Parenting is a hard gig.
It’s even harder when you do it with your ex.
Even when you get along with your ex, it can be challenging to coparent successfully.
No matter how you feel, though, it’s vital that you work on your coparenting game so your children are better equipped to deal with the divorce and with life going forward.
1. Commit to coparenting.
The very first thing you both need to do is commit to coparenting. Coparenting successfully requires solid commitment from everyone involved.
Talk about how you plan to coparent in the best interest of your child. Then both of you commit to the process. Even if you need a mediator to help you hammer out a plan, the important thing is that you are both committed to making this work.
2. Create consistent rules.
One of the most important things for children is consistency. It’s true when kids live with both parents, and it’s especially true when children split their time between households.
Come up with rules that kids follow, regardless of where they are. This might include homework time, music practice, rules for electronics use, and bed time.
While there is wiggle room for special circumstances, it’s important to be consistent. My son knows that when he goes to stay with dad, he’s going to do schoolwork and go to bed at the same time. I know he might actually get a little more time to play video games when he’s with his dad, but that’s something we’ve agreed on.
3. Don’t trash talk your ex.
Avoid putting your issues with your ex on your child. It’s not fair to use your child as a pawn in games with your ex. You don’t want to be the toxic person in this scenario.
If your child complains about your ex, don’t immediately jump in and agree. Remain as neutral as possible. Unless there is actual abuse involved, most kids just need to let off steam. You can say, “I’m sorry you’re frustrated with the situation, but they are trying their best.”
I’m pretty sure my son sometimes complains about me to my ex. When he does, my ex moves on quickly, and then lets me know about potential issues. I don’t confront my son when he’s complained about me. Honestly, I want him to share these things. Then I know what I might need to improve on.
I do the same for my ex.
Kids complain about their parents. Don’t egg them on when it involves the ex. Not only do you risk a deterioration in that relationship, but you might be surprised to realize that trash talking your ex can encourage your child to resent you as well.
4. Maintain communication.
One of the reasons my ex and I coparent successfully is that we communicate regularly. We exchange texts several times a week. We talk at least twice a month. In fact, we sometimes just talk as friends and don’t talk about our son.
You might not have that level of friendship with your ex.
Even if all you do is communicate about the kids, that’s important. Be sure to immediately share when things change that will impact the plan. Whether it’s a trip to the emergency room or a problem at school, or just an update on positive progress, it’s important to communicate.
Don’t rely on your child to carry messages. You need keep the lines open so you don’t get garbled messages. When my son wants to make a major purchase (more than $50), or if he wants to change up his after-school schedule, I text my ex and we schedule a time to discuss the merits.
This way, our son can’t play us off each other. We present a united front because we communicate. My son is used to hearing, “Just wait. I need to talk to your dad about that.”
5. Confirm what your child says with the ex.
Yeah, this goes with regular communication. But it bears repeating. Get the story from your ex. If your child says your ex said they could do something, double check.
It’s a normal part of growing up for children to press boundaries and try to get away with stuff. You did it with your parents, and your kids will try it with you. Even if you aren’t divorced, there’s a good chance you’ll hear “But mom said I could…” or “Dad lets me…”
Before you say yes to something your child claims your ex is on board with, connect directly with your ex to verify.
6. Make time to keep it simple and boring.
Don’t always be trying to have fun — especially if you’re the less-seen parent. My ex is pretty good about stuff. When my son stays with him, they do “regular” things and not just fun stuff.
Try to avoid being the “fun” parent all the time. Both parents need to be a mixture of fun and “boring.”
Sometimes what your kids need is an ordinary day in with you. There’s nothing wrong with that. You need to be balanced in your approach to parenting.
Because my ex lives on the other side of the country, my son talks to him frequently using Facetime and he stays for between one week and three weeks at a time. I often stay part of that time, too (at my ex’s invitation), and that means there is a sense of normalcy and family, even if it’s not what we consider a “traditional” family.
7. Recognize your ex’s good qualities.
Don’t forget to talk about your ex’s good qualities with your child. It’s about more than just refraining from complaining about your ex. You should also point out the good things s/he does.
I regularly direct my son to my ex if he has a question about something that my ex is good at. I also make it a point to say nice things about him when I can, and get excited when it’s time for them to talk.
I think it makes sense to encourage my son to maintain a good relationship with his dad. If you want to coparent successfully, you need to make sure that you aren’t putting wedges between your children and your ex.
8. Don’t get upset if your child requests your ex.
Sometimes my son specifically asks if he can talk through an issue with his dad, rather than talk about it with me. I know that my ex is better equipped to handle some situations than I am. I don’t get upset about it.
It’s true that sometimes we feel hurt if a child wants to talk to someone else or prefers someone else’s help on a project. However, the reality is that we all have strengths and weaknesses. There are some things that my son prefers to do with me, and some he prefers to do with his dad. There’s nothing wrong with that.
Realize that your child has needs that your ex might be better at fulfilling. That in no way reduces your importance to your child. To coparent successfully, you need to bury jealousy and work together to ensure your child has the best possible outcome.
9. Know that it will be difficult.
Buckle up. It’s not easy to coparent successfully. It’s a little easier for me because my ex and I are on good terms and genuinely care about each other still.
Even then, it’s still challenging sometimes. There are times I don’t want to discuss things with him. It would be easier for me to just make all the decisions about our son without input from my ex.
However, that’s not fair to him or to our son.
It can be hard to bury feelings and put on a civil facade, especially if you had a hard breakup. However, it needs to be done. Think about the welfare of your child.
If you need to get mediation and/or counseling, do it. In some cases, you can benefit from family therapy, even if you aren’t a “traditional” family anymore.
Parenting is rarely easy, and doing it with your ex adds another layer of complexity. However, if you are both committed, you should be able to make it work.
Do you have to coparent with your ex? What challenges do you face? Even if you have a partner, do you run into parenting problems? How do you resolve them. Join us on the #Adulting community on Facebook and share your stories.