Life did not turn out the way you had expected it. You are heart-broken, angry, and for some, maybe even a little relieved that the relationship is over. Your ‘happily ever after’ story has ended in a separation. However difficult, you know you still have to work together with your ex regarding your children. Being a single parent is not easy, and can be down right exhausting at times. It is hard knowing you have less time with your children while also knowing you have ‘no control’ over what happens at the other house. This can be extremely frustrating and anxiety provoking. However, with some help, the co-parenting relationship with your ex may help lighten the load. Remember a few key points when it comes to co-parenting.
1. The relationship ended, not your role as a parent.
Remember that the relationship with your ex is what has ended. You did not leave or abandon your children. Your ex did not necessarily leave nor abandon their children. Whether you like it or not, both of you still have a responsibility to raise your children the best you can. Even though you now have less time with your children, you can still be a powerful influence on their lives for the better. The children will be impacted by this separation, but you can still help provide as much stability as possible during this transition.
2. Your primary focus has to shift.
Before, when you were still a couple, the relationship was supposed to be the priority. Your spouse and kids both demanded your attention to one level or another. Now, your attention is focused on both you and your children and trying to co-parent effectively with your spouse. Your children will struggle through this time for some sense of normality and security. This is now all on you. When you have your children, expect some transitions to be difficult, especially early on into the separation. When you have your children, focus on meeting their needs and let them know that although the other parent is not there, they are still loved and cared for. The children need to know and feel that they are a priority at this time. When the kids are not with you, your focus is now on taking care of you through self-care. If you do not care for you, no one is left to care for your children.
3. You can still co-parent successfully, despite your differences
I get it, you are angry. You likely do not approve of what your ex is doing personally and maybe even with the kids. You may still argue and fight just as much. However, for the sake of the kids, you have to be willing to put your differences aside to focus on the children. Your children will feel the intensity of the conflict and will negatively impact their attempt to make sense of all this change. Be willing to separate the conversations about the kids well-being and the other things related to the legal separation and divorce as two different conversations if at all possible. The kids are not bargaining chips to be dealt with.
4. Never put the kids in the middle
Your children are forced to grow up pretty quickly during these times, they are still children. Allow them to stay children and continue to learn the things they need to be successful adults. Despite your frustration with the situation, do not be tempted to use your children or put them in the middle. Your kids are not spy’s to report what your former spouse is or is not doing. Your children are not the negotiator between you and your ex, even when you feel you cannot talk to them without some kind of conflict. Neither are your children the mail man to deliver or take things from one residence to the other. Let your children continue growing up and let your kids be kids, protect that for them. Do not rob them of that simply because you and your partner do not get along.
5. Say only positive things about your child’s other co-parent
Finally, this is absolutely essential. Your children’s identity is a mixed combination between you and their other parent. Sure, they may not like you or the other parent from time to time. They are angry, too. But saying negative things or ‘trash talking’ the other parent causes the kids to take those personally. I have talked with both children in the midst of this situation and adult children who were thrown into this situation and I often heard them wrestle with the thought of ‘If my mom/dad is __________ (fill-in the blank with the complaint), then I must also be ___________ (fill-in the blank with the complaint). Remember the old saying ‘If you can’t say anything positive, then do not say anything at all’ rings loudly here. Trying to find only positive things (and you might have to get creative here) will help create the stability your children need during this time. Another key point with this idea is not try not to sway their opinion of the other parent. Let them make that connection on their own. I have heard too many times that kids grew tired of the negativity they constantly heard from the one parent and did everything they could to get away to be with the other parent who simply did not say anything negative at all. It is not worth it. Keep your frustrations with your former spouse away from the children.
As you can see, being a single parent can be extremely difficult, but if both parents can put their differences aside and mutually agree to do what is best for their children, you will see tremendous results. Your children will adapt to this change much quicker with more security and comfort knowing that both parents love and care for them just as they had when mom and dad were still together.