Let’s face it folks, times have changed. The traditional family is no longer that traditional. More and more often couples are finding themselves in a position where they no longer want to ‘couple’ but are, regardless, looking ahead at years of obligatory interaction due to their children.
For the past 6 years my ex and I have been called things like: weird, surreal, amazing, and the ‘poster children’ for divorce. As much as I enjoy praise, (come on, who doesn’t?) it also breaks my heart a little that our situation is so uncommon.
I have questioned what it is that makes our relationship one that, while never perfect, has always been equitable and pleasant. Is it because one or both of us are perfectly rational, emotionally mature individuals who should be therapists in our spare time? Uh…nope (shush Dan, I can hear you from here).
What we have found together, though, is a friendship that has grown roots in today, and plans for tomorrow, rather than lingering in yesterday. Here are the lessons we learned along the way, in the hopes that our style of healthy co-parenting becomes the norm rather than the exception.
1) THE KID COMES FIRST
This is the foundation upon which every decision we make is based. It is non-negotiable. This is, unfortunately, also where so many relationships go wrong. Anger and resentment gets in the way, people want to hit back, or score points. Stop it! This is not about you. It doesn’t matter who did what to get you there, the fact is you’re there. Take responsibility for the child you created, and their well-being. What is in their best interest? What kind of life do you want for them?
2) COMMUNICATE (PLEASANTLY)
Whether you are talking to or about your ex, be civil. Do not bad-mouth each other in front of your child. You once loved this person enough to procreate with them. Point out their positives when you can to your children, so they can recognize them as well. Every child starts being told “oh, you have your dad’s nose” or “you’re so your mother’s son”. Don’t let them have a negative association with that half of themselves.
Communicate regularly when possible. Before my ex was able to move closer, we used to meet up at a coffee place every weekend to exchange our son. We spent an hour or so chatting about our weeks and what was going in our son’s life. While you might not be there, consider what small changes you can work towards to make the situation less adversarial.
3) BE A FAMILY
Yep, you heard me. Do stuff together. No, it’s not going to ‘confuse’ your child. It’s going to help them understand that while there is a new living arrangement, being part of a family doesn’t stop. We do birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s/Father’s Day, even Halloween. Camping and road trips, while not common, have been done. This is something that I give my ex SO much credit for. Over the years he has always gone out of his way to ensure he is present. On my end, I have always ensured he knew he was welcome in anything we do.
This feeling of family extends though. His parents stay with me when they come over from England. They want to spend time with their Grandson, and I love that! My mother and he have a hilarious relationship that involves shameless flirting. We all come as a package, and if a step-parent comes into the picture, they will absolutely be wrapped in that package.
4) BE THE GROWN UP
SO many aspects of healthy co-parenting fall into this category. Often, when parents split, the relationship shifts from parent/child to grown up/buddy. They don’t need you as a friend. They need you as a guide, a rule-setter, a loving pair of arms, and a safe place to land. Don’t try to use them as a sounding board to vent your venom over the injustice of it all. It is NOT their problem, it’s yours. Call a friend, or a hotline. Open a bottle of wine after you’ve finished ‘adulting’ and have a Facebook rant. By trying to force your child into the role you want them to fill, you are denying them their childhood. Be the grown up they need you to be in this difficult time in their lives.
All of the small choices we’ve made through the years have all fallen into one of these categories. It has made our lives so much more positive, and frankly, so much more enjoyable. Kudos to all of you out there right now who are doing your best, and keeping your integrity in difficult circumstances. I wish you smoother seas ahead.
Just remember, when in doubt, go back to #1.