If you happen to be a single mom whose ex partner and father of your kids is still around and wants to maintain contact with his children, you may find yourself facing issues and problems from time to time. After all, if you couldn’t get on well enough to stay together, how are you going to manage to agree now you’ve split up?
It’s a thorny issue and not one that’s easy to resolve. But, it’s best for your kids if you can put past differences behind you and manage co- parenting effectively.
Why you can co-parent effectively after divorce
In some ways, contrary to expectations, it can be easier to maintain a calm co- parenting relationship with your ex after you’ve split up or divorced. Once the initial anger or bitterness that divorce throws up has eased, there is often a sensation of relief experienced by both parents. You are no longer husband and wife, lovers or partners in a couples relationship, but you are still both parents to your children. As long as you both recognize this and want to be good parents, there are ways of making co-parenting work better then your marriage did!
Of course, the sense of relief doesn’t happen to everyone. If, for example, your man left you to move in with your best friend, you are likely to be feeling hurt and angry. These feelings can last for a long time, and you have every right to feel them. However, for the sake of your children, you need to find a way of setting these emotions aside when it comes to parenting. Whatever your ex did, it is not your children’s fault and they do not deserve to suffer for it.
Tips for effective co-parenting
- Put your anger and hurt towards your ex into a mental box. There are times that you can talk about your feelings and let out your pent up anger, but these times don’t include when you or your ex are with your children. Find a friend you can sound off to, or join a forum of single moms who may be feeling the same way that you do. If you really need to, schedule a talk with your ex so you can let him know how you feel: but not when the kids are around.
- Decide exactly what areas of parenting you will share responsibility for. This doesnt just mean custody or visiting days, but things like buying and choosing the kids’ clothes, setting rules for behavior or deadlines for being home in the evenings, rules concerning nutrition and candy, bedtimes, television watching, doing homework…the list goes on. Draw up your own list first and ask your ex to do the same. Then make an appointment to go through the lists together and make your decisions. Write it all down and keep a copy each. If you think there may be problems in the future, ask an impartial third party to keep a copy too. It can also be a good idea, if the kids are old enough, to have a family conference where you and your ex present a united front on the family rules you’ve drawn up. That way the kids know right from the start that there’s no playing one of you off against the other.
- Never enter into a competition with your ex for the children’s affections. It can be all too easy to fall into the trap of one upmanship, especially if you are feeling a little insecure, but it is really important to avoid doing this. Your kids are not pawns in your relationships, so don’t use them this way.
- Discuss things like birthday or Christmas presents well in advance with your ex. You don’t want to be giving them the same present twice, and you don’t want one parent to give an unequal amount or value of gifts either.
- Be sure to stand together on the topic of discipline. Kids can be very clever at exploiting Mom and Dad’s relationship problems to get what they want, and it isn’t unusual to hear them say: ‘But Dad lets me stay out ’til ten o’clock on Saturdays!’ Make a set of rules about basics like this and stick to them.
- Be consistent. Neither you nor your ex should change the rules just because you’re too tired to enforce them. Kids thrive on having a realistic and fair set of rules to adhere to, and understanding the consequences of breaking those rules.
- Keep your ex in the loop. This means making sure he knows about events that are important in your kids’ lives and that he has the chance to get involved. If a child is taking part in a school play, sports event or concert, say, make sure he receives an invitation to go along. If he isn’t getting involved at all, try to encourage him to do so. Co- parenting means both being there for your children.
- Don’t break promises. If you have promised him he can have the kids on a certain day, don’t change your mind because something else has come up. Equally, he needs to understand that he can’t just cancel his days with the children because he has a more interesting invitation that doesn’t include kids.
- Learn how to listen to your ex. Put aside the difficulties of your relationship as a couple. You had different priorities then. Now your relationship is as co- parents, and this demands a very much more grown up attitude from you both. Asking him for his opinion on important issues is a great way to begin this more mature approach to dealing with each other. Hopefully, it will lead him to offer you the same consideration.
- Even if it is hard to find the words, make sure you tell your ex that you value his part in your children’s lives. Like it or not, he is their father, and he’s important to them and to their happiness. People in general (even irritiating ex husbands!) respond better to praise then to criticism.
Co parenting after divorce can be a tough nut to crack, but it’s possible with a little dedication to the cause. And, there’s no more important cause then the well being of your children.