My Personal Tips on How to Have a Successful Co-Parenting Relationship
By Megan Wood
So, you and your former partner or spouse share a child or children and have decided to call it quits on your romantic relationship. You may be in the beginning stages of having made this decision to split up, neck-deep in the litigation process, or have a final Custody order already in your hand. No matter what stage in the process you find yourself, the messiest part of many break-ups can be communicating about the logistics surrounding raising your shared offspring. Almost undeniably, however, the logistics surrounding your kid’s “New Normal,” now and far into the future, is the most important topic to address with a level head with your former partner.
Depending on your relationship with your child’s other parent, you may find the process of figuring out Access and Custody to range on a scale from easy-breezy to hellish-nightmare-that-seems-like-it-will-never-end. Regardless of your personal feelings towards your ex, you must keep at the forefront of your mind that 1. Your child did not ask to be born into this situation, and 2. The better the adults involved can handle figuring out Custody and Access and sticking to their agreements, the better the quality of life will be for the child. Your child may be too young to understand the changes happening to their family, or they may be old enough to have opinions of their own. With a couple exceptions, I urge that the adults handle the hard stuff, and that kids are positively reinforced about decisions that have been made while those decisions and agreements are pertinent.
To speak from personal experience – and my break-up/custody litigation lay more on the hellish-nightmare end of the spectrum – we can make this harder or easier for ourselves and our children with a few changes of perspective. While the Final Custody/Access Order felt like the end, I quickly realized it was just the official beginning of my daughter’s “New Normal.” I realized it sets the framework for, but cannot do all the work to, make this “New Normal” work. That weighted task was now put onto our shoulders as co-parents and is hard work. That hard work is made worth it with the knowledge that the attorneys involved genuinely cared about my daughter’s best interest over mine or my co-parent’s (a hard pill to swallow, sometimes). They came to this conclusion based on the evidence provided, by facts proven, an official custody evaluation, and the work we each put into our cases. What was not as important in determining custody and access was our feelings about our break-up or things we didn’t like about the other parent.
This is where the hard work came in after the order was determined. Over time, I’ve evolved certain “best practices” when dealing with my co-parent that stem from a mindset where my daughter is the only thing that matters. We follow our access schedule without applying undiscussed changes. We are both listed as my daughter’s parents on all paperwork and programs for which she is enrolled. We are both emergency contacts and take turns rising to the task of tackling the occasional unforeseen event that has come up. We established our differences of opinion on certain matters a while ago (see – things that led to our breakup), so I know that our approaches towards meals and bedtime, for example, vary slightly. We do not criticize or comment negatively on equally safe and healthy, albeit different, routines at each other’s homes, and we do not continue to bring up these differences of opinion.
When communicating with my co-parent, I never refuse easy favors when they are requested in any form, whether they be a short phone call, a short FaceTime session, requests for pictures or documents pertaining to our kid’s upbringing and health, or extraordinary access beyond our agreement for a special or sentimental event. In fact, I immediately share messages and documents surrounding her education, health, achievements, and milestones so we are all on the same page. To delve a little deeper, when any of the above are requested, it’s understood that there is a certain amount of time that can go by before a response is given. It’s also understood that we are both single parents who work full-time, so sometimes messages get forgotten about and need a gentle reminder. When phone calls and FaceTime sessions are requested, they are done at a time we agree upon in advance, in writing, around our schedules. My co-parent is respectful of not taking up too much time when he checks in outside of his access, and I am the same when it comes time for mine. The same goes for Access Schedule Changes/Interruptions; if anything changes, we discuss it and come to an agreement in writing beforehand.
We do not fight or argue in front of our daughter, ever. This one is extremely important. We are not perfect people, and certainly still have frustrations and disagreements with one another. However, when those do come up, they are in writing and I, at least, always approach these conversations from a “would-my-attorney-want-to-smack-me-for-sending-this?” point of view. Please note, if something you say could make you look bad for any reason (unnecessary unkindness, a power play, a manipulation, a lack of manners, name-calling, referencing a past wound from your relationship, accusations, etc. all fall into this category for me), or could be read as you not having your child’s best interest at heart for any reason, chances are your attorney would not be happy with you!
I never disparage my daughter’s father in front of her, whether to her directly or to another person while she is within earshot. I would hope he does the same for me. I keep in mind that it took two people to bring this beautiful child we love so much into our lives, and she deserves to have positive relationships with both parents without having to worry about our feelings. Kids are kids, and are not meant to feel they are responsible for making sure their parents are okay. These feelings of guilt for loving the other parent causes anxiety and sadness for children. Don’t do that to them.
The major takeaway from my personal experience with co-parenting is, get your s*** together about your own negative feelings about your co-parent, however justified, because you cannot change the fact they are in your child’s life. If you express those openly, or let them affect your actions when it comes to applying your Custody/Access Order, the only person you are hurting is your child. A Custody/Access Order is determined through a lengthy, well-thought-out process by professionals. For a child to have two parents in their life who care for him or her, and who want what’s best for him or her is a genuine blessing. Sometimes, it’s harder work than other times, but at the end of the day, I do not want my own feelings to interfere with my child’s right to be loved by and to develop positive relationships with both parents.