I have been a co-parent for over 16 years. Over the years I have learned there many ways to co-parent.
When I first began my walk on the co-parenting journey, I was hurt, angry and in the mess of a divorce. At the time, my child was 2 and she was my entire world. The last thing I wanted to do was share her with the person I no longer wanted to be married.
At that time, there was no way I ever saw us dropping her off at college last fall with our new families getting along and putting together her dorm room. It wasn't always like that though. I had to learn a lot about myself and realize co-parenting isn’t about how we felt about each other or what the other one had done or even documenting everything we believe the other parent did wrong. It was about making sure our child felt loved, safe and supported. It was about letting her know, we didn’t see her “other house” as the enemy. After all, she is half my ex. So here are five of the lessons I learned over the years, some were learned the hard way while others were almost epiphanies.
My child is a person, not a pawn used to get back at her father. There were times my ex would ask to switch days because of this or that, and I would get so angry and deny the switch, believing he would plans these things during my time just so he could encroach on my parenting time. Once I sat back and realized, even if that was his plan, it wasn’t about that. It was able making sure my daughter had the chance to participate in said event. I would consider each event and determine if it was something that would benefit her in the long run. Family events were something I did not want her to miss. After all, she has cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents on his side too.
My child loves her dad, step-mom and half siblings are her ‘other house’ as much as she loves us at our house. AND THAT IS OK! This was a really hard one for me to come to terms with. I felt we had to do everything we could to make her love us more. One day I realized, love isn’t limited. Just because she loved them, doesn’t mean she loves us any less. It also doesn’t mean that either family loves her more. After I realized this, it was a comfort to know how many people my daughter had in her life that loved her.
When games get played, everyone loses- especially the kids. In the beginning, I’m not proud of this but I was a huge pain. I made things difficult on purpose because I was angry at my ex and felt justified in some of the things I was doing. I would intentionally wash my daughter blanky with just enough time to NOT be done before her dad picked her up. I felt I got it for her so it was going to stay with me. If she had a favorite toy or sweatshirt I wouldn’t let her bring it to her dad’s house- again- I bought it so it was mine. I know- I told you I was a huge pain. I’m not proud of it, but I’m thankful I learned before it was too late. My daughter should have “her stuff”. Regardless of where it came from, it was given to her. this realization lead to my figuring out, trying to beat my ex in this childish games, only punished my daughter because she didn’t have something that brought her comfort.
You will have to spend time together (and be civil) for the sake of your child(ren). Whether it’s music, sports, college tours, graduation or even weddings- you will have to spend time with your ex and their families (ex-in-laws included). I used to dread having to go places I know my ex would be at, because it was strange and awkward. Not knowing how to address his new spouse, and even worse how do you deal with the ex-in-laws. Once I figured out, the stress and anxiety I felt was only a fraction of what my daughter felting having all of us there together. Wondering which family to greet first. Making sure she spend the same amount of time and attention with both families. Or even worse, would everyone get along? We all had to learn to swallow our pride and fake it until you make it. After a while it, we realized we were no longer faking it. We genuinely got along.
Co-Parenting never ends. You never stop being a parent. Neither does your ex. You might not deal with them as often as you used to, but your child still has to juggle holidays and family events. It would be amazing to have her at all holidays and every school break, but the reality is, she still has two families she loves and wants to see, as much as you love and want to see her.
These are just a few lessons I learned over my years of co-parenting. But the most important thing I learned in all of this is to love your child always, and by doing things out of love for them, it will help make co-parenting easier. You will still have your struggles, and you won’t always see eye to eye, but if both parents agree to do for the child out of love it will be easier to swallow your pride and accept it isn’t about you after all.
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