Things I know about Co-Parenting

tips on co-parenting after divorce

When I split from my husband, I remember a good friend telling me that divorce isn’t an event – it’s a process.

She meant that it’s not something where you can draw a line in the sand and say you’re “done” with it. Because it’s something you do, over and over, separating two lives. And that’s especially true when you have a child. Because you have to constantly work out a way to be together (as parents) while being very much apart in every other way.

Flea’s Dad and I have been co-parenting now for seven years, or thereabouts. And here are a few things I’ve picked up along the way, which maybe you’ll find useful:

Pick your battles. 

In the early days, it’s tempting to become Uber-Control-Freak-Mum and set all sorts of rules for the way things should be done – especially when the kids are with your ex. What’s for breakfast. Bedtime. TV schedule.

You’ll tell yourself it’s only for your child’s sake you’re having this argument, that consistency matters. Yada Yada. It’s control freakery.

Face it – when you are married, you don’t agree on everything. You discuss it, you compromise. And sometimes you just do stuff differently – when you’re at work, he feeds the kids takeaway. He has a lie-in, you let the kids watch cartoons. Just because you’re divorced that won’t change. So really, don’t sweat the small stuff. I try my best to only intervene if it’s something that I genuinely feel compromises Flea’s safety or health. Aside from that, they can watch all the cartoons they like at Dad’s house.

It’s a Good Thing for your ex to be happy. No, really. 

When a relationship breaks up, I think it’s only human nature that you want to see the person who (you think) has wronged you to die screaming in the gutter. Or maybe that’s just me. But after the acrimony of divorce, ultimately, you reach a point where you realise that if your ex is happy, and settled, and successful, then life is better for your child.

Do I want my daughter to spend her weekends with someone miserable, bitter or broken? Or do I want her to spend her weekends with someone cheerful and able to do the things he wants to do with her? It’s a no-brainer.

Ultimately, we’re divorced but we’re still a family. And when push comes to shove, we’d be there for each other because that’s what family does.

It’s a Good Thing for the kids to know that. 

One of the things I’ve always said to Flea is that I want her Dad to be happy. I want them to have fun together. It’s ridiculously important to me that they have a good relationship.

When Flea goes off with her Dad, I will always say, “Have a great time!” and when she’s home I’ll always ask about what they did, and be pleased for her if they’ve had a good time. “I’m happy you’re home, but I’m so glad you had fun,” is our Sunday night refrain.

Did I always mean it in the early days? Hell, no. But I never wanted Flea to feel guilty on my account for loving her Dad, or having fun with him. And I think I (mostly) achieved that.

But it’s a Good Thing for kids to know you have feelings. 

I don’t mean you should tell the kids the gory story of why you split, and who cheated, and who was actually married to a circus performer called Sadie, and so on. I don’t share any of the details of my marriage break-up online, and I don’t share it with my daughter. She’s nine, for starters.

But I will occasionally get SO incredibly irritated with my ex that I can’t hide it – and I don’t try to. “I’m really fond of your Dad, but oh my God, it drives me nuts when he’s so grumpy!” I might say. “I’m really cross with your Dad for breaking your video game, it was very careless.” 

Future therapy bills may prove my theory wrong, but I think it’s important to show her that it’s okay to get irritated with people in your family, and it won’t be the end of the world. You get over it. I figure that’s what would happen in a two-parent family, after all.

Suck it Up. 

Most people who know me will tell you that I’m pretty even-tempered. I’m not a person who shouts. I don’t slam doors. I don’t cry.  Pretty much everyone will tell you that except my ex – because an ex can push buttons that other people wouldn’t even know to look for.

When you row with your ex, maybe it seems like you’re having a row about the car. But there’s so much emotional baggage behind it that it’s never just about the car. It’s always about the car plus the Terrible Things that happened way back when. It’s a better person than me that can have a row without all those old feelings and hurts being dredged up by your sub-conscious.

But if your kids are anywhere within hearing distance when those buttons are pushed? Suck It Up.

Suck it up, because those relationship issues are not your kids’ issues and they shouldn’t be. Flea’s Dad and I have had some corkers of rows over the past seven years and doors were slammed and phones hurled across rooms, and maybe that’s just part and parcel of being forever shackled to someone who broke your heart. But you’re a grown-up. If the kids can see or hear, then you suck it up and (if you need to) wait until later to have a good old barney. My mantra in such situations is: “My relationship with him is not HER relationship with him.”  And on the worst days: “He’s a good person with good intentions. And he’s older, so he’ll probably die first.” 

He doesn’t need a mantra. Because I’m perfect. Obviously.

Be prepared to be the Bad Guy 

Most of the time, these days, my ex and I are actually pretty good friends. Ultimately, we want each other to be happy, and we both adore Flea – so there’s a lot of common ground to build on. And we were friends and then partners for the best part of a decade, so clearly we like each other well enough.

But when push comes to shove, my priority is Flea. And sometimes that means I have to advocate for her and say things that her Dad might not like, or agree with. Human nature being what it is, on those occasions I’ll take the brunt of the reaction. He’ll be angry with me, because I’m the messenger. And it’s not fair, and it’s not pleasant but it happens. Because what’s more important than Flea knowing I’ve always got her back, no matter what? Nothing.

 

Seven years post-divorce, I still don’t have this stuff down. There are still weeks when it feels like I can’t do right for wrong, and everyone is upset and frustrated. But I tell myself that’s just life, and it’s just families.

I’d love to hear what tips you have for co-parenting – anything I missed? Do leave a comment if you’ve got a great bit of advice to share!

About 

Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

17 Comments

  1. 29th April 2015 / 10:17 am

    It sounds like you have a really sensible attitude to co parenting which can be applied to couples when they’re not getting on for whatever reasons also.
    Purple Ella recently posted..April Instagram MonthlyMy Profile

    • 29th April 2015 / 7:32 pm

      I actually thought just this too Ella. Some brilliant sound advice for those that may not be divorced too.

      You, dear Whittle, have so much of this covered. I bet you used to slam the door and cry when I lost emails inviting you to month long, all expenses paid emails mind…

      Big love. Stay a brilliant co-parent xxx
      Ruth Walters recently posted..Yoga for beginnersMy Profile

      • Sally
        Author
        30th April 2015 / 11:55 am

        Thanks Ruth, I hope it works out, but you can only do your best and love them, I guess!

  2. 29th April 2015 / 3:11 pm

    This post broke me just a little. My parents split up when I was 16 and they still, to this day, have never been able to co-parent – so much so that my Mother is no longer in my life. My Dad got with someone new, had three kids and they split up three years ago – he refuses to speak to her, be in the same room as her or have anything to do with her. I wish more couples could be like you and your ex. For me this line summed it up ‘Ultimately, we’re divorced but we’re still a family. And when push comes to shove, we’d be there for each other because that’s what family does.’
    That is how it should be x
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  3. 29th April 2015 / 3:54 pm

    All you can do is the best you can and always always have Flea’s back. As long as she knows those two things she’ll be just fine.
    Lindy recently posted..Getting FitMy Profile

    • Sally
      Author
      30th April 2015 / 11:54 am

      Ah, thanks lovely!

  4. 29th April 2015 / 7:30 pm

    I’m very new to co parenting, we officially split Sept last year, so still in early stages but so far I think we’re doing ok.. I do love this saying though and will plan to use 🙂
    “He’s a good person with good intentions. And he’s older, so he’ll probably die first.”

    Sounds like you guys are doing good and most importantly your daughter is doing good with it.
    Carly recently posted..Escot – The Natural Place for Family Fun – DevonMy Profile

  5. 29th April 2015 / 8:48 pm

    I’m wholeheartedly with you on all of this – and the third but last paragraph particularly resonated with me. Grace is of an age where she pretty much knows what she wants and I am there to support and guide her (despite my feelings about her father). I know how much guilt you can feel as a child from a broken marriage and I swore I would never do that to her.
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  6. Mel
    29th April 2015 / 9:01 pm

    Seems like you’ve got it all covered, Sally. My parents got divorced when I was 2 and apart from the days I had to go to my dad’s and didn’t want to, I grew up happy and feeling loved. Flea is clearly an incredibly confident girl, with tons of personality!

    • Sally
      Author
      30th April 2015 / 11:39 am

      I can assure you, I definitely do NOT have it all covered, but it’s nice if it seems that way. But yes, Flea is very happy and I think having 2 parents that love her is probably as good as it can be 🙂

  7. Sarah
    30th April 2015 / 12:13 am

    I loved this post, as I have been doing this for the last 17 yrs.
    Some very sound advise .
    My son who is now 19 used to idolise his father my ex.
    However my ex constantly used to let him down with visits, days out, even forgetting birthday presents and Christmas.
    However my son would not give up on his dad.
    I felt it was best that I had the ranting phone calls, arguments etc away from my son’s ears.
    Over time my son has made his own mind up about his relationship with his dad.
    Which I feel is the best way to deal with things.
    If during my son’s early years when he idolised his dad. I had told him what I thought of my ex. I would have pushed my son further away and not gained the understanding and loving relationship we have today.

    • Sally
      Author
      30th April 2015 / 11:38 am

      I agree – that reminds me a lot of my relationship with my own Dad – I came to my own conclusions about him, based on my relationship and my experiences of him, rather than anything my Mum said or did, and I try very much to model the same thing for Flea.

  8. 30th April 2015 / 10:23 am

    I agree totally with all your points here and I have tried to follow them myself. Funnily enough I am finding it harder as time goes on, not easier. We have been divorced for ten years and where I have always been resolutely cheerful about their father and their visits to him and his new family, recently I’ve found myself spitting out a few snide comments. I think it is partly because the children are getting older and so we are having a more gown up dialogue about life in general. Your post is a good reminder to me that it would be detrimental to become a bitter ex wife always putting their father down. I am also glad that you mention about being happy that your ex happy, the temptation is to wish hell fire and damnation upon him but, as you say, a happy ex husband makes happy co-parented children. A lovely post, thank you.
    Clare recently posted..Learning To RunMy Profile

    • Sally
      Author
      30th April 2015 / 11:37 am

      I agree, sometimes it gets more complex over time – as Flea gets older and has more of an opinion on things, getting the right balance is really tricky. Thanks for reading 🙂

  9. 1st May 2015 / 12:09 am

    Such wise, heartfelt words. You are both doing a great job of raising Flea, spending the short time I did with her, it was obvious to see how happy she is and loved she feels. Confident, smart and so beautiful, you must be so proud.
    HonestMum recently posted..Win A Designer Nova Harley Bag Worth £139My Profile

  10. Charlotte @ Educating Elsa
    1st May 2015 / 3:36 pm

    This is all very sensible advice. I am currently what is probably best described as estranged from Elsa’s Daddy and so we are living separately and I am raising Elsa full-time. She goes to his for an afternoon twice a week and whilst we don’t always get on, my approach is to let him get on with it. As far as I am concerned he can do what he likes on his time with her as long as she is safe and well cared for. There is no point trying to control things, like you said. I think I have learned from someone else’s mistakes though, as his previous partner is a nightmare when it comes to co-parenting their daughter. I just want everyone to be happy.

  11. 11th May 2015 / 12:04 pm

    Some great advice here. Like Ella mentioned, this applies to those who haven’t separated yet. I find myself having to compromise more than usual nowadays and its hard but like you said..im learning to suck it up. LOL @ “he is older and might die first!”
    Joy recently posted..Black and YellowMy Profile

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