Effective co-parenting during and after divorce is the ultimate act of love you can show for your children. The unfortunate reality for many divorced parents, and even more regrettable for their children, is that divorced parents don’t often fully commit to the process, despite saying they will.
Language has a lot to do with it. For whatever reason, perhaps because the word co-parenting is used ad nauseam in the lexicon of divorce and family lawyers to their clients, clients gloss over the significance or forget it in the heat of the moment when dealing with their ex. It’s why I ask my clients to ask themselves one simple but potentially life-changing question: Do you love your kids more than you hate your ex?
I have yet to meet anyone who has answered no. To do so would mean admitting to a desire to behave in a manner that is counterintuitive to being a good parent, a constructive role model, and a parent who prioritizes their children’s wellbeing. What parent would strive to attain such an unhealthy end, one that not only affects their children negatively but everyone who they interact with who can impact their children’s environment, including themselves?
Yet, that is what high-conflict exes do, I believe, in large part, because they haven’t posed this question to themselves in quite this blunt manner. So, if you haven’t, stop reading for a moment and think. Better yet, ask the question aloud. Once you have completed this exercise and committed to the process of co-parenting in a way that puts your love for your children above your hatred for your ex, continue reading because I have a few strategies for how you can make your commitment stick and be not only a true co-parent but also the parent you aspire to be.
Do the invisible labor.
Say what? Yes, I know invisible labor has a negative connotation, and it is negative. It describes the work people (often women) tend to pick up around the house — housework and childcare — because no one else will do it. Whether because of weaponized incompetence or sheer laziness or because you just got tired of asking, invisible labor can destroy relationships. It might have even destroyed yours.
But that is not the invisible labor I am speaking of, although I will in a few moments. For now, when I talk about invisible labor, I am talking about the deeds you do to keep the co-parenting relationship you have with your ex running smoothly.
No, I am not suggesting you pick up the slack for an ex who slacks in their responsibilities. Not at all. What I am suggesting is that you do those tasks that are no skin off your back. Not every action you engage in should be cause for a fight with your ex. If you can keep the peace, do so. Co-parenting is not a quid pro quo. The moment you keep score, it becomes just that. It also creates a hostile environment.
Co-parenting is not necessarily going to be 50-50 parenting (unless you live in a utopia), so get it out of your head now that it is, should be, or will be. Spoiler alert: it won’t. You are not married to your ex. Though you can’t control a spouse or make them act in a certain way, it is important to understand that, as someone who is divorced, the leverage you might have had during your marriage is less now. To put it bluntly, the only behavior you can control is your own.
Bottom line: if your ex won’t keep the peace for your kids, you still should. This brings me to my next point.
Model positive behaviors.
You are pissed off. Your ex didn’t give Junior dinner or make the dinner you would have wanted — organic chicken with organic broccoli before dropping him off at your house. Pro tip: don’t let organic broccoli be the hill you die on. Don’t start fighting with your ex about it. And don’t vent to Junior about it.
When you do, you threaten not only your existing co-parenting relationship (as bad as it might be now) but also the future of it and the possibility it will improve. Worse still, you can cause irreparable damage to the relationship your child shares with their other parent. Your child will inevitably feel you are putting them in the middle of your relationship with your ex, and that is no place for a child to be.
Finally, your child is the product of both you and your ex. When you talk negatively about their parent, you are talking negatively about them. Children see themselves in their parents. So the next time you want to badmouth your ex in front of or to your child, consider it the same as telling them that is who or what they are because, in essence, that is what you are doing.
Engage in problem-solving and negotiation.
Problem-solving and negotiation are learned skills. If you didn’t engage in healthy communication during your marriage, there is nothing to say that you can’t engage in it now that you are divorced. But it isn’t intuitive.
These are skills that you can learn. There are ways to communicate with an ex, even a high-conflict ex, to keep your interactions amicable and your child protected from hostility between you. It can begin and end with you all by how you communicate, which I will tell you is best done over email. Fast fingers send fast texts, which go out without enough thought.
Your goal is to stick to your parenting plan while keeping your child’s environment conflict-free. When it comes to problem-solving and negotiation with an ex, practice makes a difference. Don’t give up. Where there is a will, there is a way.
Educate yourself about how to be a co-parent.
As is the way with most things in life, education is key. In addition to legal counsel in the areas of family and divorce law and estate planning, our firm offers copious resources on co-parenting. We can help you at all stages of your divorce. Call us today.
I have been where you are now. And even though I have since remarried and am at the helm of a happily blended family, I continue to read about how I can improve my co-parenting relationship, which is good, and keep my marriage strong.
One of my favorite people to turn to for sage advice about equity in relationships is Eve Rodsky. Her first book, Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do,” offers sage advice about how to maintain balance at home. Her latest, “Find Your Unicorn Space: Reclaim Your Creative Life in a Too-Busy World,” offers tips on finding space in your life to be creative, which everyone needs. Even if you are divorced, both should be on your bookshelves to help with your existing co-parenting relationship and your future ones. Visit our events page to join the Parenting Buie FairPlay bookclub!
Divorce is about second chances, so give yourself the best possible odds. You deserve it.