Co-parenting is the future, and the future is now.
Science is 100 percent behind collaborative co-parenting. It is not divorce or separated families that harms kids — but conflict between parents, which studies have found leads to fathers being marginalized in the family, and distancing themselves partly or completely from the kids’ lives.
Together, we can work to stop that from happening, and promote shared parenting — no matter how many hours each parent has with the kids. A full 55 peer-reviewed and published studies find children fare better when separated and divorced co-parents share parenting time and decisions approximately equally (courts and academics consider at least 40 percent time with each parent to be considered shared parenting, a.k.a. co-parenting). This is also true for high conflict situations.
Whether you can stand the idea of relinquishing control of your children to an ex you dislike, loathe or hate, you likely do not have a choice. Shared parenting legislation was introduced in more than half of states last year, and as science, media and general common sense infiltrates family court and culture, there has been incredibly positive movement towards it. Even if the kids are majority of time with you, there is a lot you can do to promote a family culture of equality and harmony:
- The big, over-arching theme in successful, harmonious co-parenting is that both partners respect the other to be a safe, decent parent when the other is not around. If you truly believe that your kids’ other parent is unsafe, then you need to take legal action to minimize contact. Which brings me to the big point about shared parenting: If a parent is deemed safe to be with the kids 10 percent of the time, they are then safe to be with them 30 or 50 or 80 or even 100 percent of the time. That means that you do not try to control what happens at the other parent’s house. Maybe he is the fun weekend dad, all the time, and you prefer children have structure, chores and downtime. He is a strict vegan and never allows sugar, carbs or produce grown outside of the county. You think kids need animal protein and the occasional cookie. You have to let that go. The beauty of successful shared parenting is that once you trust each other and learn to communicate, you are more likely to peacefully negotiate differences for the sake of everyone’s best interests. Says Elizabeth: “My ex and I started to coparent amazingly once I let go of trying to control the situation, let him parent the way he wants to parent, be understanding when he was late, and ignore the clothes never being returned. Once you take the pressure off, the tension eases and you can start to bond and connect better.”
- Accept that men and women are equal. That includes that mothers and fathers are equal parents.
- If things are tense between you, keep the focus of any must-have interaction on the kids.
- Focus on parenting as a team. Ask his advice about behavior issues. Do not allow the kids to pit one of you against the other, and never vey for the position as favorite parent. As one member of my Millionaire Single Moms Facebook group said: “In parenting, there is no good-cop / bad-cop. Sometimes we are both the bad cop.”
- When communicating with him, use ‘your house’ and ‘my house’ … not ‘Home,’ as in ‘When will you bring the kids home?’ It doesn’t matter how much time each parent has with the kids, keep these pronouns neutral.
- From Erin: “We still occasionally have family meetings. It benefits the kids to see that we are on the same page and then everyone gets everything out at once.”
- Do not call all the time to check in on the kids, or chat with them. Related: Stop calling your kids all the time when they’re with their dad
- Routinely involve him in decisions about the kids’ child care, school, health, activities.
- IGNORE when he gets pissy. DO NOT ENGAGE. Emily’s tactic: “It took me a while to release the angry texting habit I adopted once he moved out, criticizing him every time he was late, or his stories sounded fishy about a plan change. Now I say to myself: ‘And that is why I divorced him,’ and breathe an actual sigh of relief. I text ‘OK thanks, like a robot and get on with my life.”
- Always keep him posted and welcome for all school, extracurricular actives — inform him about times and dates as you learn them, offer to meet together for teacher meetings, drive together to events when it makes sense.
- From single mom Laura: “Change your own mindset about the past/divorce/your heartache. LET IT GO. You are co-parents now, and it doesn’t matter how you got here, or whose fault it is. He’s your co-parent and children’s dad — not your ex. His girlfriend or new wife is just that, not his mistress/affair partner. Staying in a positive mindset about the now is critical.”
- From Maggie: “Change your own thinking by reframing what your relationship is with him in your head. ‘My child’s other parent,’ instead of ‘my ex.'”
- Invite him to birthday or graduation parties you throw for the kids. You can also ask him to participate in the planning, to bring the cake or otherwise be involved.
- Stay connected to his family and friends. Send them holiday cards and invite them to school, sports and birthday events.
- Share positive stories about the other parent with the kids. Tell them about how you met, or trips you took, or positive qualities about their dad. This communicates to your children something positive about a person they love and reconditions you to think different, and better about your ex. This shift will infiltrate your energy, vibration, and interaction with him.
- Buy him a holiday gift on behalf of the kids.
- Be positive about any romantic partners in his life — both to the kids and to him. It doesn’t matter if you like her or whether she was the affair partner.
- When he makes a suggestion or request about parenting, listen and follow it unless you actually really object.
- Think about what you can do to help the other parent win at parenting. These might include daily reminders, scheduling and planning emails, or follow-up phone calls. Do it from a place of love and unity, and without being condescending!
- Let him fail. There is a fine line between being supportive and co-dependent. Ultimately, he is responsible for being the best father he can. I have heard moms say they schedule fun activities for their kids’ dad to do with “because I love my kids and want them to have fun weekends.” That is actually controlling and co-dependent, and doesn’t work in a co-parenting relationship.
- Share the kids’ successes with him: Screen shot good grades on homework or cute craft projects and send him, send pics or videos from sports events he misses – and not in a passive-aggressive way to punish him for not being there
- Say ‘yes’ as very often as you possibly can when he asks for flexibility in the schedule.
- Thank him when he is flexible with you, no matter how much more of the work you know you do.
- Let go of the, ‘I bought those clothes so they stay at my house.’ If you’re running short on certain items, just ask that enough be returned when you are running low, and pay back that favor.
- Give him a compliment. Do it in front of the kids.
- Refrain from posting social media pics of your new boyfriend with the kids, with the exception of when everyone is really getting along awesome and it truly is NBD. Otherwise, that is not only counter-productive for co-parenting, but it is mean and targets his manhood on the most primal level.
- Always always be the bigger person. When you feel the rage coming on, STOP. It’s not about you. Save your energy for the battles that really matter in the long-term.
- Accept that you don’t have to force the relationship. You may not want to spend the holidays together or sit on the same bleachers at the kids’ volleyball match. That is fine.
- Be patient. Take it from me: people change and grow and forgive and mellow. Over time, handoffs at the police station can cease and be replaced by shared holiday meals. Explosive texting can stop and words of support and encouragement can reign. Life is long.
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