Co-Parenting following a divorce is very possibly the most challenging thing you will experience in your life. You feel like you have finally broken the ties of marriage with your ex, but there is no clean break. You feel trapped because you have to constantly communicate regarding the children. I have people ask me on a regular basis how my ex and I co-parent so well and I always tell them that you have to treat co-parenting like a business partnership.
My ex and I are in a business partnership and our shared vision is raising responsible children who can think for themselves and follow through on their commitments. Thankfully we compliment each other well in how we work to achieve that shared vision. He has some strengths and I have some strengths so we work together well in achieving our goals. We also have the benefit of time since we have been co-parenting for nine years.
Not everyone is able to stay focused on that shared vision so I have come up with a list of five tips that relate to a successful business partnership but can also be essential when co-parenting with your ex. Hopefully these five tips will help you keep your focus and avoid unnecessary conflict. Your children will benefit when they see you are both able to put your own feelings aside to focus on their well-being.
Tip #1 – Have a Strong Partnership Agreement.
If you do not have a Custody Order in place, then YOU SHOULD. You would never enter into a business partnership without having the right agreements in place. The same is true for your co-parenting partnership.
YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON THINGS.
Let me say that again, YOU WILL NOT ALWAYS AGREE ON THINGS. Because of this, it is of the utmost importance that you have something on paper that you can resort to as a means to settle a dispute. For example, let’s say that mom wants Little Johnny to try out for the dance team, but dad doesn’t. They look at their Order and it says that they will split the cost 50/50 for mutually agreed upon activities. So dad doesn’t have to pay for dance team if he doesn’t want to. (I am not saying this is right per se, but the Order clearly speaks about it.)
Some states have Parenting Coordinators who the Court can put into place to be a “tie-breaker” of sorts who makes a decision when parents cannot agree. While helpful in the short term, that’s like bowling with the bumpers up. It will help keep the ball in play, but once the bumpers are removed, the bowler still hasn’t learned to bowl and even more restrictions are in place than before.
Having an Order in place will help settle disputes that may arise. And if your “business partner” is not following the Order, then there is always the option to take them to Court and ask for the Court to order your ex to actually perform the promise on paper as closely as possible.
Tip #2 – Put the Clients First!
It’s very common for single parents to put themselves ahead of their children. They claim they have to focus on their work first and foremost because they have to have the income to take care of the kids, so they drag the kids around while they work or drop them with a friend. Many of these same parents would rather hang upside down by their toenails before they call their ex and said, “I have a work function tonight, would you like to have the kids?”
This is because someone who is putting themself first would think, “I can’t call her/him because he/she will be all up in my business and know I am doing something tonight. I am sure they would like to go stay with MeMaw.”
Someone who THINKS they are putting the kids first, but with conditions, is not much better. They may think, “I’ll call her/him and offer the kids, but he/she will have to trade days with me so that the days work out to be even. Because that’s what we agreed to.”
However, someone who is putting the kids first would think, “I don’t really want him/her knowing my business, but the kids would probably rather be with dad/mom. And this is about their happiness, not my own comfort. I’ll just call him/her and see if we can work it out.”
Putting yourself first is a behavior fueled by fear. But when you put the kids first and your needs second, then everything else will start to fall into place. Decisions become easier and your relationship with your ex will improve as a result. And over time, your “clients” will want to take care of you like you have taken care of them. They will remember that you were more focused on them during all of this and not selfishly pursuing your own agenda to hurt the other parent by using the kids as the weapon.
Tip #3 – Remove Emotion from the Equation.
It seems that the parents who really focus on their own agenda or refuse to cooperate with the other parent are the ones who are still harboring a great deal of resentment or anger over the divorce. Just like in business, you must remain professional and remove emotion from the equation all together.
From my experience I have learned that who initiated the divorce is not predictive of who harbors the most anger. And I think that the pendulum can swing based on certain life changes. My ex was certainly the one with the most anger when my children and I moved over an hour away. However, when he started dating, the anger invaded my heart. I remember thinking, “I was supposed to be happy first!”
The problem with allowing emotion in is that when emotion is involved, LOGIC is NOT. You cannot have a reasonable discussion or think logically when you are caught up in your own internal emotional war.
And you can claim to be unemotional, but if you resort to name calling or hanging up on your ex or refusing to respond, then you are clearly working on emotions rather than focusing on your shared vision for your children.
In order to put the kids first you have to release your anger. You may feel anger over the events in the past that led to the divorce. You may feel anger over what is going on in your ex’s life now. You may feel anger about how your ex treats you now. All of this anger is a natural part of the grieving process, but just like grieving, you have to work through the feelings to move on with your life.
If you find yourself playing the victim role, then you are basically declaring that you are not strong enough to move forward. If you find yourself repeating the story about how you were wronged over and over to anyone who will listen, then you are stuck.
Letting go of your anger and emotions all starts with your thoughts. Turning those thoughts around is something that you can change, but changing your ex is out of your control. So take control of YOU and start the process of releasing.
Tip #4 – OPEN COMMUNICATION.
Communication is a HUGE part of a business relationship and it is also a huge part in a co-parenting relationship. It’s important to have ongoing dialogue to ensure you are on the same page and you each know what is going on with the kids. It helps both parties to stay focused on your shared vision.
Of course there will be miscommunication and disagreement, but that’s okay. You disagreed when you were married too. You discuss it and come up with a solution based on what is best for your kids.
I encourage newly divorced couples to do this constant communication by email. Sometimes emotions are kept at bay best when you are typing rather than talking. Of course one of the biggest pitfalls to this communication is someone who says they are communicating, but they aren’t really saying anything.
When anger is still being harbored, then every response by email will be defensive and will still have the victim mentality. Even if you are trying to have a discussion, your ex could take it personally and begin lashing out. The best thing to do is not engage. Ask to discuss it when they have calmed down. Again, you cannot control them, but you CAN choose to leave the conversation if they are deflecting and name calling rather than actually discussing the children.
Responding with brief, cryptic answers does not qualify as good communication either. You have to discuss the topic as you would if you were still married. You present your thoughts and ask questions and then your ex answers the questions and presents his/her thoughts and asks his/her questions. It will be such a pleasant surprise when you begin open communication and you feel how good it feels to not feel so guarded and suspicious when dealing with your ex. Once you remove those emotions and thereby the fear, communication should be much easier for both of you.
Tip #5 – Argue but Don’t Fight.
Yes, there is a difference. You are going to disagree and you will probably disagree a lot. If you agreed on everything, then you wouldn’t be divorced! So it’s certain that arguments are going to happen. Arguments are calm and a good opportunity to air grievances and problem solve together. Your partnership can grow when these arguments are handled with a level head.
A fight however is easily identified once you find yourself raising your voice, cursing, blaming, name-calling, dwelling on something that happened years ago or focusing on what is wrong with each other rather than what you should be discussing regarding the children. There is no place for fighting in a business partnership.
Don’t view an argument as a failure at co-parenting. There will not be a perfect outcome, so let go of who is right and who is wrong. They have no place in this venue. You have to be able to listen to each other and take turns talking. This is where a LOT of parents go wrong. Because of their anger at their ex, they have no trust in that person and they just assume that anything he/she says is wrong. As a result, the conversation turns sour quickly and a fight ensues.
Most importantly, keep the conversation civil and constructive by keeping the focus on your shared vision – the children. Trust in the fact that you both are truly looking out for the best interest of the children. There are no conflicts of interest in this – unless you allow your own needs and your emotions to remain involved. If you do, then you are not in the mindset you need to be for your children.
When you feel the conversation escalating to a fight, try to talk it down. I remember years ago emailing with my ex and the argument started to become a fight. I said something along the lines of, “I know you think I am attacking you, but I am not. You can’t read tone in email and I am just trying to figure out the best way to handle this because I feel strongly about it.” We both settled back down and a fight was avoided.
As I have written before, this will involve getting over yourself and admitting when you are wrong or too emotional. Everyone can be a good business partner and advocate for their children if they try to focus on these tips.