If you are no longer with the mother or father of your child, the two of you have already decided that you are not able to sustain a romantic relationship. You do, however, have to sustain a working relationship, at least as long as your child is under 18 years old. While some couples are able to manage to co-parent in an amicable and productive way, others find it difficult to even remain civil when in the same room. The good news is that learning to work with your ex to raise your children well is possible with some boundaries and effort. Read on for some tips on getting along with your ex to effectively raise your children.
Remember the Benefits of Effective Co-parenting
Even if your ex has hurt or betrayed you, he or she is still your child’s parent. Children who are able to have good relationships with both parents enjoy a lot of benefits that those with estranged parents might not have. They are usually financially better off since they will have the financial support of two adults rather than just one. They also tend to do better in school, have less anxiety, and have fewer negative effects of growing up with divorced parents.
When you find yourself struggling to work with your ex in raising your child, it can help to keep those benefits in mind. Remember that you are striving to work together to meet your child’s best interest, not to maximize your own comfort level.
Define the Relationship and Set Boundaries
A co-parenting relationship is more like a business relationship than like a personal relationship. The “business” you are working together on is raising your child. Just as you wouldn’t share personal details of your romantic life or your financial woes with your boss or with a coworker, you should keep some parts of your life private when it comes to your ex-partner. Focus your conversations on the parts of your life that affect your child.
The same goes in reverse: Do not try to find out your ex’s secrets. It doesn’t matter that he or she has dated six people in one year unless your child is being affected. It doesn’t matter that they are quarreling with their own extended family member or that they have taken out a car loan that you feel is too high. These types of decisions are not yours to make for your ex and you should have nothing to do with them. Don’t use your child to act as a spy and do not give unsolicited advice regarding things that are none of your business.
Improve Your Communication
When you are co-parenting with an ex who is not one of your favorite people in the world, it is important to keep your communication clear, respectful, and business-like. Always strive to use a professionally appropriate tone to avoid getting upset, raising your voice, or saying something you later regret. It can be helpful to rely on email and texts if you are feeling emotional; you can re-read your words and make sure that you are clear, on-topic, and using neutral language.
Use “I would like…” requests rather than “You need to…” demands. Or you can phrase your requests as questions: “Would you mind switching this Saturday’s visitation for next Saturday?” or “Would you consider rescheduling your parent/teacher meeting so I can attend as well?”
Be respectful of your ex’s time, too. Do not try to have a long or in-depth conversation on the spur of the moment if the matter being discussed is not urgent. While you can and should call your ex if your child is injured or ill and in the hospital or if something serious has happened, it is not necessary to call your ex on a Friday evening to talk about whether you should get a math tutor for your child. It can help to have regular check-in times to discuss non-urgent matters or to rely on email or texts to communicate or to schedule a phone call for a time that is convenient for both of you.
Decide on Consistent Rules and Routines
While the rules in each home do not need to be identical, it is helpful, particularly for young children and for big rules, to be as consistent as possible. For babies and toddlers, mealtimes and bedtimes should be the same in each home if possible. This can mean that the parents will compromise; if you work until 6:00 pm and cannot have dinner ready until 7:00, you might ask your ex to postpone dinner in his or her home during visitation or to offer a snack closer to bedtime if they eat dinner earlier.
Talk to your ex about his or her feelings on dating, using makeup, what constitutes a healthy diet, and so on. The more you can agree on, the more consistent the rules will be for your child and the less likely the child will be to try to play one parent against the other. In some cases, you will have to agree to disagree and your child will need to adapt.
Make Decisions Together
When it comes to where your child will attend school, which religion he or she will follow (if any), and what (non-mandatory) medical or dental treatments will be done, you will need to work together to discuss them. If you both have legal custody, one of you might be the “tiebreaker” for one or more of these types of decisions. That does not mean that the tiebreaker is able to make the decisions on his or her own, however; ideally, the two of you will work together and share concerns and ideas before a final decision is made.
Keep Your Child’s Safety as Your First Priority
Finally, keep in mind that your child’s safety and well-being is your first priority. If you have reason to believe that he or she is not safe when in the care of your ex, you will need to address the problem immediately. This might involve talking to your ex or it might involve going back to court to get an emergency order, depending on the situation. Contact National Family Solutions to learn more about how you can handle this type of issue should it come up.