Doesn’t Co-parenting suck?
I do it with two kids, who each have a different dad.
It’s hard. It makes me cry more often than I would like to admit. It’s agonizing and terrifying. Sometimes we work well together and sometimes we don’t.
I’ve found there are ways to make the journey less challenging.
Here is a list of 12 things we can do, to help the situation. These are things we can do so without the buy-in of the other parent.
Will it be easy?
But I have to believe, that the hard work we do on the front-end, will be something our children look back on with amazement and gratitude one day.
1) Incorporate the other family into conversations…and do so in a positive way!
Don’t make your child feel like he/she can’t talk about mom or dad with you because you will get upset or will start bashing the other family. I don’t care if the other family does that to you – take the high road.
2) Let them have pictures up of their other family.
Spend the money, order prints and even buy a frame for their room! It’s an easy way to let your children know that you love and accept them as yours and as the child of the other family. It helps them feel connected to and apart of their other family, even when they are are apart. It’s something my kiddos cherish!
3) Ask earnestly about their time with their other family.
This isn’t a time to conduct interrogations – trying to figure out exactly what mom or dad might have done wrong. It’s asking because you love your children, not because you’re looking to hoist yourself up on your high-horse and judge the other family. After asking sincerely, respond accordingly. Let your child see your face light up as you hear about how amazing their time with mom or dad was. “Mommy bought you a doll? That was so kind of her!”, “Daddy played basketball with you? I love that he loves to spend time with you!” Sometimes it’s hard to pretend to be excited about something we are hurt over. But remember – our offenses don’t need to be our children’s.
4) Include the other family in prayers.
When I tuck my kids in at night, we pray together. We pray protection over our household as well as their other family’s household. If someone is sick or there is a need in their other family, we pray for healing and ask God to meet the need. It’s a simple way to instill in your children that you love them and support them fully, even as it pertains to their other family.
5) Tell your kids how much they are loved… by all of their parents!
We can just tell them we love them and let their other families be responsible to tell them the same. There would be nothing wrong with that. But, I’m assuming that you, much like myself, desire for your kids to grow up to be secure in their identity. You want them to know everything about who they are is completely acceptable. So… here presents another opportunity for us to get uncomfortable and go beyond what’s expected and tell them regularly how loved they are. Should our kids feel insecure about the love their other parents have for them, when they are around us? Goodness, I hope not!
6) Go the extra mile at holidays!
Sure, we can spitefully send our kids out the door on Christmas morning, still in their pj’s with their bedhead hair – as we rightfully grieve the loss of yet another holiday spent without them. Or, we can send them out the door in nice clothes, prepared to have a special visit with their other family! Yes, we can take our kids to get pictures on Santa’s lap or arrange photoshoots for birthdays and we can keep the photos to ourselves. We can justify that if the other family “cared” they would pay to do the same. Or we can just share the photos, even if we arranged and paid for them! It’s a simple way to keep things amicable with the other family.
7) Celebrate the other parent on Father’s Day and Mother’s Day.
Showing them appreciation is not about your feelings towards them, as much as it is truly honoring the children involved. Every year I take my kids to pick out cards for their other parents for Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. They decorate them however they want (I help the toddler do hand and footprints) and I usually sign it too with a brief note, thanking the other person for their love and support of our child. I also have my daughter call her stepmom and wish her a happy Mother’s Day over the phone, since she is with me that day. It’s not always easy and I don’t always want to. It doesn’t mean they are my favorite people in the world. It doesn’t mean they haven’t hurt me and offended me countless times. It doesn’t mean I agree with their parenting style. It’s just a simple way to swallow my pride, as I try to keep unity and peace for my children, who deserve better than living in a war-zone.
8) Encourage contact with the other family!
I understand some relationships may be strained from the breakup or divorce. But for the relationships that have been somewhat mended, nourish them in a healthy way! My son’s Grandma and Aunt know they can call or FaceTime him any time they want. I send pictures of my kids to the other families and let them see cute milestones or fun activities the child was involved in, so they can be apart of it, even if they weren’t there. I try to remember my daughter’s, half-sister’s birthdays and have my daughter call to wish them a ‘Happy Birthday’ if she is with me. Things like this are extra. Of course we don’t have to do them. They aren’t court-ordered. But it’s an incredible opportunity to show our children love, in a way that’s meaningful to them and honoring to their other family.
9) Change your perspective of the step-parent.
Maybe they are a decent person, but your insecurity overshadows your ability to see that. Or maybe they are a complete jerk and you have every reason to hate them. Either way, be secure in your role as the biological mom or dad. You can’t be replaced and ultimately, you hold more power and influence in your child’s life. So be secure in that and appreciate the backup support the step-parent provides. It’s a much more efficient use of time, to make sure that those who influence our children when we aren’t around, know that they are valued and appreciated – rather than wasting time tearing them down or causing drama because of our own insecurity!
10) Never speak poorly of the other family.
It causes insecurity in your child since they identify with both of their families. Plain and simple.
11) Don’t jump to conclusions about the other family based on what your child said.
No matter how perfect and sweet they are, kids will try to manipulate the families against each other to get what’s most beneficial for themselves. Immature, but expected. What’s even more immature though, is full-grown adults playing into the manipulation!
If your child says something negative about the other parent, show limited or no emotion. Don’t give the reaction they are pandering for! Later, ask the other parent (without accusing!) if they really did say or do what your child said. If they deny it, take their word for it, unless you have undeniable proof otherwise and it’s a hill you’re willing to die on. If not, graciously hear them out and then move on.
If the relationship is not good and you can’t do that, just kindly say to your child “Oh, I am sure mommy wouldn’t say that. She loves you so much and that doesn’t sound like something she would say.” or “Maybe that’s not what your daddy meant. Maybe he said it the wrong way.”
Last and most importantly…
12) KILL YOUR EGO. BLOODY MURDER IT.
If it wasn’t obvious by now, this is the key element in winning at co-parenting. Making your child feel loved, is more important than your ego. One day, it won’t matter who saw the baby take their first steps, who bought the coolest Christmas presents, who took the child on the best vacations or which family had which experience with the child. What will matter, is if your child grows up to be a confident adult, who is secure in him or herself and who treats others with respect. That won’t happen for a child raised in the chaos of family feuds, fueled by the drama of the grown adult’s insecurities and fears. It will only happen when our egos and fears are completely laid to rest and we are thinking with a clear mind about what is best for our children.