You knew that going into a divorce there would be challenges, especially around having a shared parenting arrangement with this person that you decided you couldn’t live with anymore. But let’s be honest – it’s harder than you thought it would be.
There are things you can do to make shared parenting easier, and also to focus on looking after yourself and your children through this ongoing imperfect arrangement. Here are some tips that will help.
Work with what you’ve got
You can’t change who your co-parent is, and you can’t control what they do or how they react to you. Now is the time to take the high road and try to make co-parenting as easy as you can, but understand that you may still be facing a co-parent who is always taking the low road and trying to make things as hard for you as possible.
You don’t have to be submissive or give in to unreasonable demands from a co-parent because you are the only one of you who is trying to make things run smoothly. Being reasonable, flexible or kind does not mean you have to take their rubbish either.
Make the best of every situation that you can. Even when co-parenting, you still can be the best parent you can be.
Put yourself in your child’s shoes
As a divorced parent, it’s hard to not think about your ex. It’s difficult not to make parenting decisions without thinking, ‘He is going to hate this,’ or ‘I know we are going to face an argument about that.’
It will help though to take yourself out of your ex’s thought process and instead put yourself into your child’s shoes. What does your child want or need right now? What will make them happy and healthy? What will help their resilience and raise them up? What will help them know that they are worthy and that you care?
Whenever you put yourself in your child’s shoes, you come back to a place of love and hope and you can remember why you are trying to make all of this easier.
Parenting plans that are structured, clear, flexible and also planned well ahead are the best. Planning is not really the fun part of anything, but the better you plan, the fewer problems and conflicts you may face later on.
Parenting plans should cover (as a minimum):
- a contact or visitation schedule
- details for handovers
- children’s medical needs or concerns
- holidays and special events
- communication guidelines
- decision-making guidelines.
If you make plans as well ahead of time as possible, as well as leaving room for how you will communicate changes and keep each other updated, your parenting plan will set you up for parenting success.
Good communication (especially when you are dealing with someone you may not always work well with) is so important for reaching goals. And while co-parenting well may not necessarily be your primary goal, creating the best life and strong future for your kids is.
Set up systems so you can communicate digitally, in real time and in writing, so there is a written record of what goes on and you can check back on the details.
Also take care not to communicate purely based on emotions like anger – anything you want to say can wait at least five minutes, so don’t send or say things immediately in the heat of the moment. Take a deep breath before communicating anything.
Pick your battles
In parenting, there are things you would prefer to have happen, and then there are essentials, or things that you aren’t willing to let slide.
You might prefer if your child ate a healthy diet, but accept that some lollies or junk food is ok. Taking diabetic medication or avoiding foods your child is allergic to could be considered to be essential not just preferential.
When you have a shared parenting arrangement you are probably going to find more reasons to disagree with your co-parent than you did when you were a couple. Parenting will get easier if you make good decisions about which things are just preferential, and which ones are essential (because life will get easier if there are things that you can let slide).
Give yourself space for negative feelings
You will feel awful sometimes. And you might also feel some pretty strong negative emotions towards your ex.
Allow yourself space and time to feel these things – take a step back from fighting and stressing and acknowledge that it feels hard because IT IS hard, not because you have done or are doing anything wrong.
You don’t need to suppress or numb negative emotions. Be angry. Be negative towards your ex. Be sad and grieve the loss of the life you wanted and deserved.
It’s ok to feel these things, but best not to experience them in front of your kids or when directly communicating with your ex. Give yourself a safe space and the right supports to express your feelings and do what you need to heal.
Give your co-parent some time and some slack
If you have been the primary caregiver of your kids during the marriage, your co-parent might need some time and practice to get up to your skill level now. Cut them some slack.
Routines might be all over the place, hygiene might be questionable, sleep schedules and nutritional needs might be forgotten for a bit.
Give your co-parent time to learn the practical side of parenting and let them make some mistakes without raking them over the coals every time. Work on being flexible, even forgiving if you can, and keep your criticism to yourself.
Encourage your child’s connection to their other parent
Keep your negative feelings about your co-parent away from your child. Not all people make good parents, but far more people should be given the opportunity to have a positive connection with their child than we think.
Find things that your child enjoys with their other parent, and encourage them. Talk up the good moments your child has with their other parent, remembering that their strengths and interests will be different from yours.
A harmony or balance of parenting strengths will help your child to be resilient and well-rounded, so do what you can to bring these out.
Co-parenting can sometimes get easier, and sometimes it may instead be an ongoing challenge. If you need strategies to help you cope, I may be able to refer you to someone. Give me a call today if you want to talk.