There is no chapter on “How to Survive Co-Parenting” in Baby and Childcare, the great medical classic on raising children written by Dr. Benjamin Spock in 1946. Nor is it anything to be expected in the more contemporary parenting guide of What to Expect When You are Expecting. The fact is most parents are not ever truly prepared when their first child arrives. They end up learning what parenting is “on the job.” They eventually come to understand that even with the full-time support of a devoted spouse, raising a child can be challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally – not to mention a drain on all kinds of other resources that you just can’t fathom by reading a book. But when divorce enters the picture, and parenting becomes “co-parenting” the challenges can become multifold. To survive it, to ensure your kids fare well, you must be mindful of what matters most.
3 tips to survive the hardest aspects of co-parenting
When you’re in a healthy marriage, you tend to put your relationship with your spouse on autopilot. However, all that changes after your divorce.
You need to carefully balance your relationship — with your child — along with your relationship with your ex-spouse, and you cannot take either for granted. This can get very messy and stressful.
Here are three ways to try to make it as smooth as possible.
1. Take the long view
If you’re co-parenting it usually means your relationship with the other adult is well, “not the best”. It might be friendly, which is usually the best-case scenario, or it might be prickly and full of conflict, or anywhere in between.
One of the easiest ways to lessen the drama is to take the long view. Remember what your goal is.
What is your goal? Ask yourself right now. Is it to win? Or is it to minimize the impact on your kids so your children stand to heal as soon as possible over the divorce? If you said the latter, the irony is … you win!
Focusing on day-to-day disagreements such as squabbling about when your ex is five minutes late during an exchange or being completely inflexible about swapping days serves no real purpose. Look past the small mostly inconsequential problems and remember your goal is to do your part in raising a happy and healthy child.
2. Count to ten
When taking the long view you focus on the end game, not the small skirmishes in between. Unfortunately, even as adults and parents, we too can get emotional. Sometimes those emotions get the better of us.
While it’s a better chance than not that you and your ex don’t see eye-to-eye on many matters and aren’t a good fit for one another, you still probably know each other very well. That means you know what each other likes and you know how to push one another’s buttons (Push, Push!) No, you must delete those thoughts.
It’s incredibly important to not respond to triggers or fall into traps your ex may lay. It’s not good for you and it’s not good for your child.
Don’t let your co-parent get under your skin, and when he inevitably does, follow the adage, count to ten. There’s nothing to gain from snapping or blowing up, and even if you get the better of him in that moment, it could do more harm than good over the long haul. It is likely your child saw it or will hear about it in some way.
Watch your speech and control your emotions and your child will see a great role model. Long term, your child will respect you for the way you conducted the split and ongoing relationship with her dad.
3. Appreciate what you have
Life moves quickly. As soon as you have a child, your days seem to move even faster.
Sometimes when following the advice above, of taking the long view and focusing on the end game, it’s possible to go a little too far. Spend a little time to appreciate what is right in front of you. This. Very. Minute.
As quickly as life is moving, your child is growing up even faster. Instead of getting into a never-ending tug-of-war with your ex over time splits, try to enjoy the time you have with your child.
And, it’s also equally important to know that your child will in most circumstances have a healthier upbringing if they get to spend time with both parents. So, trying to wrestle him away from you ex, whether as a way to punish your ex, or for some other reason, is likely not in the best interest on your child.
Instead of spending your time fighting and doing whatever you can to get more time with your child, spend that time and energy actually enjoying the time that is available. Savor the moments. Focus on what you will do, what you can do. Make it meaningful. It doesn’t have to be gilded with spending a lot of money. It might just mean reading aloud to your kid or going for a walk or a bike ride. Simple is best sometimes.
Parenting one or more children under one roof is as trying as it is satisfying. But, if you and their other parent are no longer together, it can make raising them and enjoying your life that much harder.
To survive and enjoy your life as a co-parent, it takes a bit of a balancing. It’s important to enjoy the day-to-day time you have with your child, but you also want to focus on the end game of raising a happy and healthy individual. When you do that, it helps you minimize the conflict. It puts the best things first and it gives everybody perspective.
Co-parenting isn’t easy, but it is possible by finding out whatever it takes … are you up for the challenge?
Tim Backes is the senior editor for Custody X Change, a parenting plan and custody calendar software solution. Along with providing co-parents software to help create and manage custody agreements, Custody X Change provides free co-parenting information as well as a scholarship for single parents.