There's nothing easy about divorce or separation, especially when you have kids together. After separation, everyone from experts to armchair quarterbacks have advice for how to successfully co-parent. These pieces of advice usually fail to acknowledge your individual situation or history with this person that you divorced for very good reasons. So, honestly, some co-parenting suggestions are just for the damn birds, and even detrimental to surviving a situation like shared custody.
When I left my ex, I was so scared. Scared of being a single mom, scared of him, and scared of what people would think. I had always believed marriage was forever and that the end of our marriage meant that I had somehow "failed." I especially didn't want my decision to leave their father to ruin my kids' lives. At the same time, I knew it was the right decision and that we'd all be better off without him.
Although I have full custody of my kids, they do spend some time with their father. I hate those weekends. Hate them. And, I find myself having to give ground and give up little pieces of myself in order to get along well enough with my ex-husband so we can co-parent successfully. My husband has a completely different relationship with his ex-wife, with whom he shares 50/50 custody of their children.
I now understand that every divorce and co-parenting arrangement is a little different, and no advice is one size fits all. Quite frankly, most of it, while well-intentioned and ideal in a perfect world, is best ignored. Find what works best for you, your co-parent, and your children, and stick with it until it no longer makes sense to do so.
You Should Be Friends With Your Ex
Ha ha. Ha. Ha. There's not enough eye-roll gifs or alcohol in the world for the "be friends with your ex-partner" piece of advice. Well I admire people who can be friends, or even friendly with their exes, for me that's not only not possible, it's not advisable.
I constantly tell my kids that they don't have to be friends with everyone, as long as they are relatively polite. In this case, I need to take my own advice.
You Need To Keep The Lines Of Communication Open
This seems like great advice in theory, but in practice I realized that I really don't want my ex-husband to call or text me at all hours, or try to be my friend on Facebook.
Instead of keeping them wide open, I keep the lines of communication limited and controlled by me. I try to be a grey rock, not reacting to his messages designed to bait or insult me. Sometimes I use a trusted person to serve as a mediator. Sorry, dude, but our divorce ensured that you don't get to do that to me anymore.
You Should Forgive and Forget
You don't have to forgive your ex. Especially if he cheated on you, mistreated you or your kids, or was abusive in any way. You don't have to, and you certainly don't have to forget what he or she did, either.
You Need To Let Them Do Things Their Way
The most important part of co-parenting is consistency. I constantly remind myself (and my ex) that bedtime, general rules, and discipline strategies should be consistent. Not for me or my benefit, but for our kids. They deserve to understand what is expected of them and to never end up confused by two different set of rules and responsibilities.
You Should Let Them Call The Shots
I am not saying compromise isn't occasionally required or good for everyone involved, but especially if you had a relationship based on power and control, it's OK to assert your own desires and expectations for how your kids should be cared for.
I recommend laying all of this out in your parenting plan or custody agreement, then actually following it. Consistently. That way, you always have something to reference when disagreements inevitably happen.
You Can't Show Emotion In Front Of Your Kids
I believe that showing your kids that you are a human being with emotions is healthy. I am not saying that you should use your kids as tiny therapists or confidants, but it's OK to cry. It shows them that their feelings about the divorce, their families, or their lives in general are OK and OK to express.
You Can't Bring Up Money
While in most places, custody and co-parenting is not tied to child support, be honest with your ex about what they owe and what you will do if they don't pay up. Your kids deserve their financial support. It's not about you, it's about the best interest of your kids. Don't forget that and let it slide just because you don't want to start a fight.
You Can't Complain About Your Ex
Everyone deserves an outlet and support system. Sometimes, we let these relationships fall apart prior to divorce, because we feel shame or judgement. After going through a divorce, you may need to rebuild a support system of people (other than your kids) who get you and will listen to your vents.
Don't feel like you should only say nice things to everyone about your ex because you have kids together.
You Need To Pack Your Kids' Bags
There's no reason that both parents can't have clothes, toothbrushes, shampoo, medicine, and toys for their kids at both homes. Don't make your kids load up a suitcase every transition day or cause them to worry about forgetting items they need at dad's house or mom's house. Change is hard. Don't make these transitions harder than they have to be.
You Should Put Up With Abuse, For The Kids' Sake
When you end a relationship with your abuser, sometimes the abuse doesn't end. Abusers often use children to continue to try to control, degrade, and abuse their exes. You don't have to take it.
Your kids don't deserve to be pawn's or bargaining chips. Document everything and let your attorney know if you need help revising your custody agreement or reporting abuse to court.