With just a week before my final divorce court hearing, my lawyer advised me that I had to complete a parenting education session. Yes, it would have been super if he could have given me a little more notice; but, I managed to find a location to take the online course, then I was officially trained to be a co-parent! I recall the gist of the session included what not to do in front of the children (e.g. arguing, talking badly about the other parent, and so on). While these general tips are important to know, I certainly don’t feel that I was “trained” or knew what to expect from co-parenting!
One might say that I learned how to co-parent “on the job,” and largely through trial and error. Co-parenting was a learning and growing experience for both me and my ex-husband. We screwed up many things, especially in the beginning when we were still very emotional and new to the experience. Our mistakes paved the way for better understanding and a smoother process that worked for us.
Of course, what worked for me, in my situation, may not be what will work for others; but, here are a few things I wish I had understood better or been trained in before becoming a co-parent:
It hurts. So bad. To be away from your kids! I’m not a dummy. I knew that the intent of divorce was to create a permanent split between my ex and me. It was also no surprise that we would each have our own time with the children. I championed for 50/50 time between us because I knew that would be important for the children; but, I had no idea what time without them would feel like until it happened, and it was awful at first!
There was something so completely unnatural about being away from the little ones I created. I had never been away from them for one day since their birth. Every day of their lives I talked to them, held them, and cared for them. Visitation time with their dad made me feel as though my heart was torn out of my chest, and it was the first time I questioned “what am I doing?” I wish someone had prepared me for how difficult this transition would be so that I could be ready to numb myself with busy work or a friend! Instead, I counted the hours to their return alone.
It’s likely to be very volatile at first, but most often calms down. My relationship with my ex was so hateful in the beginning that I, again, found myself wondering “what have I done?” If it was bad before, it was so much worse once I moved out and we started trying to co-parent. Every interaction became a fight, and because we had not yet gone to court, we had no structure to keep us in line. As we figured out (through trial-and-error) how to adjust to our new living arrangement and other changes, we got better at focusing strictly on the kids and became more in control of our emotions.
For about the first year I wondered if divorce was even worth it because the volume was turned way up on the drama in my life; but, something finally clicks, and logic begins to return to life (unless you’re one of those unfortunate people with an ex who will forever refuse to act like a sane and rational adult). Just hang in there, and it will improve!
Co-parenting is like the wild west before court. Some exes refuse to ever get with the program and follow the rules; but, until you have rules to follow (aka court orders), it’s every man (or woman) for himself! There were times I wondered if my ex would actually bring the kids back from visitation, and I knew that there was little the police or anyone else could do if that happened because it was a “domestic matter,” and there were no court orders at that time to protect either of us. It was such a relief to finally have a document in hand that spelled out our arrangement!
With orders in hand, follow them! Some will be surprised to learn that the orders received in court are legally binding! If either ex does not fulfill what they and the judge signed off on and the judge made official, contempt can be filed against the offending ex. So, if an ex refuses to pay for their share of expenses, isn’t following the visitation schedule, and others, he or she could face jail time or fines for breaking the orders. The rules aren’t always pleasant, but they are legally mandated, and they serve to protect everyone in the situation.
Your situation will change over time, and you (or your ex) will wish to make adjustments. Maybe when your original plan was drafted you both lived in the same general area and both worked first shift. Years later, one of you may need to move, change to third shift, or have new relationships and children that complicate the original arrangements. Hopefully you and your ex can work through these changes as they arise and come to reasonable compromises. Otherwise, you may find yourself back in court again to work through custody, child support, residential status, and other issues. If you can, try to roll through the fluctuations in life without court involvement; but, also don’t be afraid to stand your ground, if need be!
Much of the drama of co-parenting can be minimized by removing emotion from the equation. I often refer to co-parenting like a business. I can’t emphasize enough just how well this works for many co-parents who have difficulty getting along. It’s important to leave all side issues and emotion out of parenting. Once the children are squarely at the center of interactions, the conflict often dissipates.
Co-parenting after divorce is new, and often scary, territory! None know fully what to expect until they’re actually in the midst of trying to share children. The lack of structure and heightened emotions often results in many mistakes and frustrations. We all eventually figure out how to make it work after time n the new situation; but, it helps to know what to expect prior to jumping in to this new adventure!
Good luck to you in your new venture as a co-parent. it’s often complicated, but it becomes easier as time goes by!