Anyone who thinks co-parenting is easy has probably never tried it themselves! Even if you and your ex did your best to "consciously uncouple," you are still likely to push each other's buttons from time to time after your divorce. If your divorce was more like World War III than a civilized split, your co-parenting afterwards is going to be even more challenging.
As parents, we all know that it is better for our kids if we get along ... but it isn't easy! Here are 10 tips to help you and your ex smooth out the bumps in your co-parenting relationship.
1. Discuss how you will handle important parenting issues BEFORE you divorce. Many people make the mistake of not talking about hot button parenting issues until after they are divorced. While avoiding difficult conversations might make your divorce smoother initially, it can make your life after divorce total hell. It is far better to deal with the issues you know are there while you are still going through your divorce, than it is to go back to court and fight about them afterward.
2. Create a dispute resolution process in your divorce judgment. No matter how much you try to resolve your parenting issues before you divorce, inevitably things will come up after your divorce that you never thought about. For that reason, your divorce judgment needs to lay out a dispute resolution process. For example, you might say that if you and your ex disagree on an important issue, you will try to talk about it in person first, then go to a mediator before either of you can go to court.
3. Learn to communicate in a way that doesn't make you crazy! If talking to your ex grates on your very last nerve, then find a way to communicate that isn't as bad. Use email. Use text messaging. Use technology. A shared Google calendar can keep everyone on the same page with your kids' activities. If that doesn't work, there are lots of online tools that will help you and your ex communicate, schedule the kids' activities, and keep track of expenses, without ever having to have a face to face conversation. (CLICK HERE to get your FREE Parenting Tools Resource Guide.)
4. Assume Good Intent. When your marriage dissolves, so does the trust that you once had with your ex. So, when your ex brings the kids to your house late, or changes the schedule at the last minute because of a work commitment, or makes a questionable parenting choice, you assume your ex is irresponsible, disrespectful, and purposely annoying. If, instead of assuming the worst, you make it a rule to assume the best until you are shown otherwise, you will be amazed at how your relationship with your ex (and your stress level) change.
5. Minimize the Opportunity for Conflict. As parents, you and your ex are both entitled to get your kids' report cards, school notices, medical records and activity schedules. You can save yourself a lot of grief if you list both you and your ex as parents on all official documents, and require the school, sports teams, etc. to send both of you duplicate notices about what is happening with your child. That way, one parent is not responsible for keeping the other in the loop.
6. Resist the Urge to Bad-Mouth Your Ex. Your child is entitled to have a good relationship with both of his/her parents. Don't sabotage that by talking badly about your ex in front of your kid ... even if your ex has no problem talking badly about you! While taking the high road may require you to bite your tongue so hard that it bleeds right now, in the end your kid will understand and appreciate your self-restraint.
7. Stay Focused on the Kids. Limit your conversations with your ex to the information you need to convey that is related to your kids. Resist the urge to analyze or criticize your ex. Don't pump your ex for information on his/her love life. Don't bring up arguments about the past. Talk about the kids, and only about the kids.
8. Stop Trying to Control Your Ex. It is easy to use the kids to control your ex without even realizing that is what you are doing. If you find that you are refusing to change weekends so that your ex can go on vacation with his/her new squeeze, or you insist that your ex do exactly what you say with the kids, or you withhold money you know your ex needs because s/he is not spending it the way that you think is right, are you really doing what is best for your kids? Or, are you trying to control your ex? The minute to let go of trying to control your ex, co parenting with him/her will instantly become easier.
9. Use the 10 Second Rule. When your ex does something that you consider to be completely insane, or surprises you with bad news in front of the kids, take a deep breath and count to ten before you say a word. Your kids are watching your reaction. Your ex is too. The more you can keep your cool and not explode, the more you will save your kids from having to endure another emotional hurricane. Then, when you have gotten your blood pressure to stop pushing through the top of your head, you can (hopefully) have a more rational, and productive, conversation with your ex.
10. Manage Your Expectations. Parenting is the hardest job on the planet. Co parenting takes that job and increases the difficulty level by 10x. If you go into co parenting with the expectation that your ex is going to parent the same way that you do, or that s/he is always going to agree with you, or let you have your way, you are going to spend most of your children's childhood fighting with your ex. If you adjust your expectations so that they are realistic, instead of idealistic or rigid, you will be a lot less stressed out, your kids will be happier, and co parenting will be much, much easier.