If you are divorced or separated from your child’s other parent, you might be wondering whether you can raise your child with someone who you have elected to not have a romantic relationship with. The answer is yes, you can! In fact, your child will benefit from having both parents in his or her life. Here are some tips on raising your child with your ex in a healthy way that respects boundaries while putting your child’s best interest first.
Put Your and Your Child’s Safety First
First, a caveat: Not all parents can work together to raise their child. If your ex has abused you or your child or if you have some reason to believe that he or she is not able to keep your child safe and healthy while in their care, it is important to go through the proper legal avenues to ensure your safety and the safety of your child.
This might involve requesting sole custody with or without visitation. Visitation might need to be supervised if your ex is not able to keep your child safe. If you are ordered to allow unsupervised visitation and you believe that your child’s welfare is at stake, you can call the police or the agency that handles child and family services in your state. What you should not do it decide on your own to keep your child from your ex if visitation or joint custody has already been ordered. Only do this if you have a legitimate belief that your child’s safety is at imminent severe risk. For example, if your ex shows up to pick up your child under the influence of a substance and wants to drive your child somewhere, you should call the police and not allow your ex to take the child.
Do Not Badmouth Your Ex
You probably have a few bones to pick with your ex. After all, you have decided to dissolve the relationship for a reason. It might be something somewhat trivial, such as them always picking up your child 15 minutes late. Or it might be something bigger, such as the fact that they cheated on you during your relationship. Either way, it is not something you should discuss with your child or in front of your child. Bad-mouthing your ex is a form of parental alienation, and it is not only wrong but also potentially illegal.
Set Up a Parenting Plan
One of the ways that you can parent effectively with your ex is to create a parenting plan. This is a document that will spell out who your child will be with when, who will make certain decisions, where the child will be on holidays, and so on. You can discuss and add anything you like to your parenting plan. Since your child’s needs will change as he or she grows, you can consider it to be a living document and make mutually agreeable changes to it as needed. You might or might not have to go back to court to have these changes put into effect; it really depends on your relationship and whether you are in mutual agreement about any changes that come up.
For example, your parenting plan might say that you have your child one week and that your ex has him or her the next week. It might specify that you each can take a two-week vacation with the child in the summer and that you will alternate spending major holidays with your child.
You can also detail where your child will go to school, who his or her pediatrician will be, and which religion, if any, he or she will be raised with. The more you can decide on early in the process, the less you’ll need to argue and discuss later. A mediator or a legal resource group like National Family Solutions can help you with this process.
Redefine Your Relationship
One of the hardest things about co-parenting with your ex is that you will need to redefine your relationship. Depending on how long you have been together, you might be accustomed to working together as a team and discussing everything that happens in your life. Now that you have decided to end the relationship, the only teamwork you are expected to participate in is that surrounding the raising of your child. The two of you will have separate households, separate interests, and maybe even new partners, but you will need to work together to meet your child’s needs.
One way to do this is to create boundaries. In the beginning, you might need to speak only about your child. You don’t need to share that you are thinking about quitting your job, and he or she does not need to share that they are dating someone new or getting a dog. As the months and years pass, this might change; you might decide that you are friends after all. But as you navigate the newness of this new type of relationship, setting boundaries between what you will talk about and what you will keep private is going to be essential.
Seeing separate counselors can help you both move forward while still keeping your child’s best interest at the top of your priority list. A good therapist can help you each decide what is necessary to share with the other and he or she can also help you move on from the hurt and betrayal that might be at the center of your breakup.
Parenting with your ex is not going to be easy. In fact, you might simply count the days until your child is a fully self-reliant adult just so you don’t have to have much — if any — contact with your ex again. In the meantime, however, it is important to remember that your child is your first priority and to be willing to work with your ex to raise your child into a well-adjusted adult.