Let's talk about coparenting, frankly. It can be an amazing thing when you and your ex see eye to eye about your child. When the two of you pick up on the same little tricks and pranks your kids are trying to pull on you both or perhaps share the firsts in your little ones' lives, it can make you think, "Wow, divorce is not so bad. We can do this."
And then there are the frustrating moments in which neither of you see eye to eye. In fact, you wonder if both of you live on the same planet. You will go back and forth debating your points. And even if it never gets ugly, it can still feel like you are constantly negotiating every move for quite a while when you're getting a divorce and after. Each choice in your child's life seems to bring up another opportunity to lock horns. Whether it's mostly smooth sailing or frequently a nightmare, we can't forget to address the emotions involved in sharing your kids' time. Coparenting means always missing parts of your child/children's lives. Skype, texts, and technology are great, but they don't make up for actual legitimate face time, and no, I'm not talking about the one on your iPhone.
No matter the case, coparenting is a lifelong relationship that needs to be carefully tended to, so here are five simple strategies to make life as divorced parents just a wee bit easier.
I'm a big fan of using this tool to help two coparents out. For my ex-husband and me, we split her 60/40, which means my daughter has a great deal of back and forth. A lot of things can get lost in translation: school "off" days, dance recital ticket sale, school picture day, classmate birthday parties, and more. Sometimes Dad gets the message when he has her on a school night, and sometimes I do if it's my night. We are constantly discussing stuff like this on a weekly basis. Even if you get along with someone, putting all important dates and to-dos in a Google calendar works well, since it can be shared with your coparent. Not to mention, you and your coparent can get alerts to remind you that "Hey, it's School Social Night this Friday." If you also plan on going on vacation or need to switch a day or two with your ex on who has the kids when, this is a good place to put all these dates and information.
It doesn't matter how innocent a topic may seem at times when one of us broaches it, because occasionally, a fight or stern, cold words have popped out over a seemingly insignificant matter. We decided to leave conversations regarding our matters — anything involving coparenting duties or adult responsibilities — to after she's asleep or when she is not around us. We used to try and run our communication right before she would say good night to one of us, and it became problematic if one of us got upset. Even if one of us raised our voice just a quarter, she'd pick up on it. Leave all talk outside of children's hearing range. They don't need to hear anything even if you two are on good terms. We are on good terms, and it still can get upsetting.
Letting It Go
Sometimes our ex may do things differently than we do, and it can drive us nuts. However, if your ex is disciplining your child/children and he's not handling it how you would, don't step in to correct him unless of course he's harming the kids. When you step in and try to change or refute what Dad is doing, it teaches your kids that neither one of you has power. Essentially, your kids will see they can divide you, and they will do it to their advantage. It happened a few times with us. We didn't back each other up, and our daughter, being the wise one she is, picked up on this. Don't let this be you. Thankfully we have seen the light and realize how crucial it is to back each other up even if we don't agree with the tactics. Trust me, this is a tough one to do at times. I have to remind myself and he still has to remind himself to not negate the other. Even married parents can share this battle!
At Daddy's House
Even though this strategy is designed to help you cope with the kids, it starts with your ex. Maybe your ex or you allow your kids to do something you or he would not allow. It can feel maddening, and if it's something unhealthy for the kids, you should discuss this. But if it's not a major issue, you have to let it slide. It's not your house. This is the frustrating part of coparenting: realizing you have to give up control to some extent and that you won't call all the shots. That's divorce. Your kids may come home announcing that your ex says they can do it at his house, so why not yours? Simply stated, tell your kids that at your ex's house they must honor their father, but at your house there are different rules. Is it confusing to kids? Sure, but guess what? We as adults know that there are different rules to almost every segment of our lives. It's not a bad life lesson to learn young: be flexible.
Trouble in Little China
If you feel there is any kind of issue going on when your child is in the other's presence, take notes. My ex is a great dad, but recently she was having bouts of diarrhea at his house — not because of anything he did wrong but simply because of something she was eating. I asked him to jot down what she ate for meals so we could compare and try to spot a pattern. Obviously some divorce situations encounter more serious matters, but whether it's a small issue or a big issue, writing notes is a smart way to get clarity out of a situation and find patterns. I did it with my daughter's potty issues. She was having a bunch of accidents, but Dad thought maybe it wasn't as bad as I was saying, so I made a potty chart to track her accidents and see how "bad" it was. I was able to show him she had accidents 17 out of 30 days. This made a good argument for my position that she was stressed, and he agreed. There was no fighting or dramatics.
If you're coparenting with an awesome partner or a not-so-awesome partner, take heed in knowing that it's OK to get frustrated and sad sometimes. It's a big adjustment, but after a while, it will get easier. It's what I tell myself, and I know that having a positive outlook has helped me in this tough life situation!