Co-parenting with your ex is easier than you think
I fall into the 53% of divorced Americans. No, I’m not embarrassed about it, at least not any more. These days divorce is as normal as breathing. Even couples that appear the happiest end up surprising no one when they break the news of their split. The typical shock and awe has been replaced with an apathetic shrug and a “go figure”.
Sprinkle in some offspring, and things get much more difficult
My ex and I have children, so I carry shame for the fact that we couldn’t make it work for their sake. However, I feel confident when I say that staying together would have been much worse. I’ve seen this first hand. A close friend of mine was 15 years into a tumultuous and violent marriage with an abusive alcoholic, and her kids couldn’t beg her enough to call it quits. Kids…under 13 years old. The guilt of having to hear her kids plead with her to get a divorce, not just for their sake but for hers, will haunt her forever.
Children should never be put in that position. Kids should be doing kid things, like climbing trees, playing tag, and making art. Not acting as a counselor to the people who are supposed to be raising them.
In the end, she didn’t leave him and he eventually drank himself to death.
Thankfully my situation was nothing close to this. That doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been just as damaging to our children. Any kind of dismantling of a family can be destructive if you aren’t careful. In a lot of cases it doesn’t start out this way, but it ends up snowballing out of control and it’s often most impacted people who must pick up the pieces.
Here is a weird comparison, but just bear with me
You know how in movies depicting 17th century battles, the soldiers ride into the fight on the back of a horse? It doesn’t matter how many times I see it, I still get upset when those horses get killed or maimed or simply fall over in the process. I know it’s Hollywood doing movie things, and no doubt PETA is there on set angrily chastising the director for such vile, anti-horse imagery. There are horse trainers and vets right there to care for them should anything happen. In fact, those horses probably have a cushier life than me. Forget the Hollywood aspect of this analogy. Real soldiers used to charge into battle on the back of their trusted steeds. I’m just taking a wild guess here, but I’m thinking several horses became collateral damage in the process.
Children caught in a nasty custody battle are like those horses. Brought in by both parties and used as a means to charge towards the enemy in a modern day emotional jousting competition. They don’t get a choice whether they want to be there. They’re forced against their will to be an object in a war between their owners…err, parents.
then things can get even worse
Some of those horses probably neighed the fuck on outta there. In human terms we call that “running away”, which some children who are thrown in the middle of parental tug-and-war do. So if you needed some sort of cruel, albeit bizarre, imagery to remind you of what your kids might be feeling, you’re welcome.
Your children become collateral damage in a post-matrimonial war that they had no part of. Not only do they end up getting the shit-covered end of the stick, but you could lose years of what would have been productive parenting. Those moments of rage could have been moments of joy. Everything from your physical health to your future relationships could have been positively impacted by your choice to put down your proverbial gun and call a permanent cease-fire.
But unfortunately, this type of divisiveness is the status quo. It’s almost as if there is some unspoken rule that when you get divorced you should hate each other and spend your time and energy making each other’s lives a living hell. It’s sad to think that co-parenting your kids in a healthy and respectful way is going against the grain. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been told, “wow, I can’t believe you guys are able to do that” from people who find out we are doing what is without a doubt, the right thing to be doing.
I’m not talking out of my ass here
My ex-husband and I have 50/50 custody of the kids. Every other night they are with one of us. We live in the same neighborhood, literally 2 minutes away from each other, so this is not as burdensome as it might sound. Additionally, we get to both see the children every day. We consider it a win-win for our situation.
You might think that we worked out our parenting plan, schedule, and geographical location solely for the benefit of the kids. We sacrificed parts of our lives that would otherwise be entirely different, to be sure we did the absolute best that we could for the children in our split. You wouldn’t be wrong. Of course, the kids are our number one priority. Of course, we talked and agreed on a plan that we felt would be the least impactful on the kids. But we didn’t just do this for them. We did this for ourselves as well. Call it selfish, but we both want to see our kids as much as humanly possible. This plan allows for that.
If you read the above and think I’m full of shit and productive and mutually respectful co-parenting is impossible…
Believe it or not, you can hate each other with the passion of a thousand angry gods yet still find a way to make the best of a crap situation. Sure, hating your ex will certainly make co-parenting a lot harder, but not impossible. We all know it’s not easy to simply “turn your feelings off”; especially if you are carrying years of baggage packed with pain, betrayal, and heartbreak. There may be some things that, for you, are not forgivable. I’m here to tell you: that’s okay. Try to separate your feelings towards your ex from your plan to raise the children you share.
The default for a breakup doesn’t have to be perpetual mud-slinging. It says a lot about humans as a species when our initial thought to hearing of a divorce or custody plan is that the parties loathe each other and are hell bent on ruining each other’s lives. And could you blame anyone for such an assumption? A lot, probably most, divorced couples are exactly like this. They constantly try to one-up the other parent to seem more favorable to the child. They go out of their way to make the other parent feel inferior and paranoid. Sometimes it’s only one parent who does this, sometimes it’s both.
But if you put in a little work, it can be neither
Here is (what I believe to be) the key to co-parenting successfully with your ex:
It’s really that easy and that difficult. Before you spit an insult or accusation at your ex, stop and ask yourself this question: Would I ever allow my children to speak to somebody like this?
If the answer is “no”, then find something else to say. Or better yet, say nothing at all. You wouldn’t believe how valuable silence can be. My mother told me something along lines of “the beast only survives if you keep feeding it.” If your ex is an asshole, let them be the asshole. It may seem really tempting to give a few jabs in the heat of the moment, but you once you say something you can’t unsay it.
This isn’t just a matter of taking the high road
This is a safeguard against any legal issues that can spring up down the road. If you and your ex wind up in family court, you’re not going to want the judge to ask you what a “douche nozzle” is because you used it as your opening in every angry email.
You want to be the one who is mature, level-headed, and who refused to engage in such destructive behavior. You want to look like the parent. And trust me, family law judges want to know that at least one of you is capable of acting older than your children.
Hopefully you will never see yourself in that situation, but sadly, many families do. It’s ugly, costly, and it does only harm and absolutely no good.
Co-parenting only works if both parties want it to
It doesn’t matter how hard one parent tries. If the other is stonewalling or starting fights at every turn, it’s not gonna happen. So, if you really want to be sure your kids don’t need thousands of dollars in therapy later in life, put the past behind you. Stop actively looking for something to fight about. Have passive-aggressive-free discussions with your ex about how to write up your plan. Stick to that plan.
Most importantly, take your pride, scrunch it into a ball, and shove it up your ass. Pride is like kryptonite to successful co-parenting. If your pride is so important to you that you can’t possibly let go of it for the sake of your children, then you have much bigger problems, and it’s not your kids who need the therapy.
If you’d like more information on co-parenting, check out the many co-parenting books on Amazon.
Some family therapists offer co-parenting sessions if you can’t read, hate reading, or if in-person training is more your style.
You can also check out this online co-parenting course which will help you understand the emotional and legal implications that problematic co-parenting can create. If you are currently in the middle of a divorce or custody fight, or about to find yourself in one, this course will give you a head start as many family law judges will require both parents to complete a course like this.
If you think I maybe don’t suck so much at this parenting thing, please check out my opinion on the never-ending vaccine fight here