I’m gonna say it once now, and then probably at least 10 more times. Sounds simple right? A tiny little phrase that is literally the hardest thing in the world (for me, at least) to act out. I am the queen of holding on to things for dear life.
To me, there are 3 key components to co-parenting: communication, understanding, and flexibility. And in between all of that, is letting go. Over and over, and over again.
Oh, and also to avoid conflict at all costs/ learn to deal with conflict, which could very well be an entirely separate blog post one day…but I’ll touch on it a little throughout just for good measure.
I should start off by telling you that four years ago, when my ex and I were splitting up, the cops were at our house at least a dozen times in a 6 month period. We had high conflict and not a lot of knowledge on how to work through it. Today, I am happy to report that my ex-husband is one of my best friends. He is someone that I can trust, and go to when I need help. We have joint birthday parties for our kids, and attempt to share as many Holidays as makes sense. We are able to laugh and joke and participate in our kids lives without any awkwardness or tension, and he has been a shoulder for me to literally cry on a few times, vice versa. We have both been able to move on and support each other in this, and I think our kids overall happiness is a good indicator that we are on a good path. The point in this post isn’t to brag about how great we are. The point is to show you, that if we can do it…you can.
First things first, nobody cares if you’re the Mother, or if you’re the Father. It takes two to tango, and two to raise a child. You are both the parents, and the children love you both, equally. You’re not more superior just because you’re a woman, because you’re the one recieving child support, or because the courts say you get more custody. I tell my kids all the time about all the pain and suffering and stretch marks I endured to bring them here, and you know what? They don’t give a shit. They just want to know if I’ll take them to the park.
Second, you can’t co-parent with a parent that doesn’t want to parent. If you’re dealing with this, none of this applies to you. That’s a whole separate ball game.
Sidenote: co-parenting is not one person doing all the work/parenting and the other showing up when and where they please and not actively participating in a parenting plan (legal or not). However, this does not mean that just because your child’s O/P (other parent) is difficult or you two can’t get along that you get to make the decision that they aren’t worthy. It’s not up to you.
Ok, now the fun part.
See? I told you I’d say it again.
Let go of everything that was, of the way things were. Let go of the thought that you will get back together and be one big happy family. Let go of the idea that this person is “yours”. Even if this is something you want, or it’s a possibility, it’s not happening right now. Let go of having everything your way. Let go of your control over whoever this person was to you. If you hate them, you still love them, you resent them, etc… let it go. Let go of that picture picture idealistic shit where everyone BBQ’s together and nobody fights or cries. Not to say that this isn’t achievable, but it’s not the goal right now.
One of the biggest and best lessons I learned in the beginning came also as a huge dagger straight to the heart. I remember exactly where I was when I pulled up to a stop light, and was also simultaneously talking to my boyfriend on speakerphone while scrolling through Instagram (don’t judge me). I shit you not, the VERY first thing that popped up on my feed was a giant bouquet of red roses underneath the username of a girl that I had met several years back as a friend of my now-separated from husband, who he had also just started to date… much to my disapproval. I actually stopped breathing. I dropped my phone and immediately started crying. How could he have bought her roses after “casually dating” her for a week when I’m the one that married the son-of-a and blah blah blah, moral of the story… I never got any damn roses. I was hurt. My boyfriend was like “Hellooo??” because I had completely forgotten he was on the phone. Wait– back up… boyfriend… Oh. Hypocritical, right?
Being the emotional, petty human that I was at this time, I of course called my ex out on this. And to my surprise, he sounded genuinely disappointed that I had seen that. He told me that he had hoped that I wouldn’t because he knew it would upset me. And then he said probably the smartest thing that’s ever come out of his mouth in the 9 years I’ve known him. He told me to please understand that he was trying. He was trying to learn from the mistakes he had made, and to be a better person/boyfriend. He knew where we had gone wrong and he wanted to do better. He had given her the flowers to make her happy, and in no way had meant to make me less happy by doing that.
So yes, I understand how frustrating it can be to watch someone that you loved at one point go and do all the things you had wanted, with someone else. But this isn’t a competition. There was a reason that we broke up and I needed to remember that. It wasn’t about the flowers, but I had chosen to point that out in an argument and he had taken note. How could I blame him for wanting to improve himself? I had to let it go. Let us go.Okay so now you know I’m human and my divorce and co-parenting hasn’t been perfect. We have gotten where we are through trial and error, and a lot of breathing techniques.
The first goal is Communication. One word, a bunch of different aspects.
Communicating goals/dreams/desires: I guess Eric & I were lucky in this sense because we both like to talk a lot, so in the years we were together we always talked about “what-if’s”. I remember the exact road we were driving down right after our first son was born where we talked about what we’d each want in case things didn’t work out. Of course, we each had our dreams for our kids. Eric said he’d cry if one of his kids ever became Major League Ball players, and I just really wanted to keep them alive and hopefully see them off to college so they could get a good job and take care of me when I’m old. But anyway, I’m talking about what we really want for them. How do we get happy, healthy kids that even stand a chance at achieving these goals?
For example: We never wanted to make our kids have to choose between us. We want to raise them the same as if we were all living in one house, and we want to show the kids that we are a team and they can’t play us against each other. We want to show them that we support each other, and that we are both still their family, just living in separate homes. Separate households doesn’t have to equal two different lives/ compartmentalizing for the kids.
Your goals could be very different. What works for us might not work for you.
Communicating schedules/kids agendas/school behaviors and academics:
This is super important in avoiding conflict.
So technically, I am the “custodial parent” in certain legal aspects. However, when we wrote up our divorce papers/parenting plan we agreed to have joint decision making. Which means that we both decide whether our son plays tackle football or not, we both decide if they get to go to summer camp, etc. This also means I can’t go and baptize my kid just because I want to, however I can cut his hair if I want to, because I’m still a parent and I don’t need permission to do parent-y things with my child.
**Speaking of hair cutting, I’m a woman, so I totally get the desire for your kids to look a certain way but let me tell you a secret: eventually you don’t get a say at all, so you might as well give up-oh wait, LET GO– of that control issue now. It’s just hair. One time when Eric and I were married, the night before Tristan’s 2nd birthday party, I asked him to cut his hair while I was out running errands. He called me a couple hours later to tell me he F*cked up. I about damn near killed him, but hey he was my spouse and I think you can go to jail for that, so I didnt. Instead, I gave him the side eye for 3 days and never let him live it down that he made our kid look like a skin head. Not to mention in the years since, our kids have taken the scissors to their own heads, as well as their girl cousin’s a couple of times as well, and we all got over it eventually. Let it go. Let go of your need to be in control of everything. Let the little shit go.
One time after our separation, but also during a time where we were trying to reconcile, I was in the shower and Eric was playing a game on his phone on the couch while the kids were playing around the apartment. They found a permanent marker and wrote ALL over my couch and dining room table…all while their Dad was less than 5 feet away. It was an “OH SHIT” parenting moment on his part. We all have them. You’re not perfect, and neither is your ex. He apologized profusely, and after I stood there mortified for a good ten minutes we both tossed every permanent marker in the house straight into the garbage. It’s not worth the tension, or the fight to get upset over the little shit. This also doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to stab him in the eyes, or that I wasn’t annoyed. I just chose not to make a big deal about it.
Ok, back to communicating.
So anyway, yes the kids live with me during the school/work week so I get most of the communication/feedback from teachers/coaches, etc. I also do most of the planning/coordinating of their doctors appointments/social lives/activities. This doesn’t mean that Eric has no say, or that he has no idea what’s going on. I’m sure sometimes he wishes that he didnt, because I text him A LOT. And you know what? He barely responds. Like for real, you should see our text thread. It’s a whole lot of me talking to myself. Sometimes I even answer myself just to be obnoxious. But it doesn’t bother me- he’s busy and he’s not a big texter and never was. I’ve done my part, and I know he read it. It doesn’t always require a discussion, just a little check-in so that he knows what’s going on. If it’s important or requires a discussion, I stalker call him until he answers, and/or I talk to him at drop offs/face to face. Either way, the communication gets done. He knew I was annoying before he married me, so he literally signed up for this.
If one of our kids has a rough week, I give him a heads up- “Hey this shit head has been a trouble maker all week, so maybe no ice cream for him this weekend.” or “He’s grounded at my house, FYI”. This gives him a chance to decide how he wants to move forward with his own parenting, and his own time spent with the kids, as well as have an educated background on what’s really going on with them. This also helps us be a team, and stay unified. Dad doesn’t get any surprises, and neither do I. We don’t keep secrets from the other parent, and the kids know that. Kids of divorce will play their cards to get what they want, so as the parents its our job to stay one step ahead of them. You can only achieve this by communicating with each other.
I also have to be the one that communicates what’s going on schedule-wise with school/sports because I’m the one coordinating these things. There’s no way to compromise on this because of the way our schedule works. It’s part of my responsibility as a parent, and it would have been had we remained married, or not.
You know what I hate? When my kids give me their “Thursday folder” on SUNDAY night, and there’s a damn permission slip in there that needs $10 cash in it by Monday AM. You know how this gets resolved? I bitch at them. So I try to be curteous of Eric’s schedule, and give him as much notice as I possibly can, as well as *REMINDERS*. Do I care if he shows up to our kids end of the year concert? No. Do my kids? YES. You’re not doing this for your child’s other parent, you’re doing this for THEM. Them, as in the kids.
Do I get tired of being the one that is constantly updating the other one? Sometimes, yes. It can be tiresome, and frustrating. In the beginning, it was very one sided, and it felt very draining. So you know what I did? I called Eric up, and I told him how I felt. At first, I came at him like I wanted to pick a fight, and he just straight up told me he wasn’t in the mood to fight. And then I felt silly, and was like.. wait, yeah me either. So instead of being aggressive about it, I just told him I was tired, and I had a lot going on and then I told him what I wanted. I communicated without yelling at him or put him down about it. I just said, “Hey, it would be nice if you could call me once or twice and just check up on them so I don’t feel like I’m the only one doing the communicating.” And he immediately apologized and since then he’s made improvements.
I’ll tell you something that I’m not that proud of, but I noticed that Eric started doing with me that worked. If I texted him something that seemed like I was looking for a fight, or I said it rudely, he wouldn’t respond. If I called him and started off aggressively, he’d give me an option to calm down before he hung up. Hanging up on me pisses me off like no other, but he had given me fair warning so I could prevent it. And you know, I usually ended up feeling really silly and not much like fighting anymore. I honestly don’t know how he did it, but he managed to make his point clear to me- that he wasn’t going to fight with me, ever. And over time I just stopped even trying.
Don’t worry, I bitch to my friends when I need to get things off my chest, in private, because nobody is perfect.
Reminder: Communication is always a work in progress. It is never going to be perfect.
Understanding, with a side of compassion:
Perfection. Let it go. Marriage isn’t perfect, and divorce/break-ups/coparenting sure as hell isn’t. Kids aren’t perfect, and neither are we. So with all this imperfection around us, why do we hold the other parent to unobtainable standards? No seriously, you tell me.
You, an imperfect person, had a child with another imperfect person. Stop keeping score. I’m going to say it again, just to make my point. STOP KEEPING SCORE. This isn’t baseball. There’s no such thing as “three strikes you’re out” in being a parent. How many times have you “Counted to Three” only to extend that last “second” into an entire minute just to give your kid a chance to realize he’s f*cking up big time if you get to three? Exactly. Compassion.
I’m going to let you in on a little not-so-secret-secret. I got a DUI after Eric and I split up. FUCK, right? (This happened on my own time- kids were with their Dad). But this could really screw up custody for some people and cause a lot of conflict. It’s a huge mistake that effects not only me, but my kids, and my ex as well. You want to know who my *one* phone call was to? Eric. I called to give him a heads up so that he would know why I wasn’t answering my phone if something happened, and also to ask if he could call my Dad and tell him I wouldn’t be there for his Father’s Day dinner (facepalm, right?) He never once yelled at me. He might have had his fair share of venting and frustrations to his gf/friends/family… but I wouldn’t know because he never let me know. I already felt shitty about it and didn’t need him to rub it in my face. He was supportive instead, and I felt relieved. He could have yelled at me, and said some unkind things to me, threatened to take my kids away, made me feel worse, etc.. but he didn’t. He just simply said, “Shit man, that f*ing sucks.” I also could have spent the next two years trying to hide it from him, which would have caused me a lot of stress, and been a complete hassle to lie about, especially when that blow-n-go got installed.
Sidenote: *Trust was subconsciously being re-built between us because of the way we both responded to this incident, and we didn’t even know it*
The more understanding we can be with each other, the better. Understanding that at one point we were two people that became one…and then thereafter we had to undo all of that work, and companionship, and become two again. It takes time to rebuild. I try to understand that just as I am my own person with my own desires, dreams, goals, social/romantic life, etc… so is Eric. He wants something out of life, too. And while I’m not there anymore to hold his hand through it all, I can still be there to lift him up and help him achieve that.
Why would I want to do that for someone I clearly couldn’t get along with well enough to stay married to? Because he’s the father of my kids. He is their role model, their world, and therefore he is important to me, and so is his success. This doesn’t mean that I schedule his doctors appointments like I used to- I’m not his wife anymore- but I can cheer him on from the sidelines, and be understanding when he hits roadblocks that cause difficulties in his life.
This brings me to flexibility:
Life is messy. Kids are chaos. It’s just the way things are. So along with being understanding, you might want to start stretching. Your ability to be flexible with your child’s O/P is going to relieve you of a lot of stress.
Our particular custody schedule is as follows: I have the kids Sunday evening through Friday afternoon, and their Dad picks up Friday afternoon and returns Sunday evening, with the exception of the first weekend of the month.
This is just what the papers say. This is not always how it goes or what we do. This was a default agreement *in case we couldn’t agree*. But after trying it out, we realized the kids were really upset about not seeing their Dad for two weeks, so I gave up “my” first weekend of the month. Sometimes Eric has to work Saturdays, and I keep them on Fridays. We just do whatever works for all of us. I don’t look at our custody agreement as a strict rule we have to abide by, but more like a guideline. If Eric calls me and wants to take the kids to dinner, I say “Hell Yeah”, and it happens. Sometimes he even lets me tag along. I never turn down free food. If I want to do something special with them on a Saturday, during “his time” he usually lets me.
You’re not always going to get your way. Embrace it.
If I’ve learned anything in this co-parenting journey it’s that life is not always going to go as planned. Being set in my ways, and trust me- I was and sometimes still can be, has only caused stress and tension, and really in the end… doing things someone else’s way can sometimes be slightly refreshing. Sometimes.
Other noteworthy areas that are difficult to navigate: conflict, and dating. Conflict with each other, and dating without each other. This brings me back to letting it go. Just keep this in the back of your mind the whole time.
Navigating ConflictSo now that I’ve spewed all this shit about how great we get along, etc etc you are probably thinking I have no experience and no idea what you’re dealing with because your situation is so much worse than mine. Wrong.
I am the queen of control. Eric is a stubborn Taurus. We are both hot heads. We got divorced for a reason. When we were married we did not have the tools, or know-how to navigate conflict, hence the frequent police visits. Again, if we can go from that to this, so can you. The conflict didn’t stop just because we moved to separate homes. We had to work really hard at it. Eventually, three things happened- I think we both just got tired of living in a constant state of stress; we got tired of the fight and the need to be right all the time. And we learned to let the past be in the past, to let things go, and move forward. And finally, we learned to apologize.
First tactic we had to learn: we don’t do any arguing or disagreeing in front of the kids. If we begin a conversation and it starts to turn into an argument or gets tense, we end it and come back to it later when we are both calm. We don’t discuss tense topics in front of the kids, ever.
And trust me, we learned this by experience. The effect it had on our kids was not pretty. It was ONE argument that took them about a year to forget. We had to work really hard to show them that we could get along, and that we were a team, friends even, despite all the other positive interactions they saw before and after that fight. They never forgot that one fight.
I touched on Eric’s little trick he developed to avoid conflict with me, which was useful for both of us… but I also had to learn a way to respond to when he was the one feeling snarky.
Besides first asking if now was a good time to talk, instead of demanding this conversation be had right now, one way was to always have the conversation over the phone so he could hear my tone of voice. It’s not always what you say, but how you say it. I’ve learned over the years how to deal with him in particular when he gets all amped up about something, so I just speak very calmly no matter what, and then he realizes the sincerity in my voice and calms down. I know that for some people they like to document everything just in case they need it in court, and I think this is pretty much bullshit. It added to the tension for us, made it seem like we were at war instead of looking for resolution. So we don’t have any big discussions over text. Things can be far too easily misconstrued.
It goes without saying that you should never speak negatively about the other parent in front of the kids, for soo many reasons. If you don’t know why, talk to me and I’ll give you a whole list. But this also includes saying anything negative about family members, or any of their Dad’s significant others within earshot of the kids. Hint: kids repeat shit.
Somewhere in the last 4 years we put our fists down and started to enjoy the friendship that remained from our relationship. There is no one greater to talk shit about your kids with than their other parent. It’s our favorite past time. We roast the hell out of our kids, laugh our asses off and then immediately agree, “aw but they’re so cute”… and there is no one else in the world that I can do this with.
If you truly just can’t seem to get along, it’s time to seek out a therapist. You’re stuck together, forever. Not just till they’re 18. You’re also going to share Grand-Children one day. You might as well figure it out now.
You don’t have to be friends. You don’t have to talk every day. But if you want to co-parent, you have to put the kids first, and figure out how to do it. I’m not a person that functions well in hostile environments, and I don’t like awkward or tense situations. I just want everyone to get along, and so I do the very best that I can and this is how I do it. I feel lucky to be able to call my ex-husband a friend and I know our kids enjoy being with both of us at the same time.