Coparenting, in a nutshell, is the process of raising shared children after a divorce or separation. It is also one of the biggest challenges former partners face once their separation or divorce has become finalised.
Especially in the early days, when you might prefer to limit your contact with the ex to approximately nothing at all, having to be in constant communication and seeing them regularly can be hard. However, it is something that has to be done in order for both parties to establish a stable and productive coparenting relationship.
Coparenting can take many forms; every arrangement is different. The days of weekend dads are coming to an end and a lot of coparents choose to take more of a fair-share approach when it comes to time with the children.
Whatever arrangement works for your family depends on a myriad of factors; like living arrangements, employment status and work hours, the ages of the children, the school and childcare hours… the list goes on.
That said, there are some universal rules that can be applied to any coparenting relationship in order to make things run as smoothly as can reasonably be expected.
Doing it for the Kids
No matter how much you may loathe your former partner – and vice versa – this does not change the love you both have for your children – and vice versa. No matter what has happened to get your relationship to breaking point (unless there have been incidents of domestic violence and/or substance abuse issues), now is the time to put it firmly aside and commit to a civil coparenting relationship for the sake of the children. You don’t have to stay together for them, that would be insane, but you do have to keep it together for them.
No Trash Talking
You may not speak ill of your former partner in front of your children. You may not.
Once the kids are asleep or at their other parent’s house, you can vent to your friends to your heart’s content; but in front of the children you must maintain a positive, or at the very least neutral, tone when talking about your coparent. There is nothing worse for a child than having to question a parent’s fundamental goodness, so whatever ugliness has occurred between the adults is not kids’ business.
Commit to a respectful dialogue with your coparent. There’s no need to talk about anything other than the children, unless both of you feel the need to, and there is absolutely no point in getting into arguments. You both want the best for your kids, so you need to get on the same page with as little conflict as possible. If you feel a conversation is taking a turn towards unproductive anger, it’s perfectly fine to call a time-out and continue at a later time when you’ve both calmed down. This is hard enough for everyone as it is, there’s no sense in making it harder.
Family life is a juggling act and coparenting is no different. In order for this to work with minimal stress, it is vital for both parents to be organised and on top of everyone’s schedule. Both of you need to know about important dates and times; not just for the kids’ stuff (i.e. soccer practise, dance recitals, field trips, sleep overs, friends’ birthday parties), but also for the adult things (i.e. work travel, best mate’s wedding, health appointments). If both of you know what’s going on, you will be able to navigate through the everyday madness without having additional surprise challenges thrown in.
Even the best plans and schedules sometimes get thrown off track by unforeseeable events. If your coparent comes down with gastro, has a death in the family or is called away for a work emergency, plans will have to change. Just like in any other family, no matter what its structure, you need to be able to roll with the punches to some extent. There is no point in getting overly resentful when your coparent asks you to help them out; a little give and take goes a long way to keep everyone as relaxed and happy as possible.
This is a tough one, considering your trust in your ex is probably rather shaken at the moment. That said, even though they might be a rubbish partner or spouse, they are probably still a very good and most committed parent. So, while you may not necessarily trust your former partner to look out for your best interests, you have to trust that they would never deliberately do anything to upset, harm or disadvantage your kids. Knowing that the children are well taken care of when they are with your coparents, gives you the freedom to enjoy your adult time – so you can welcome the kids back recharged and ready to go.
Take Your Time
This is a new situation for everyone. It’s bound to feel weird at first and there will be tears and tantrums and lots of feelings – for everyone, adults included. The best thing you can do it keep trying, re-negotiate when something is genuinely not working and maintain open communications. Also, you are allowed to cherish your kid-free time and use is as you see fit. If you want to be productive, clean your house, get lots of work done – that’s cool. If you’d rather go to the beach on your own, binge a series or – scandalous – go to an actual party and stay out late – that is also cool.
Every family has its struggles, no matter what its shape; so try not to worry too much when things aren’t running smoothly. You learned on the job when you first became parents and becoming coparents works the same. Stay calm and keep on trying.