Co-parenting for over a decade, I’m amazed how far we’ve come. “We” includes my ex-husband and his wife (our son’s stepmom), my husband and I, and my ex-husband’s wife’s ex-husband and his wife (who are dad and stepmom to my son’s stepbrother, respectively.) Phew! While our family is confusing to most, we’ve adapted into a wildly supportive blended family comprising six parents (three couples) and two boys who benefit from an incredible, if not unconventional, parental support system.
How do we do it? This is a question we’re asked a lot. The answer is this: We’ve each called upon the powers of patience, forgiveness, understanding and compromise. It’s that simple and that complex.
No one co-parents from a place of experience. Like most parents, I never imagined sharing a parenting role with anyone other than my husband. How very wrong I was. When my son was two years old, divorce pushed me off-balance and with obliterated self-esteem. I arrived at co-parenting’s front door a hot mess.
Would you believe if I said this entire experience has been the most challenging and beautiful of my life? It truly has been. I always wanted a big family. I had no idea it would come in the form of people bound by a shared love for two children. Today, we’re six co-parents who are comfortable in our roles, friendships and place in each other’s lives. We celebrate holidays, birthdays, school functions, sporting events. We also go wine tasting, out for dinner, to the movies, shopping. We’re family and friends. This is how we made it happen.
1. Life Changed – Accept It
It took me years (and antidepressants) to accept I was a young, divorced mother of a toddler. My definition of mothering changed when divorce ushered in a 50-50 custody arrangement. I had to accept this in order to make the best of my situation. I asked myself if I wanted a life of acrimony or happiness. I chose happiness, and when I accepted my new life, I was able to put my best foot forward.
2. Behave and Move On
After slowly accepting a new normal, I behaved with dignity and selflessness (which is what parenting requires!) Of course, after divorce, feelings were raw. Divorce hurt. Looking back, we’ve co-parented effectively not because we’re superhuman, apathetic or “better than others,” but because we put feelings aside when it came to our child. We were forgiving of ourselves and each other during our more human moments. We were patient when we made mistakes (we still make them), and above all, we showed each other respect. Of course we’ve had moments where we’ve said something we’ve regretted. We don’t hold grudges. We forgive and MOVE ON.
3. Put Your Child First
With a new definition of motherhood and a desire to move on with life (instead of focusing on the past), we shared the goal of making our son as happy as possible. We duplicated our son’s bedroom (from paint color to bedding) and routine (from bedtimes to toothpaste.) This focused communication on our son (not us) while maintaining our commitment to mirroring discipline and chores. Our son is now 14 years old and we still mirror each other’s homes as much as possible. It’s said so often, I think some divorced parents ignore a key factor in co-parenting: Put the child first in every way and hard decisions are easier.
4. Don’t Fall For Society’s Expectation of Divorce
Society expects and even condones egregious behavior between ex’s. What’s more, moms and stepmoms are supposed to hate each other (yet, isn’t it funny how dads and stepdads sidestep this stereotype?) Don’t fall for it. Set an expectation for yourself that will foster everyone’s happiness (including your own.) It’s okay to get along with your ex and their new spouse. It’s better than okay – it could change your life for the better.
5. Communicate and Compromise
When my ex remarried, my relationship with his wife was crucial to successful co-parenting because women make most of the household decisions! My son’s stepmom and I had a our mom-bonding-moment when we realized we were so much more alike than we were different. Slowly, we got to know each other. Eventually, we became friends. Today, we talk almost daily via text, email, phone. Open communication helps us coordinate calendars and the week ahead. When either of us are in a pinch due to work, we help the other out. We’re a great support system to each other and I’m not sure what I’d do without her. Successful co-parents require more mutual understanding and flexibility than married couples.
6. Foster Healthy Relationships for Your Child’s Sake
I learned not to be jealous of my son’s relationship with his stepmom. She loves him as her own and he loves, respects and appreciates her as his second mother. The fact is, she mothers him as much as I do. Many refuse to accept that their children are parented by others. This acceptance is critical. We are not in competition with each other for our son’s affection. Stepparents who are respectful, kind and loving should receive all the credit they deserve, including the love of the child they parent.
7. Share Costs
Money is the root of all evil, especially when it comes to divorce! Thankfully, we’re in a position (i.e., we all have careers) where we split costs 50-50. We share all major expenses (school tuition, sports, some clothing.) Of course, finances are unique to everyone’s situation and I don’t judge. I just know from experience a huge factor in our healthy relationships was our decision not to pursue spousal/child support. By removing money disputes, we eliminated power struggles and resentment. This, quite possibly, is the golden key. I’m grateful for the career I have and the independence it’s afforded me, especially when I was a single mom.
Co-parenting isn’t easy. Tips, such as those outlined above, always seem overly-simplified, and therefore, are easily dismissed by naysayers. So, let me be clear: I’ve struggled. I’m human. With a lot of time, an abundance of patience, and a sincere hope for a better life for myself (and child) despite divorce, I managed to create healthy relationships that are the very foundation of contentment and peace I enjoy today. And I’m lucky. All six parents in our dynamic wanted the same for themselves.
- How Age and Gender Affect Bonds When Blending Families
- Loyalties Divided: When Stepchildren Are Torn
- 8 Lessons Learned From My Hubby’s Two Ex Wives
- How To Help Your Children Live Happily In Two Homes