I’m often asked for co-parenting advice from moms who are newly divorced because to the outside world, my kids seem extremely well adjusted. They are happy, emotionally secure and well…normal. They love their dad and I equally and love their step-dad and step-sister as if they’ve known them their whole lives.
Some say I’m lucky that they turned out so seemingly unscathed from the trauma that divorce causes. I cringe at that assumption. I’m not LUCKY! I worked hard to make sure that the kids always felt loved, attended to their emotional needs before mine and eased them into their new lives with parents in two different homes as gently as I could.
But the most important thing I did? I spoke about their father with respect and integrity. I encouraged a deep relationship with him. It wasn’t easy. Sometimes it was downright difficult. For me, everything changed early on when I had an argument with my ex and snapped at the kids with a hurtful comment about him. The hurt in their eyes was palpable and I vowed to never put them in a situation like that again. From that moment on, I always tried to remember that I had married their dad, loved their dad enough to have children with him and had planned a life with him. He deserved my respect and he deserved for his children to understand how very much he loved them. Did I have to fight the urge to say negative things about him when we would argue about finances or when he disappointed the kids in some way? Absolutely. But I am so glad that I did.
Loving your child means loving them enough to put their needs first. Children need each parent equally in different ways and if you have a willing co-parent who loves your children and wants to be a major part of their lives, there is no reason to disparage or turn your children against them. I continue to co-parent in a loving way with the kids’ dad. We talk through all decisions, big or small, and support our children equally. We each love them on our own terms and love each other for the roles we play in their lives. Actually, I am lucky. Lucky to have a co-parent who loves the kids enough to not disparage their mom and wants to be involved in their raising.
Here are some ideas for co-parenting lovingly:
- Support your ex in their parenting. Neither all of my decisions nor his are perfect but we do our best to support each other. If a child is grounded at my house, dad makes sure they are grounded at his as well.
- Encourage love for your ex. It’s easy for the kids to complain about the other parent at your house. Don’t let them. If the kids have a complaint, I ask them to take it to their dad. Encourage them to communicate their feelings directly so that you’re not the middle man.
- Show them how to appreciate their parent. Every Christmas, Birthday and Mother/Father’s Day I take the kids shopping for their bio parents. Shopping for their parents gives us a great chance to bond and offers an opportunity they would normally have in a “traditional” situation. It shows the kids that I care about and appreciate the other parents enough to make the effort.
- Don’t indulge the kids in a way you wouldn’t have before. I see so many divorced couples try to out-do the other in order to show their child they love them “more”. Don’t fall for this trap. Kids can read right through a bribe. Try to stay within the same limits you would have if you were still married.
- Talk things through regularly. Schedule meetings on a regular basis to touch base on important events or details. We text throughout the week as things come up, but my ex and I try to have a meeting via phone or over coffee once a month to review any big changes in schedules, events coming up on our calendars and how the kids are doing in general. It’s helpful for me to know when the kids are misbehaving at his house and for him to know about the big argument one of them had with a friend. These monthly check-ins really help us stay on a cohesive parenting path and help us talk through things we disagree with and find compromises.
- Give your ex the benefit of the doubt. You no longer live together which means you don’t have all of the information. I remember the kids coming home from their dad’s house complaining that they had to sleep on the floor all weekend. I found out later that their dad had wanted to surprise them with amazing bunk beds and the order had just been delayed. Jumping to conclusions is never good practice for co-parenting successfully.
- Don’t disparage your ex. This is a tough one for lots of divorced parents. After all, there is a reason you are divorced. Negative feelings for your ex can certainly affect how you speak about them. Try your best to never disparage the co-parent. This can hurt children in ways you might not be able to predict. Remember that they love both parents and speaking badly about one or the other can affect they way they feel about themselves. Follow the golden rule- If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all!