Most people don’t get married expecting it won’t last forever, but more than half of married couples don’t make it to their happily-ever-after. It’s hard to imagine on our wedding night that someday we’ll be fighting with this person over who gets to keep the gravy boat that you just got from Aunt Bess this afternoon and how you’ll divide the equity of the home you built together. How to manage custody of your children and how and if you can co-parent with this person is the most challenging and heartbreaking decisions you will have to make if your marriage if not everlasting.
I’m sorry to be such a downer, so I have some good news. It is absolutely possible to successfully co-parent your children with your ex, but it does take a conscious effort on both parent’s part.
My ex-husband and I have two children who were 2 and 5 years old when we split. There was anger, tears, deep sadness…and children to protect and raise despite our inability to repair our marriage. The first 2 years after our divorce, my ex and I struggled with civility and patience for one another, but one thing that we refused to do was involve our children in our pettiness.
Our children are now 16 and 19 years old and both well-adjusted, happy, functioning young adults, and my ex-husband and I like to think we had a little bit to do with that. Here are some of the rules we established to insure our children always knew they were loved, safe and secure regardless of the fact Mom and Dad didn’t live in the same house.
Choose your new partners wisely.
Because new spouses will also be involved in your child’s upbringing, make sure the person you’re bringing into your family loves your children as much as they love you and also has a compatible parenting style. Also, allow new spouses to love your child and allow your child to love them. It’s not a competition, there’s enough love for everyone to share.
I still remember my daughter laying across the laps of me, my current husband, my ex-husband and his wife at one of my son’s music recitals. She looked up at us and said, “I love all of my parents.” It felt like we were definitely doing something right.
Never speak poorly about your ex within range of little ears.
This also means that you can’t roll your eyes when talking about them or demonstrate animosity at all if you can avoid it. Your children don’t need to know that dad “spends too much money” or mom is “selfish”. Watching your parents separate can cause a whole tidal wave of emotions in your children that include fear, sadness, confusion and even guilt that they somehow may have played a part in their parent’s unhappiness.
Your child now, more than ever, needs reassurance and love and one of the ways that you can put them at ease is to show respect for their other parent (and their new spouses when they come into the picture).
Involve your ex in major decisions, such as education and medical needs.
Don’t alienate your spouse out of spite or resentment. The more you show respect for them, the more likely that are to return that kindness.
If possible, try to be consistent at both households with rules, schedules and discipline.
Having two households, with two sets of house-rules can be very confusing and stressful. If you and your ex can establish similar rules (bedtime, homework rules, television time, etc.), your children will have the comfort of consistency and stability. This rule even applies to punishments or restrictions imposed. If a child is disciplined at one home (as long as the punishment is fair and reasonable), it should be applied at both homes for the duration of the restriction period.
Have each other’s back.
There were many times when my kids would try to pull the ole’ “Dad said it was okay..”, but what they quickly realized was that my ex and I would call each other to verify stories and would sniff out any fast ones they were trying to pull.
At one time, I couldn’t imagine not being married to my ex-husband. I saw myself as his wife, his partner, his love. I now see him as my children’s father, a friend and a trusted ally. The dynamic of our relationship is much different than we originally thought it would be, but it’s exactly what our children need it to be.