the sooner you’re able to move forward with your life and achieve the peace and happiness that you and your children deserve.