Even under the best of circumstances coordinating all the things that go along with parenting can be tough – doctor’s appointments, sports practices, school activities, play dates etc. Who is going to pick Tommy up after school and take him to soccer and who is going to take care of dinner and who is going to make it to the parent teacher conference is a never-ending situation to figure out. Now add in the fact that the two parents making these decisions are no longer married because their relationship fell apart, and an already tough situation just became almost impossible at times.
Despite the challenges, finding a way to share parenting with your child’s other parent is important for the emotional well-being of your child. Research shows that children from divorced families do much better emotionally when the parents can have a good co-parenting relationship. Sounds reasonable, right? “But you don’t know my ex” – said most divorced parents at some point! “We couldn’t get along when we were married, what makes you think we can get along now?” Or, “If we could have communicated well enough to parent together when we were married we wouldn’t be divorced!” Sound familiar? Here are some ways to help. I did not say here are some ways to make it wonderful, or easy, or blissful, just some ways to help.
1. Refer to your ex as your child’s dad or your child’s mom rather than your ex. This sounds rather minor, but it can really cause a shift in your thinking and your attitude. Your “ex” brings with it all the thoughts and feelings of a marriage gone bad. It has a major negative connotation, and only servers to perpetuate resentment, grief and all the other negative feelings that come from a divorce. So, use that word less, if at all. Instead, replace it with Tommy’s dad, or Tommy’s mom. Usually this phrase is not so loaded with negative feelings as “ex”.
2. Figure out the best way to communicate with your child’s other parent. It might take a while before you feel like you can speak face to face without it ending badly. That’s ok. It might send you over the edge just hearing that person’s voice on the phone. That’s ok too. Give yourself the time you need, and figure out another way. Maybe email is best for a while, or texting. Whatever you do, just don’t have your child be the messenger. Use a friend if you need to, just not your child. Be honest with yourself about what you can handle, knowing that eventually it will change. If you push yourself to communicate in a way that you are not ready for you will just create more animosity and your child will suffer for it. It’s ok to not want to hear his/her voice for a while. Find what works for you.
3. As hard as it may be at times, ask the other parent for feedback when you offer a solution or present an idea. If you think your child would benefit from some tutoring at school, or that he/she would like a summer camp, present the idea and then ask the other parent what they think. That’s just common respect. No one wants to be told that something is going to happen with their child without being asked for their opinion. Would you want the other parent to TELL you your child is going to summer camp for underwater basket weaving without being asked what you think? I doubt it. So, give the other parent the same courtesy. It will go a long way towards being able to work through other situations.
4. Make transitions easier. Make sure your child has the essentials at each house so they don’t feel like they are moving in and out every few days. This is their home, they are not staying at a hotel. Sure, they may have comfort things or favorite clothes that they want to take back and forth, but that should be because they choose it, not because they have to. You would not want to have to pack up every few days, would you? Making it as easy on your kids as possible will make the transitions easier, which will cause less friction between you and the other parent.
5. Own your own stuff. Pay attention to your own feelings around transition times so that you can take care of yourself. No matter how much you want your kids back, it can be hard to go from a quiet house to a noisy one. Prepare yourself mentally for the kids to come back, have a cup of tea right before they come back, have some kind of ritual that signals to your nervous system that things are going to change so that you don’t get stressed and cranky. If you are still really angry about the divorce it can be tempting to want to hear all the bad things that happened while the kids were with the other parent. Acknowledge that to yourself, and then just smile. No need to judge yourself, it’s normal to want to compare yourself with the other parent. If you acknowledge this, you are less likely to grill the kids for dirt on the other parent. If you don’t acknowledge it there is a bigger chance you will have conversations with your kids aimed at tearing down the other parent, which may feel good to you in the short term but will be damaging to the whole family in the long run.
For more help navigating divorce and co-parenting call me to set up a time to talk. Getting support can be one of the most useful things you can do.
Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC