The notion of co-parenting peacefully is a bit alien from my childhood perspective, having been raised by a single mother who basically alienated my father and took us half way across the world to get away from him. I’ve got an almost 3 year old son and I want him to have a better experience than I did with my father, so this is a topic I need to explore.
How can I, as a mother, do the best by my child and foster a healthy relationship with his father? Even though I’m really disgusted by some of his behavior and it’s obvious we couldn’t relate well together or we wouldn’t have split up. It’s a question I need answering.
Luckily for me, I have a large and diverse circle of women friends in my life. Some of them have been through much uglier situations than I’ve been through and yet manage to have good, even great relationships with their exes when it comes to their children. And I mean ugly.
For instance, I have a the friend who’s ex cheated regularly and with multiple women. He finally settled down by impregnating then eventually marrying one of her best friends. This, even before their own relationship had breathed it’s last gasps. She is happily co-parenting: sharing custody, laughing on skype with her son’s stepmother during the summers when he gets sent half way across the world to stay with the father. It was hard for me to believe but it’s true, I’ve witnessed it.
She is not the only one. A few of my girlfriends are peacefully and even happily co-parenting with their exes and by combining their wealth of experience (most have been divorced for more than five years) and my own desperate search for answers, I have compiled a short list of advice I’ve gathered for making this co-parenting thing work. Because Hidalgo deserves to have his father in his life and I’m going to do the best that I can to get to this magical place of peace with my ex. He’s not physically abusive, addicted to drugs or alcohol or, in any way a danger to my child so all of these golden nuggest of advice are do-able.
#1. Focus on creating a life that fulfills you. No one else is responsible for you being happy (especially now that he’s out of the picture) and if you use your precious, limited time and energy on focusing on what the ex is up to, there is not much left for yourself. Plus, if you are truly co-parenting you are sharing at least some of the child care duties with your ex. This means you have a free babysitter once in a while. Get a hobby you haven’t had time for when you were tending the family duties full time. Socialize. Read more. Daydream and stare at the sky. Whatever makes you happier.
#2. Express your feelings about the past if you must but only once. Much of the reason you’re not together is that there were unmet expectations, disappointments and unresolved issues with communication so beating a dead horse is pointless. He didn’t hear you when you were together so why would you expect him to suddenly change now?
#3. Excercise. This one has a two part benefit. There is a lot of science confirming that any kind of moderate excercise raises endorphins, provides a meditative break since the brain must focus on the body and thus can reduce overall stress levels, no matter the cause. PLUS, eventually there will be a time when thoughts of a new partner will come up or you’ll see the ex and looking fit is great for the ego and self esteem.
#4. Remind yourself that you’re doing it for the kid(s). Some people spend lifetimes in bad marriages because they think divorce was best for the kids. Is it really? Lately, more research has been devoted to the outcomes of children raised in bad marriages versus children raised in a happy sole custody or joint custody situations and the evidence points towards happiness. The best outcomes for children are when the parents are happy and loving. Every time you want to rip that exe’s throat out for whatever the reason, repeat to yourself: I want peace for the sake of my child and I’m going to be nicer than I ever thought I could be.
#5. Don’t let money be the only thing of value that a father can give. Financially speaking, there are a diverse range of situations a woman can find herself in after a separation. No matter what the amount, why it can’t be given or what the current state of affairs might be…money is not the only way a father can show love for his child. If you’re waging a war over money and you are able to make ends meet without the extra you’re fighting about, just stop. We all have our limits but we need to do the best we can with what we’ve got. Maybe things will change in the future, maybe not…but completely burning the bridge down over money is reckless. Money cannot by love.
#6. Don’t disrepect the time between a father and a child. The visits and calls, how frequent or not, are precious to a child. Grown up stuff during grown up time. Let the kid be a kid with his dad and smile when they are together…even if you want to freak out when you see him. Not being friendly will only set a bad example and possibility creates a situation where either or both of them reduce their levels of contact because YOU make it difficult for them.
#7. Maintain and cultivate the relationship with the ex-laws. Children love having extended families. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents…there have always been two sets of them and just because you’re not related anymore doesn’t mean that your kids have lost these relations. Especially if you are the primary caregiver and they don’t get to see each other often. Share the pictures and home movies, be friends on social media if you’re comfortable with it, remember the birthdays and wish the happy holidays. Small children can’t do it on their own and older kids need good examples and reminders of what is polite and kind. Just because your relationship didn’t work, it doesn’t mean you aren’t family.
#8. If you can’t be friends then at least be civil. Time heals all wounds, right? We’ve all had failed relationships before and no matter how low and awful you felt, you got better, moved on and eventually found someone else and/or got over it. Eventually this will happen. Might as well be the bigger person now and just be as nice as possible. It might give you the upper hand, is definitely not destructive and even leaves the possibility of friendship one day.
We have this whole other life in common. This connection is going to last until someone or heck, everyone dies.
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