No-one said that co-parenting with someone who hurt you would be easy. Maybe your ex broke your heart. You may still be feeling hurt, in love or even abused. You might also consider them a narcissistic or toxic co-parent who you’ll never get along with.
Feelings do change over time. Co-parenting usually becomes easier with each passing year. The intimate relationship you had together fades gradually into the past.
You’ll develop routines where you don’t have to give the other parent much thought. Hurt dissipates – eventually. You may always love the other parent to your children on some level but you’ll dwell on that less and less over time.
If you want to know how to co-parent with someone who still gives you emotional pain, read on. I’ll give you some solid truths based on experience as well as tips to navigate your co-parenting future.
1. In Some Ways, You’re Stuck With Each Other Forever
It’s possible to dissolve your marriage from your former spouse or union with your de facto partner but it’s impossible to dissolve your co-parenting relationship. She’ll always be your son’s mother. He’ll always be your daughter’s dad.
You thought you were free at last. But the tie to your child’s other parent can never be undone. Better to accept sooner rather than later that you’ll have an ongoing, though different, relationship with your ex.
Hurting each other psychologically will be counterproductive and futile. You’ll have to get on with one another on some level. At the very least, you’ll need to be polite and cooperative in dealing with those unavoidable, difficult issues that will arise around your children.
2. You Control Only You, Not Your Ex
You may be happy to not have to deal with your ex every day but your kids will still have regular interactions that will affect them. Talk to your children to stay aware of what’s happening when they’re away. That will allow you to adjust your co-parenting to get the best results.
Trying to control what your ex does is not an option and almost never appropriate. Once you’re separated or divorced, your kids are on their own when they spend time with your ex.
Parallel parenting, meaning co-parenting with limited interaction between parents, is what you should default to unless you somehow develop a more friendly approach.Sherri Donovan
You have no control over whom she introduces them to or even leaves them with. She has the right to ask her alcoholic mother or her creep of a neighbor whom she scarcely knows to babysit.
But you still have a role in adapting to what your ex does. If he or she lets them play video games all day, you can make sure they spend time outdoors. If your ex always serves bolagnese, you’ll have to steer clear of that and find some other recipes. You can complement each other and work as a team even if you’re hardly on speaking terms.
3. Keep Working on Your Relationship Skills
An irony of separating is that you may have to be more careful with your relationship with a co-parent than with a spouse. You’re not living together, meaning the usual daily give and take is gone. And makeup sex is out of the question.
Let’s say that you and your ex split time with the kids 50-50. With the approval of a judge, a custody schedule gets put in place. Now let’s say your parents are coming to town and the only time they can come is your husband’s weekend. If you haven’t established a good relationship with him, why should he be flexible and switch weekends so the kids can see their grandparents?
Offending or causing annoyance can easily cause a co-parenting relationship to become frosty and uncomfortable. You’ll still need them to cooperate with you in the future, so treat you co-parenting relationship with care.
To have any pull, you may have to be kinder, more sensitive and a better communicator than when you were together. You have to show some concern and try to compromise when asked. Skills like active listening will help keep the lines of communication open. The more your ex feels that you actually care about his happiness, the more open he will be to your suggestions and requests.
You may also have to grin and bear his or her toxic behavior at times. There’s nothing you can really do but stay on the right path and hope they’ll join you. If they abused you, you have every right to limit communication to simple text messages on child matters. You’re allowed to ignore them.
4. The Better His or Her Life, the Better for You
As much as you may have fantasies about your ex-wife’s life going to pieces (I used to dream about pouring sugar down my ex’s gas tank), remember, that’s like wishing your kids’ lives will also go to pieces 50% of the time. You want your kids to be happy. You want their life to be stable.
Your ex having a job that fulfills her, that pays well, that has benefits – all that will make your life easier. As much as you might get some secret satisfaction seeing her inconvenienced by, say, her car breaking down, it will be your kids standing in front of the school waiting to be picked up.
Your ex finding a new partner may be a blessing you should welcome. It’ll make it easier for you to move on romantically since there’s obviously no room or even hope of a rekindling of your former relationship. Importantly, your kids gain an extra adult to help provide resources, activities and care.
Your life will go better when your former partner’s life goes better. You want your kids’ parent to be as relaxed and happy as possible so she’ll have the calmness and patience needed for good parenting.
5. Any Point Scoring Games Are Now Over
Nothing in your relationship anymore is about you being right or wrong, about things being fair or unfair. The only metric you’ll care about is whether it is good for the kids or not.
When you’re a couple, it’s important to do whatever you can to bolster the relationship. A strong marriage supports children’s development. Once you’re divorced and have become co-parents, however, the first filter through which you evaluate any decision will be the effect on the kids.
Becoming enlightened and unburdened by ego like a Buddhist monk is not easy! It can be hard to see what will be best for your kids down the road and to focus just on that.
When my ex-husband remarried, I was torn apart that another woman would be combing out my daughter’s hair, reading her a bedtime story and tucking her into bed. That was my job! How could it be good for my girl that I wasn’t doing that for her?
But my daughter’s stepmother has given her so much: love, advice, structure, support, a different perspective. My ex-husband has been a great father. But, without the backup of his new wife, I think there would have been a lot of bumps along the way.
6. Show Your Kids You Respect Their Mother / Father
As broken up as I was about my ex getting remarried, I made it my job to speak well of my daughter’s stepmother and to be excited for my daughter about her part in their wedding. I did my best to never burden my daughter with my doubts and fears for her.
Instead I reassured her that her stepmom would love her and do what was best for her. From time to time, things happened that were pretty different from the way I’d have handled them. But I would tell my daughter that your stepmom is smart and has a lot of good ideas.
One child, Sophie (not her real name), told me that when mom “trash talked” her dad, she felt it as a personal attack. She said that she felt it “like a stab in my gut.”Dr Ann Gold Buscho
Respecting your ex is a way of also showing respect to your child. Parent-child bonds are strong and attacking one is a bit like attacking both. You psychologically hurt your kids when you try to diminish their father or mother in their eyes. You should be open and honest but there’s also room to be tactful and diplomatic.
Kids are also better able to accept change when they assume both parents believe it is for the best. Your job is to make your kids believe that you support your former partner. You don’t want to make them insecure and uncertain by openly questioning decisions over which you may have no control.
7. Pay for Stuff Separately and Avoid Keeping Tabs
Child support and financial issues around who pays for what can easily damage a co-parenting relationship. But there are ways to avoid that.
Each of you will probably have a good idea of whether the amount of child support being paid is too much or not. Hopefully, even without talking, you can adjust to that.
- If you’re on the good side of the ledger – receiving too much child support or paying too little – be thankful for that. You can afford to be generous in terms of spending on the kids.
- If you’re being screwed by child support on the other hand, you can rightfully expect the other parent to help out covering major expenses.
Paying for stuff separately can avoid having to negotiate all the time. If you want something for the kids, such as a basketball system or dance lessons, go ahead and pay for it. Your ex will also be free to pay for stuff he or she wants them to have. You may get into a routine where, for example, one parent usually pays for clothing while the other buys electronics.
Showing a little generosity with money now and then is important. You probably won’t lose anything because your co-parent will notice and may be kind in return. At least, you’ll gain some goodwill and demonstrate that you’ve moved on from any past hurt.
8. Co-Parenting Continues Beyond 18
Even when the kids turn 18 and the legal custody schedule expires, you will still have to deal with your children’s other parent. My second husband used to like to say, “Just wait until high school graduation. Then we won’t have to play this game anymore.” Wrong. So wrong.
To avoid being abandoned by your kids when they hit 18, you want to be kindly thought of by your ex at that stage. That way, there’s less likely to be competition between co-parents and more encouragement of sharing the love around.
Once the child is free from a custody schedule, he has to decide for himself how much time to spend at mom’s house and how much at dad’s. What was a legal ruling becomes a question of convenience or a popularity contest. Young adults are still essentially self-centered creatures. They will gravitate to whichever house is easier.
In my daughter’s case, her dad’s house is easier in that it is in the town where most of her friends are. In my stepsons’ case, their mom’s house is easier in that they can retreat to the basement and large screen TV and basically be left alone in their own man cave.
The lack of a custody schedule also makes it much easier for one parent to manipulate the children into spending more time with them. Tools include guilt or outright bribes of cars or iPhones or whatever the current hot thing to have is.
9. Learn to Get Along for Special Occasions
Even when the kids become adults and move away, you will still have to deal with your children’s other parent. There’ll be momentous occasions that you may both want to be there for. For example, do you want to:
- be at hand for your child’s wedding;
- walk your daughter down the aisle;
- give a toast to the happy couple;
- be at the birth of your first grandchild; or
- attend your grandchild’s first birthday?
Avoiding your ex forever is not an option unless you want to miss out. And it would be a bit ridiculous to still be negotiating about which parent can do what when you’re kids are all grown up. Whatever your current feelings for your ex, you’ll have to eventually make peace with them.
10. Heal So You May Let Warmth Into Your Heart
The irony of your post-divorce life is that you want a good relationship with your child’s other parent. You might like to wish her to Hades or feel the need to get away because you actually love them still. But if your former partner is not in the picture, there will be a gaping hole in your child’s heart that you cannot fill.
Your ex never has to become a good friend. But you should at least aim to be warmly cordial. You’ve just got to get along if you can for the sake of your child or children. Politeness or even the occasional pleasant conversation between co-parents could make all the difference.
The bottom line here is that, like diplomacy among nations, the more you are in natural opposition, the more important it is to work towards an easing in hostilities. Not only is peace the surest way to protect your children, it will add to your own sense of security and well-being.
To be a good co-parent when you’re feeling hurt, my ultimate advice is to fake it until you make it. You don’t need to be friendly or show them how you feel. You just need to get along and each do your co-parenting jobs. Concentrate only on the co-parenting part of the relationship, be kind to the kids, and eventually you’ll move on and find a new life for yourself.