How to Co-Parent and Keep Your Cool
What do you think about when you see your ex?
The time he didn’t come home all night?
The ugly fighting in hushed voices?
The grief over your ended relationship?
All of the broken promises?
Sometimes it’s difficult to look at your ex and not feel all of the history you have shared. He may not have done something to hurt you recently, but you still remember the feelings he made you feel in the past.
But What About Your Kids?
Most likely, your children don’t feel the same way you do when they see their father. Even if they have some negative emotions connected to their dad, they will still look up to him, try to impress him, make excuses for his behavior, and want to receive his attention. Sometimes when kids don’t feel validated or seen by a parent, they begin to favor and prefer that parent in an attempt to put their full-time focus on getting the attention they crave.
It can be difficult when a child forgets all of your ex’s wrongdoing, and you feel he got off the hook. How is this fair? Why should you have to share your child with someone who may not have been present, who may not have contributed much of anything to the marriage, or who abandoned you during the hard stuff?
The endgame with co-parenting is not that everything feels fair.
The endgame with co-parenting is a happy, healthy, loved child. In most situations (barring abuse, trauma, or violence), it’s beneficial for a child to have both parents in their lives. Below are things to remember while you co-parent, and why a little grace and forgiveness can go a long way.
4 Ways to Co-Parent with Grace
#1: Don’t Put Your Kids in the Middle
Just as it is harmful and unhealthy to have arguments in front of your children, it is also detrimental to make the other parent sound bad. It may feel challenging to refrain from talking about your ex’s bad choices and behaviors (let me count the ways) to “even the score,” remember you’re not in a competition.
- Could you write a novel on the ways that your ex has hurt you? Probably yes.
- Have they ever apologized or tried to make it right? Probably not.
- Are you still hurt and angry? Maybe.
- Does your child need to know the details? No, they do not.
How to be the bigger person:
- Pray for your ex.
- Don’t share your gritty relationship details with your kids.
- Try not to get upset when your child praises your ex.
- Create an open environment where your child isn’t afraid to talk about their dad.
Giving grace (even if you don’t feel it) to someone who needs it is a great way to model forgiveness, and can’t we all use a little forgiveness?
#2: Make Transitions Peaceful
Ok. Here’s the sticky part of this article. The transition moment is where you have to see your ex and hand your child over to him for a while. It can be difficult.
Here are some things to keep in mind.
- Talk with your child about any concerns they may have.
- Help them pack and make it easy breezy! No guilt trips. No jabbing at the other parent. No last-minute putting doubt in their head about your ex’s intentions (i.e., telling your child his father must be doing _______ to get back at you).
- Be relaxed when they come back. You’ll want to know about the time away from you, but resist 20 questions or trying to get all the information right away.
- Send your child with a message from you. Again, don’t put your child in the middle.
- Ask your child to spy on their dad and report back to you. That should go without saying.
- Beg your child to stay home with you in some kind of co-dependent manner.
- Talk negatively about your ex’s house, apartment, car, job, or his new girlfriend. Were going for grace here, not pettiness
Speak life into resentment. Speak life into pain. Speak life into each other.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29
#3: Have a Consistency Contract
There are rental contracts and job contracts. These contracts are constructed so that everything is documented, agreed upon, and signed by all parties. One party cannot claim they were unaware of the pricing or didn’t know the terms.
This type of contract works with co-parenting as well. When you and your ex make a co-parenting contract, and you both agree to the terms, it can help smooth out your child’s transitions from house to house (assuming you both stick to it). A contract may also keep you from getting your child back with a lack of sleep, manners, and discipline.
Examples of what may be in a co-parenting contract:
- Screen time limit agreement
- Junk food limits
- Types of purchases made
- General respect (I am sure some of you aren’t surprised by this one)
At both houses, our children will say please and thank you.
At both houses, they go to bed at 9 pm.
At neither house should they jump on the furniture, paint the dog, or be left home alone.
At neither house should they watch anything rated R (or PG13) without getting both parent’s approval.
Things will go a lot smoother if there isn’t a massive adjustment each time your child comes or goes.
#4 Communication. Communication. Communication.
Let’s pretend for a second that your 9-year-old, Riley (your son or daughter), has been asking for an iPhone for a while now–and by asking, I mean begging, pleading, and negotiating. All of Riley’s friends have one, ya know? You have told Riley several times that they are too young, and they need to wait until they’re older. So, let’s say Riley comes back after a weekend with dad, and Riley has an iPhone. Not only does Riley have an iPhone, but Riley’s phone also has no parental restrictions.
How could this miscommunication have been prevented?
For one, Riley could have listened to you and waited for a cell phone until they got older – but who are we kidding? (9-year-olds nowadays, amiright?)
Were you clear with your ex about how you felt about smartphones? If you and your ex had discussed and agreed upon Riley not getting a phone, this might not have been an issue. The phone issue is one small example of why communication (and a contract) is essential.
Here are others:
- Making sure holidays are agreed upon and planned out. No surprises.
- Who is doing school drop off and who is doing afternoon pick-up?
- Do both parties know and agree on how the expenses will be split?
- Is dating allowed?
- When is curfew?
- Can Riley dye their hair?
- Can Riley cut their hair?
- Riley is now allergic to Kiwi. Both people should know this.
You can’t plan for all situations, but try to communicate about the important stuff ahead of time BEFORE critical (and frustrating) issues arise.
You Don’t Need to Be Best Friends
There’s no need to overdo it with the fake smiles and laughter. Kids can usually sniff that stuff out a mile away. Look, no doubt he’s not your favorite person, but even hard-to-like people need grace.
How many times have you been forgiven?
How many times was someone kind to you when you really didn’t deserve it?
We show others grace because God first showed us grace—even when it is challenging or not fair or they don’t deserve it. If it were easy, fair, or deserved, it wouldn’t be grace.
Grace is the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it.
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About the Author:
Christen Peterson loves volunteering her time to nonprofits and has a heart for those in need. She was a single mom to her oldest daughter until she met her husband in Idaho, where they lived for 17 years before moving to Florida. Together, they have been involved in ministry for over ten years and have three daughters and four dogs.