When life happens, it’s hard to prioritize. As parents, no matter the circumstance, we always prioritize our children even when no one’s there to prioritize us.
But if you’re just starting to co-parent after a recent separation, it can be difficult balancing a challenging ex, your kid’s wellbeing, and emotions running rampant.
So what steps can you take to successfully co-parent?
While no one gives you a roadmap for the hard moments in life, let’s walk through a few best practices to guide you when emotions are running the game and stability feels shot. Regardless of your situation, your kids are counting on you for direction, and with a co-parenting compass on hand, making better decisions can feel simpler and a little less stressful.
It goes without saying that effective communication is essential for successful co-parenting. But what about practical tips for actually making that happen? For many of us, clean communication with an ex-partner can feel impossible. It can be helpful to treat your ex like a business partner and your parenting schedule like a strategic plan. What’s best for your kids is best for “the company” and shouldn’t involve over-the-top emotional plays.
It’s also important to listen. Take your ex’s concerns seriously and, as long as your kids aren’t in harm’s way, don’t be afraid to be flexible when your ex wants to experiment from time-to-time. Sticking to a schedule is important for your sake and your kids, but learning to pick your battles can mean the difference between smooth sailing and rocky waters.
Push Emotions Aside
When miscommunication inevitably occurs, don’t finger-point or speak ill of your ex around your kids. At the end of the day, your ex is still their mother or father, and trashing them to your kids can be seriously detrimental to their own self-esteem and overall sense of security.
When you do feel emotionally charged, rather than spewing anger at an ex or bottling up your emotions, speak to a therapist, a close confidant, or write a letter you’ll never send. Also consider specifically scheduling time in your day to vent. When you have a designated time, it’s easier to shrug off emotions and wait until it’s time to let loose.
When you’ve gotten the hang of co-parenting, flexibility here and there is fine. But as you’re just getting started, try your best to stick to a strict routine. In both houses, kids should have similar bedtimes, mealtimes, and homework times to avoid stress and confusion. While it may feel like life as they know it has gone out the window, kids need reminders that behavioral guidelines and house rules still apply.
In the same vein, get on the same page with your ex about general house guidelines. It’s hard for kids to bounce back and forth between drastically different environments. You likely won’t agree on everything, but try to keep general rules consistent. In the chaos of separation, kids of all ages need a structure to cling to.
Listen to Your Kids
While you may feel a loss of control, remember that your kids feel the same. Oftentimes more so given their lack of say in the separation to begin with. It’s comforting to remind children they have a voice in their well-being. So if they’re supposed to be with you for Thanksgiving but cousins on their father’s side invited them over and they’re dying to go, it’s ok to let them drive the car. Don’t guilt-trip your kids into one thing or another, and always ask what they’d prefer in scenarios that aren’t black-and-white. Empowering kids to make decisions can give them a comforting sense of control in an emotionally draining scenario.
Give Yourself Grace
Parenting in itself is one of life’s greatest challenges. Parenting with an ex who’s not always a team player or an emotional cheerleader only amplifies that challenge. And if you’re still working out a new support system, overload can feel imminent. So don’t beat yourself up when you lose your temper or don’t pack a perfect lunch with the crusts cut off. When it’s not your night with your kids, make an effort to focus on self-care and reset.
And speak to a professional if you have the opportunity. Specialized therapists are experts at soothing marital conflict. Of course, they’re also helpful third-parties to bounce your ideas and emotions off of. Regardless of whether you have a partner who lives under the same roof, taking even twenty minutes each day to yourself is a must.
If you’re asking questions about the best ways to co-parent, chances are, you’re doing just fine. Even when you’re on great terms with an ex, co-parenting is never easy, so keep seeking out wisdom and keep communicating. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to give yourself a break from time to time. As parents, all we can do is our best. Perfection is a myth and perfect co-parenting is just as fantastical.
If you are thinking of divorce and have children, seeking the advice and services of an experienced divorce and family lawyer is in your best interest. Divorce and custody cases can be messy, overwhelming, and complicated, especially when you and your soon to be ex are unable to agree on the terms.
At Rappleye & Rappleye P.C., we are committed to providing expert representation for our clients. We have been serving the residents of Jackson, MI for over 60 years, with a solid history of success. Let us help you in your family law case, and we will put our experience to work for you!