So you've made it through your divorce. Or you've split as a couple, but the result of a relationship, however brief or long it was, that once existed has resulted in new love: your children. Whether you're excited about it or not, you'll be in a new and different relationship with your child's other parent for the next fifty or so years.
And, if your kids aren't already in college, you'll need to be communicating effectively with the other parent on a regular basis. Are there ways that are better than others to discuss what your kids need without losing your mind? Yes! Yes! Yes!
Co-Parenting can be tough, tough business, especially if residual negative feelings exist on either side. You can handle every aspect like a pro, with a little practice and some proper procedures:
Focus on the kids. You're not together anymore, so there's no need to discuss any aspect of the relationship. No sense in wondering what he or she is up to when they don't have the kids, or where your ex is spending their money. What each of you do is none of other's business. Any communication should be about the kids and only about the kids, so stay focused in your conversations, emails, and texts. Leave no room for any other topics.
Never make assumptions. Oh, she might be an hour late to pick up the kids, he may pay his child support late, or introduce the new boyfriend or girlfriend to the kids after about ten minutes. But you can't assume any of those actions are meant just to upset you. Honestly, how aware of their own behavior were they when you were together? Exactly. Your ex is probably continuing some of the same behaviors you overlooked when you were a couple, only now they upset you and you're taking them personally. Never take anything personally, you must only hold them accountable to their promises as they relate to your kids, and then get on with your day. You have lots of other things to think about these days, don't you?
Find an outlet for your frustration. Our house rules mandate we never discuss bio dad when the kid is in the house. Yes, your kid will overhear you when you're complaining to your girlfriend about his latest shenanigans. Yes they will recognize your code name for him. Yes, they will notice when you talk about him in a different (snarky!) voice, even if what you say isn't all that critical. Find someone to talk to and talk to them only when your kid is as at school, daycare, on a playdate or with the other parent. If you have to get something off your chest, send a text or go sit in the car where they can't hear you. Schedule a therapy or coaching session, or even a coffee date with a girlfriend. Find a safe place to express your frustration where your little people can't hear you.
Keep your side of the street clean. Your ex is gonna do what they're gonna do. You can't control them now, you can only control you now. Do what you say you're going to do and be pleasant when you do it. By pleasant, I don't mean stop by and do their laundry while they are at work. By pleasant I mean, be as nice as you would the receptionist at your lawyer's firm or the UPS delivery guy. Use your manners, be a bit business-like, and end the conversation as soon as the needed topics have been covered.
Take ownership. You might think your ex is the worst person to ever live, but you are the one who originally chose them. There's nothing you can do about it now. Own it, and move on.
Tell the truth. Stay age appropriate. If mom or dad dad isn't showing up, you can tell your kids the truth, according to what they can handle. Be as diplomatic as humanly possible. Reinforce that their parents' behaviors aren't (A) a sign they aren't loved and (B) about them. Dad or mom is making dad or mom's decision. They will ultimately pay the price because they won't have a close relationship with the kids until they are much older, if ever.
Hire a divorce coach. A divorce coach can help you process through your feelings, take back your life, and help you create a solid plan for your future in a safe environment. You may also need therapy, and therapy can be great. Therapy is about healing the results of the past. Coaching will get your focused on the future.
No grown-up child of divorce ever says, "My mom complained about my dad and I took her side. It was awesome." They will tell you they felt unsure and insecure about their life. They will say they felt put in the middle. They will be sad. You don't want your kids to be sad, I know you don't.
It's better for your kids to grow up and say, "My mom never said a word about what a jerk my dad was, and now we have a relationship that's great." Or, "My dad never said anything, mom was a jerk and it didn't take me long to figure that out for myself."
It's up to you to create the space for your kids to have healthy relationships with both parents, forever. You and your kids will benefit greatly when you are awesome at co-parenting!
Honorée Corder is the author of The Successful Single Mom book series, and the upcoming If Divorce is a Game, These are the Rules.