How to Co-Parent With Your Ex
Divorcing is hard enough, add co-parenting with someone you’d rather never see again and it takes it to another level of hard. Not only are you grieving what should’ve been, you are also attempting to move forward in healing from devastating hurts. Having to continue communication with your ex concerning your children can feel overwhelming. The following tips, I hope, will help you navigate co-parenting with a bit more clarity.
Research suggests that the quality of the relationship between co-parents can also have a strong influence on the emotional and mental health of the kids.
You must put your hurt and anger aside.
When you’re in the middle of a discussion concerning your children and you feel hurt or anger start to rise, take notice and redirect it. You can come back to it later with a friend, family member or counselor. Those feelings will cloud your original intent, taking care of your children together. Gently remind yourself that the communication with your ex is solely surrounding the best interest for your children. Putting your hurts aside may be the hardest part but working with a counselor on your own healing could bring great help in this area.
Release the need for control.
This could be even harder than the first step. As much as you want to assure your children are taken care of, disciplined, and loved in the best possible ways you ultimately have zero control outside of yourself. You can come to agreements with your ex on discipline rules, schedules, food and sleep routines, and still have no certainty if he or she will follow the agreement. Even if there are court orders, there is no guarantee.
The sooner you’re able to say, “I have no control over what happens with my children when they aren't with me but I will trust God goes with them always", then the better you’ll be. This is not to minimize the fears that you have and the anxiety that comes with it. But to settle your heart, accepting you are not in control, will bring peace. Be the best parent you can be for your kids and don’t spend time worrying about what’s going on when they are with your ex.
Consistency is security for the children.
There will be times of needed flexibility and neither of you will do it exactly the same, this is certainly ok. However, rules, scheduling and discipline should ideally be consistent between the two homes. Try to follow similar rewards and consequences. Kids of all ages find stability in routine, don’t underestimate the power of consistency! This helps your children to adjust easier between the back and forth. Knowing what they can expect and what is expected of them cuts down on their anxiety. Kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and new living situations when there is reliability between the two homes.
I highly recommend therapy for children with a trained play therapist or therapist with experience in this area. This can help them during this adjustment period. Especially if you see a significant change in their behavior such as with sleep, eating, tantrums, outburst or withdrawing. Kids are wonderfully resilient but need our help to heal.
Through your co-parenting partnership, your kids should recognize that they are more important than the conflict that ended your marriage—and understand that your love for them will prevail despite changing circumstances.
What Happens When We Can’t Agree?
It’s healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives, it won’t ruin them. Disagreements are inevitable. If, however; the both of you won’t budge on certain topics, consider taking a step back and looking at values (kindness, safety, trusting, etc.). For instance, you both want your children to be kind but don’t agree on discipline if they behave unkind then agree to the desired outcome, kindness. How this looks as far as discipling may be very different, but the desired outcome is the same.
Let’s be honest, some exes will be passive-aggressive or outright difficult in their communication or lack thereof. Some will be trying to get back at you, or get their children to like them more, or just not prioritizing parenting. This is where you pick your battles and do your best to keep your cool. Be willing to compromise on things like bedtime and save your energy for significant discussions such as medical decisions.
Side note: Please don’t use your children as messengers, they need to focus on being a kid while the adults communicate as adults should.
A Word of Caution.
High conflict relationships that involve things such as domestic abuse need special consideration. It is important to seek legal advice from your lawyer if in doubt regarding any aspect of co-parenting and parental rights. I won’t expand too much on this specific area here but I’m more than happy to work with you in counseling as high conflict divorces can cause great distress.
The Relationship Needs A New View.
The relationship you had with your ex is over and it will take a shift in perspective to form a new relationship that is centered around the children. This will have enormous benefits to your children as they will feel unity and stability even in the midst of their new reality. This new relationship is entirely about the well-being of your children. Parenting doesn’t stop after they turn 18. You will likely be in contact with your ex for the duration as there may be graduations, weddings, and grandchildren.
“My ex and I have a lot of business to negotiate over the next 5 – 10 years or so. Our kids are 12 and 14, but the obligation to them and to each other doesn’t end at 18. Whatever anger or unrest I have about my divorce or about her life, I need to take that up with my therapist, minister, or friends.” - John McElhenney
Even in marriage it’s hard enough to get on the same page with each other when it comes to the kids. So, add division and it’s even trickier, but not impossible. I strongly encourage you to seek individual counseling for continued healing and guidance in this area. I have also worked with divorced couples together to guide them in the best ways to put their children’s best interests first as they move forward in the co-parenting relationship. I would be honored to help you navigate these, sometimes, tumultuous waters. To schedule an appointment, or for more information, call 601-517-7854.
Liza Young, LPC