I don’t think it matters how your relationship or marriage ends, the prospect of not spending time with your children every day is a hard pill to swallow for some. Whatever agreement you and your ex settle on, the fact is, your child will have to split their time between two homes.
As hard as it is to accept, there’s a bright side — this new dynamic doesn’t have to be difficult. I know, you’re asking how. The first step is to give yourself time to adjust. If you ex is pushing to make arrangements or if the courts have decided how your kids will split their time, there isn’t much time to adjust. You might have weeks or months, but the point is to use that time to come to terms with the new dynamic.
Know that whether your kids are with you or their dad, they’re safe. I know it’s hard, especially if you’re going through a stressful separation or divorce but it’s important that we, as parents, put our differences aside and do what’s best for our kids.
I’m right there with you and understand how you feel. As I go through the process myself, I’ve learned a few things along the way. Here are eight essentials to help you navigate through the early days of co-parenting.
1. Set boundaries
Whether you’re going through the court system or trying to work out arrangements with your ex, boundaries are crucial. They’re basically the rules you’ve both come up with and are based on anything you see as relevant.
If your ex picks the kids up for weekend visits, make sure you’re both clear on when your kiddos should be back home. If your separation or divorce is fresh, it might be hard to have a conversation with your ex. Let’s face it, feelings are hurt and if it this period in life isn’t something you wanted to happen, it’s going to be hard to talk. Keep conversations short if you have to but you guys have to now what’s expected of each other.
Your kids are creating new but individual experiences with each one of you. So for that reason, you both have to be respectful of the others’ plans and stick to the schedule.
2. Foster open communication
Speaking from experience, it sucks that the communication between my ex and I has whittled down to the bare necessities. Where there was once constant, engaging chatter, our conversations are short and mostly relate to our daughter.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter what you’re discussing, what matters is that you’re both clear on expectations. For example, if your kids are with their dad all day, you expect he’ll be present and in the moment with them. You expect that he’ll feed them. You expect that you’ll be able to talk to them before bed. Whatever each parent expects of the other, talk about it.
It’s super important to keep the lines of communication open so that if there are any changes on either side, you discuss and figure it out. Remember, communicate in a way that’s convenient for both of you. Are texts easier for both of you? Do it.
Another option is to create a shared calendar using an app like Google Calendar where you can both enter and track information. Just because you’re not in the same home doesn’t mean you can’t both be privy to important information concerning your child.
3. Figure out your shared custody early on
I’m personally not a fan of splits that see kids constantly shuffled between homes. A few years ago I heard an interview with a man who experienced this kind of custody arrangement as a kid. He recalled never truly feeling as though he had a home because as soon as he began to get settled in one place, it was time to pack up and move again. In my opinion this serves the parents more than it serves kids. Of course both parents feel this split is fair because they get equal time with their child but think about what the constant back and forth is doing to your child. Unless you live in the same neighbourhood as your ex, this approach gets tricky. I’m sure this isn’t the case for every child so it’s up to you and your ex to decide what works for you AND your child.
Wendy Paris, author of Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well explains it this way, “You have a lot of control over the relationship you have with your child and intimacy isn’t based just on the number of hours you spend with [your child].”
Another potential approach is to alternate who picks up the kids from school or daycare or plan a monthly outing where all of you get together for a few hours. At the end of the day, the decision is yours and your ex’s but consider making the most of the time you have with your little ones.
4. Take some time for yourself
There’s going to come a time when you’re little ones spend their first night away from home. Hands down, this will be a difficult night. But instead of dwelling on how lonely you feel or how much you miss your kids, take this time to reconnect with friends or start nurturing new interests.
Is there something you’ve wanted to try but haven’t had the time or chance to? If so, now’s the time to explore that interest. Find a new hobby or take a class. If your goal is to get fit, take this time to check out a class or two at a gym. Are you into crafting and DIY? Jump on meetup.com to find a group with similar interests near you.
You won’t only distract your mind from thinking about your kids but more importantly you make new connections with people. This is super important as a single parent. We get so caught up with our kids lives that we forget to take time to nurture adult relationships.
By taking care of yourself and spending some time away from your kids, by the time they come home, you feel refreshed and relaxed and ready to jump back into being mom again.
5. Don’t grill your kids for details on their time with dad
I know it’s tempting to want to know everything your kids do while they were away but fight the temptation. It’s especially tempting if your ex is already dating and your kids are around his new partner. But the last thing you want to do is create an atmosphere where they feel judged for having a good time with the other parent. Instead, simply ask if they had fun and leave it at that. Leave it to them to share with you when they’re ready to.
What’s important to remember is to try not to feel jealous about anything they DO tell you. Instead show your support and that you’re happy that they had such a good time. It’s hard to accept that your child is creating new memories that don’t include you — especially with another woman — but what’s important is that your child is creating good memories. Focus on what’s best for your kiddo and keep the atmosphere positive.
6. Watch what you say about your ex
Depending on the type of relationship you have with your ex, there may come a time when he does or says something that upsets you. Remember, this situation is between you and him, it doesn’t involve your kids. So although you’d love to let a few choice words fly or berate your ex in front of your kids, fight the urge.
This only serves to confuse your kids and upset them. Remember, co-parenting isn’t about you, it’s about your kids. I’ve talked to a lot of separated and divorced moms and the one thing they all say is, “kids are resilient, they’ll be fine.”
It’s usually us, the parents, that have a hard time adjusting to this new dynamic. But given the right guidance, our kids will be OK.
If you really need to vent, only do so with trusted friends or family. The last thing you want is to get caught in a cycle of negative thoughts like, “I can’t believe he just did that” or “it hurt so much when he said that.” Acknowledge how you feel and the right people in your life will help you move forward feeling encouraged and at peace.
Whatever you do, don’t confide in your kids. Don’t taint their relationship with their dad by calling him names or telling them about frustrating situations. They’re your kids not your gossip buddies.
7. Your child should have a voice
This may depend on the age of your kids but they’re a huge part of joint custody. If they’re feeling anxious about going to your ex’s home, take a minute to talk to them. Find out why they’re feeling anxious and help alleviate the stress. Remember, just because it didn’t work for you and your ex, doesn’t mean he’s a bad person or parent. Let you child know that they’re loved by both of you and regardless of where they are, they’re safe.
If your kids like to sleep with a particular blanket or stuffed animal, pack it for them so they have something familiar to comfort them. Let their dad know how they’re feeling and get his help to make a day trip or sleepover exciting. Perhaps he can cook a favourite meal or watch a favourite movie.
The takeaway here is to listen to what your kids are saying and do what you can to help them through this transition.
8. Agree on how to manage your child’s behaviour
Kids will be kids and they’re going to say and do things they shouldn’t. It’s important that both you and your child’s dad are on the same page when it comes to discipline and dealing with certain behaviour. Just because your kids spend time in two different homes, doesn’t mean they get to live by two different set of rules.
Again, it’s up to you but bring in consistency by agreeing on how to manage minor issues that come up. Your kids are more likely to benefit from this consistency if they get the same response from both parents. No need for the good cop, bad cop routine.
Find a balance that works for you
At the end of the day, how you co-parent is up to you and your ex. It takes some adjusting but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Trust me, I know how you feel. You and your ex are bonded for life so find a way to talk through this process so that it’s as pain-free as possible. It won’t happen over night but patience and fairness on both your parts can make this arrangement work.