When my ex-husband and I separated seven years ago, I remember saying I wanted a nice easy divorce and co-parenting relationship.
My ex had been married once before, and his co-parenting relationship with his first wife was so dysfunctional it really hurt his children, along with everyone else around the situation. I didn’t want that for my kids.
I knew the price of long-term ongoing conflict for children of divorce. This was going to be different, I thought. I wanted my kids to be happy and well-adjusted. I wanted to consider myself "Happily Divorced."
I quickly learned that, even with the best of intentions, co-parenting with someone you are divorced from can be an arduous task.
I wish I could say my co-parenting relationship has been all sunshine and rainbows, but if I'm being totally honest, it hasn't. I'd classify it as better than some, and worse than others. I mean, parenting is hard enough; but co-parenting, especially when you don't see eye to eye, can be brutal.
So, how can you avoid the landmines of co-parenting? When I asked a divorced friend of mine this question, her best advice was the same as mine: Don't get married and have kids! On a serious note though, since that ship has sailed for a lot of us, and we find ourselves navigating the tricky waters of co-parenting, here are some potentially explosive issues that can torpedo a co-parenting relationship and how to avoid them:
Avoid Vague Divorce Agreements
Decisions about holidays, religion, school, activities, children's expenses, and placement time should be well thought-out during the initial divorce negotiations. This is one area where working with a family law attorney or a mediator pays off in spades. Since they are experienced in the area of divorce, they have seen countless people before you navigate around these issues and can help you carefully plan for the future so that there is not a fight 10 years in a row about what time you will be picking up the kids on Christmas morning.
I'm a little bit of a planner (other people call it a control-freak), but after witnessing exactly how many arguments can come out of a vague agreement, my divorce agreement is 52 pages long. Everything we could think of was spelled out specifically. Has that helped? In many ways, I think so. The one caveat to this is that life is unpredictable, and things change, so as much as it helps to be prepared and have a well thought-out agreement, expect that there will be times when things will not go according to plan. It will be necessary to be flexible and work out alternative arrangements.
Avoid Negative Talk About the Other Parent
This is a difficult one for most people, myself included. You are not together for a reason, right? Sometimes, that reason is that the other parent hurt you badly, or you blame him or her for the breakdown of the relationship. Under these circumstances, its normal for you to have negative feelings; but it's best to not share those feelings with your children. This is their other parent, who is part of them. Not only does this damage the co-parenting relationship, but it can ultimately damage your relationship with the child if you are constantly speaking negatively about their other parent.
Confession time: I have not always been perfect at this one. I have let my emotions get the best of me sometimes, and you likely will too. The most recent example I can think of was when my ex-husband and I had an argument the morning of my dad's funeral. I was already raw with emotion, and my ex-husband called me and was upset about something that was irrelevant to me at the time. I went in to wake up my son, and I was ranting and raving about the conversation with his dad that I had just had. Instantly afterwards, I felt bad about how I had handled that situation. We are human and we make mistakes. It's important to circle back to the child first, then your ex, explain that you were wrong to say what you said, and apologize. Move forward from there.
Avoid Communicating through the Child
Kids are kids, and deserve to not be burdened with adult issues. If you have a problem with the other adult, or adults, in your co-parenting relationship, address it with those people directly—without involving the children. Despite maybe not wanting to talk to those people, it's best if you figure out a way to do so for your own sanity and in the best interest of your child.
Kids, as they grow, can become manipulative. It works to their advantage if they can play one of you against the other, and they will do it in a heartbeat if it helps their cause! My soon-to-be 12-year-old is working this angle in regard to the parental controls I put on his new phone. So, every time I hear him say "my dad thinks…" I pick up the phone to find out what his dad really thinks. Email and text if you can't talk to the other parent. Make a list of issues, and commit to talking about them once a week. Use an online shared calendar to note changes in kids' schedules and activities.
Make an Effort to Share Responsibilities
Probably my biggest issue in my co-parenting relationship is that I often feel set up, or undermined, by my ex-husband. He is a really fun guy, in my children's eyes, and took on the role of "entertainer" during the marriage, while I was the disciplinarian and the doer for everything kid-related. However, once you are in a co-parenting relationship in two households, those roles don't work as well. To function, both parents will need to be responsible for their share of entertaining, doing, and disciplining. Easier said than done! It is hard to break out of those roles.
While the best case scenario would be that we share roles and responsibilities equally, which some families can do, it's likely that this will not happen in our situation. Therefore, my workaround is to control what I can. I can control how I interact with my kids, and find more balance in my interactions with them, without compromising my principles or rules. This is why you will now find me on the basketball court, losing games of horse three times a week. Wish me luck!
Written by Heather Quinn
Heather Quinn is a professional working woman, friend, daughter, and single mom of two, blogging about the soap opera of her single mom experience. Single Mama Drama can be found at SingleMamaDramaSite.wordpress.com.