Do you know what's worse than getting a divorce from someone who has broken your heart, your wallet, or your sanity? It's having to share the parenting duties with this person for the rest of your life! Parenting is hard. Coparenting can feel impossible. It can be one of the most challenging aspects of a divorce. The realization that you're stuck with this person you're trying to leave, essentially for the rest of your life, can be quite overwhelming, especially if you have a lot of conflict.
You've probably heard many times that you should put your differences aside for the sake of your kids. And you probably want to scream every time you hear that from a well meaning friend, right? The expectation that two people who divorced because they couldn't work out their differences will be able to come together in parenting is so unrealistic. So cut yourself some slack for not being able to parent like Buddha or Jesus, and move forward with some compassion and understanding that you're human, and you're doing your best to get through a divorce AND parent, all without losing your mind completely!
So how do you attempt to put your differences aside and coparent with an ex who is worlds apart from you when it comes to parenting?
Focus on what you can control and let the rest go. As parents, we have our ideas about what we think is best for our kids. As our children get older, we realize we have less and less control over what they're exposed to. If your ex differs from you with parenting practices, values, or lifestyle choices, it can be very stressful to realize that you can't control what goes on with your kids when they're not with you. You may fear that they'll be ruined, hurt, or not taken care of in the way that you think is best. The reality is that there are many ways to parent, and no two people are on exactly the same page. This is true if you're married or not. Trying to control what goes on at your ex's house can result in conflict, passive-aggressive behavior, and stress on you and your kids. You have to realize what you can control, and what you can't. Unless your kids are being hurt in some way, letting go is the only way to maintain your calm and sanity in a coparenting situation.
Be the best parent you can be.
You get to give your kids everything you think is important in the time that you share with them. Instead of worrying about your ex agreeing with your parenting expectations, trust that your kids will adapt. Kids figure out very quickly who to turn to for whatever they need. They may know that mom gives the back rubs at night, and dad is the one who rolls around on the floor with them. Dad might be strict, mom might be a pushover. Even married couples share these differences. Give your kids what you can. Your kids will get different things from each parent, and they will survive.
Choose your battles.
I'll reiterate that surrendering is important. But the reality is that there will be situations that require some discussion, problem solving, and mutual agreement. If you're constantly focusing on the "little things" (they might seem really big to you) such as your kids wearing certain clothes, or not going to school with crazy, unbrushed hair, your ex may be tuning you out completely. Then when the "big things" come up, he or she may be so frustrated with you trying to control things, you'll be met with less cooperation. Figure out what is most important to you to address and choose your battles. Most parents struggle with this more right after a divorce, and then become more skilled at choosing battles over time. Some never let go of control. This can take time, but it is a life saver when you're dealing with coparenting differences.
Vent, but not to your kids.
Coparenting with an ex-spouse can be maddening at times. It's important to have a healthy outlet for your feelings. Talk to friends, family, or a therapist who can help. You want to get it off your chest so you're not erupting in anger in front of your kids or sharing your frustrations with them.
Safety trumps surrender.
While taking the high road of surrendering is usually the best choice in a stressful coparenting situation, there is one situation that always requires your intervention. If you suspect that your child is being abused or put in dangerous or significantly neglectful situations with your ex, it is imperative that you intervene by involving authorities, the courts, or child protection if needed. Despite legal, financial, or emotional stress this may cause, your child's safety and well-being is always more important.
If you're overwhelmed with how to coparent, take some deep breaths, acknowledge what you can and cannot control, and let go. Remember the quote by Gretchen Rubin, "the days are long but the years are short" when it comes to parenting. This too shall pass.