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Co-Parenting: The Journey You Never Wanted to Take

Family PlanningThis was not the way you had dreamed up happily ever after. You certainly didn’t expect to share the responsibility of raising your children between two different households, potentially with other partners in the mix. You’re fired up. You’re exhausted. Emotionally drained. Angry. Bitter. All of the above. You have no intention of making this co-parenting a walk in the park, you’re sure your ex is going to be unreasonable, irrational and unpredictable.

You don’t want to hear this, but you have to be the bigger person.

Every interaction with your ex is a chance to make the right choice. You have a choice every time you interact with your spouse. You can take the easy road – hold onto your anger and bitterness, interact with hostility and make sure that you don’t ever give an inch – OR – you can take the hard road, the one that is flexible, understanding, places your children’s well-being over your own, and shows them that you are in this for them. Taking the hard road will eventually lead to a healthy new normal, despite what it feels like right now.

Your children’s emotional and mental well-being is at stake. Your children’s future decisions will be impacted by the decisions you make right now. Their future relationships, how they view love and the expectations that they have will be developed during this time. You do not get to pick you over them.

You have to create a new relationship with your ex. . You’re no longer in love, you’ve stopped putting effort into your marriage but you have to put effort into the partnership that has now been formed. The one that’s sole purpose is to raise your children and to do it well. Refusing to embrace this partnership, and in turn, embracing a hostile relationship can lead to fighting that the children are very aware of. This fighting can harm their self-esteem and their attachments and security. They may feel that the fight, and winning the argument is more important than they are. You just need to work toward a respectful, cooperative relationship.

Listen to what your ex is saying.The goal is to try to understand, or at least not immediately discredit what they are saying. Listening and approving are two different things. You can let your ex spouse know that you’ll think about what they are saying, or consider their point of view rather than immediately dismissing it. This one step will go far in avoiding unnecessary hostility.


Read that again. You and your former spouse will do things differently. You will disagree. Here’s where you need to do some soul searching - If you disagree with something your ex is doing: do you actually understand the situation and is it really harmful OR are you annoyed with the way he/she handles things?

If the choices your former spouse is making are not harmful to your children, then having two different ways of approaching life can be beneficial to your children. This is where rules, stability and consistency come into play. Your children will adapt, and can accept that at your home if you do X, then Y will happen, even if it’s not the same at the other parent’s home. If you decide you have a reasonable concern, calm yourself down before you approach your ex. Discuss the issue in a calm and respectful way in private.

Remember: your feelings, your responsibility. You do not get to dump your feelings on your children. You do not get to pit them against your former spouse. You have responsible, appropriate avenues with which to work through your emotions. Get counseling, seek out a friend, pray, exercise, whatever it is that helps you work through what you’re going through. Also, do not use your children as messengers.

In addition to working with your spouse and not unloading on your children, also, and most importantly, don’t speak disrespectfully about your ex in front of the children and don’t allow others to do so. Show them what it looks like to respect their other parent. Show them that they don’t have to pick sides. Show them that they can thrive in this environment. Show them that they are loved, and above all else, you want what’s best for them. Berating their other parent accomplishes nothing.

Ways to facilitate appropriate communication with your spouse:

Keep your communication short, business-like, and focused on the kids. You can only be responsible for yourself and your emotions. If your ex is sharp and unkind, try not to return the same. Try to remove the emotion from the situation, and treat your former spouse as a co-worker or neighbor - you would likely first give the benefit of the doubt- ‘Maybe he is just having a bad day.’ If it continued, you might calmly but firmly address the situation. Removing the intense emotion from the equation will produce better results for you and your children.