Let’s face it, break-ups are hard. But, add a child or children to the mix and it can feel impossible! No one has children with someone with the intention of splitting up (unless they’re crazy!). It’s hard work! It’s heavy work. And depending on what led to the breakup, it can feel isolating. But there is hope! Trust me, I’ve been there. You are not alone in this (13,573 families had only one parent living in the home in 2015). Still, we must admit that our child had no fault or say so in the breakup. Yet, they will have to live with the consequences of it for the rest of their lives. So, the question is: how can you foster a relationship that will help your child adjust to separate homes? Here are 8 tips for making co-parenting work for you and your child.
Tips for Making Co-parenting Work
1. Never bad mouth your ex or fall into the trap of needing to justify your decision to your child.
I cannot stress this one enough! In trying to defend yourself, you will cause more harm and confusion to your child. Even if your ex is 80% at fault (you should accept some responsibility), your child doesn’t need to hear that from you. Don’t put them in a situation where they feel they need to choose or pick sides. Being loyal to you, shouldn’t mean they have to turn away from their father. If your ex is bad mouthing you and your child has questions, let them know that you will not discuss with them. You can tell them that when they are older they may understand things better. Simply apologize to them for the stress, emotions, or confusion this situation may have brought them.
2. Do not try to control your ex.
This may be especially hard if you did not initiate or have direct say in the break-up. Unfortunately, this is your reality for now and the sooner you realize you cannot control your ex, the better. Don’t try to dictate how he lives his life. If you caused the break-up, he may be feeling angry and try to push your buttons. Or he may be trying to find his place without you as the center. Either way, show grace and give him space. If he is posting inappropriate things online or saying and doing things that will get back to your child, discuss it. Unless he is bringing sketchy people around your child, do not comment on or try to dictate who he spends his time with. You trusted him enough to have a child with him. So, trust him to do what’s in the best interest of your child.
3. Respect his rules and parenting styles.
I must admit, this was the hardest one for me to come to terms with. I had a certain vision and plan for how I wanted my son to be brought up. Although his father and his fiancée have always been great parents, they do things a bit differently. I cannot expect to rule their house because of my preferences. My advice to you here is for each of you to pick the top values/beliefs that are non-negotiable, your personal preferences, and your wishes/hopes for your child. Discuss these things together and come to an agreement for how things will be structured in each home. You may not agree to as much as you’d like. Unfortunately, when separating, you have introduced two different households to the mix, which may mean two different lifestyles. You can kindly request certain things, but you cannot demand it.
4. Be fair and flexible.
Do not be petty. If he wants to see your child on an off day or weekend, let him. Unless it is in direct conflict with plans you have already made, what’s the harm? Don’t use this as an opportunity to power trip or try to make things difficult for him. Remember, what goes around comes around. At the end of the day, your child is the one who loses out and may become resentful. Count it a blessing that your child has a father who is active in his/her life and let him enjoy that time. No matter what shortcomings we each have as parents, our children are better for having us. Unless there is any type of abuse present, do not restrict their relationship. Instead, seek opportunities to nurture it. Adjust your schedule if necessary.
5. Always maintain open communication.
This one is a biggie. Emotions may be running wild. However, you must model proper behavior to your child. They need to see you be mature and treat your ex with respect, even if he hasn’t earned it. I’m not saying to be a punching bag or to let your ex treat you poorly. If they are being disrespectful to you, you have the perfect opportunity to model boundary setting in an adult way. Your child is not to blame and shouldn’t have to deal with any more drama or trauma than they already have.
This is also another “don’t be petty” point. Don’t purposely keep things from your ex to be spiteful. Let him know what’s going on with your child’s life and try to keep the lines of communication open as much as possible. It also allows your child to see that you are still a united front and cannot be manipulated or pitted against each other. Most children will at least try this with small things to test the waters. I love it when my son complains to his dad about something and leaves out a few details. The look on his face when his dad tells him the rest of the story is priceless. All he can say is, “Yeah, but…”
6. Consult with him before making any big decisions.
In addition to maintaining open communication, be sure to ask your ex’s input before making any big decisions or deals with your child. Showing that you value his input opens the door for communication regarding raising your child. It encourages your ex to do the same when your child is with him. It also enables you to establish goals for your child across the board. You can discuss expectations and rewards so that you can work together. You don’t want to be the last to know your son just got a brand new video game system when you were in the middle of trying to limit gaming time. To add, be clear about what should be discussed beforehand and what can be taken for granted. For example, a trip out of town should be agreed upon before the child comes home from that trip! Each family is different, but being on one accord is vital for your child.
7. Always try to foster a heart of gratitude.
If you are feeling frustrated or discouraged at being a single mom, I get you. I’ve been there, and I know it’s not easy. But if your child’s father is an active part of your child’s life, there is something to be grateful for. It’s easy to discount that part because, after all, they’re only doing what they’re supposed to be doing. However, many half-decent men have started a new life and distanced themselves from their children from a prior relationship. I’m not saying we should be giving out participation trophies. But, we should acknowledge all that IS being done. Yes, I’m sure you could handle some situations better than your ex. But, if he’s trying, appreciate the effort. And don’t be afraid to acknowledge it openly every once in a while.
8. Cut yourself some slack.
The points above are somewhat geared to you making things easier or more pleasant for your ex. While that may be the outcome, the focus here really is your child. Your goal is to make sure they are not bearing the brunt of the separation and assure that they feel loved. But what about you? You must also cut yourself some slack and offer grace when you fall short. You may miss the mark sometimes as a single mom and that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up about it. All you can do is make every attempt to be your best self. You will fall. Then, you will dust your pretty-self off and be the best mom you can be. Your child will recognize the effort and thank you later.
Need encouragement or have a question, email me at [email protected] I promise to get back to you!