To some, I’m a parent, step-parent, co-parent and former single parent. To me, I’m Stacy and I’m a mom, that’s it, plain and simple. Regardless of the title, my role as a parent is the same. I love, I’m consistent and I’m compassionate.
My parenting journey is, well, a journey. My first child was born out of wedlock, in fact so was my second. I married my babies’ daddy and we divorced two years later. Single parenting was difficult; however, it was easier parenting alone than with my former husband. Our parenting values were similar; but he wasn’t a good husband and weren’t his family, he said so.
After we divorced, his Disney Dad lifestyle was a challenge. When he started dating his now wife, we ventured into a co-parenting relationship. I was excited about the change and welcomed her presence to participate with us on this journey.
For years we met as a family: the boys, me, my ex and his wife. Our bi-weekly family meetings included discussions about everything applicable to the boys: sports, school activities, appointments, challenges, grounding, successes, etc. I truly believed in the practice of togetherness and not just for show.
Consistency was important and it helped navigate the daily grind of life. In fact, when they announced her pregnancy, I was sincerely excited about their journey. She quickly promised the boys (11 and 10 at the time) nothing would change when the twins were born. Meetings stopped immediately after their birth. It’s ten years later and I’m still waiting for that family meeting. Well, actually not. But I wouldn’t be lying if I said I was disappointed that our village fell apart, deflated and died.
I’m not naïve, I didn’t expect the same level of interaction; however, I didn’t expect years of name calling, belittling and bad mouthing to follow. Why the change? I have no idea. Years of rationalizing brought me to this belief: she wanted the best for her kids and mine didn’t fit into her picture.
I feel immature saying it but honestly, don’t know what else to make of it. The moments and events to follow I could never make up and it broke my heart to know my kids and (even) my ex-husband were living through it.
Around the same time this shook down, my now husband and I were dating. He has three kids. He and his former wife have similar styles of parenting. My perception of how our life might look was skewed. I knew them as a couple and was somewhat familiar with their parenting style; however, I was blinded by love and too oblivious to comprehend how differently we do parenting.
While we never had family meetings, we’ve spent a lot of time together in family and marriage counseling with the goal to find a common space.
No matter where you start and the adults involved, the rules of the road and outcomes appear similar.
Here are my 10 co-parenting lessons.
It’s not about you, it’s about them. The two of you have decided not to be together or at this moment, the two of you can’t agree on how to parent. Remember, your relationship status is your choice, not your kids’. It’s your job to keep their best interest in mind even if your vision looks different. Said differently, figure that crap out with each other, not with the kids.
Bite your tongue. Sometimes we say things we don’t mean or hear mean things that have been said. No matter what, it’s not the kids’ issue, it’s yours. Keep them out of it, even if it does involve them. Invoke a no belittling rule. Seriously! If other adults are involved in the relationship, this rule also applies. Badmouthing will kick you in the butt someday.
When tension rises, take a moment and walk away. Especially when you can’t hear yourself think, or feel like you NEED to justify your words or actions… When feeling defensive or just wanting to react, stop!
JUST. WALK. AWAY.
Come back together later. I promise the outcome will be much better Children learn what they live and they will start to mimic your behavior.
Try something different if what’s established isn’t working. Let’s say the two of you have agreed to the family chores criteria. Two kids kick and scream, you’re nagging them while the third kid does all of the work. Try something different, be flexible to understand the problem. Kids often have a valid reason for not doing what we expect of them. That DOESN’T mean they shouldn’t participate, but they may have a good idea or a desire to clean all of the toilets in the house versus vacuuming the stairs. We can always dream, right?
Compromise doesn’t mean giving in. In fact, the art of compromise inherently engages active negotiation. Ultimately, you have the final decision. Side note: you might get more out of them by leveraging their strengths, motivations, and passions.
Establish boundaries. As adults, when we are told no, we assess and determine next steps. The word no forces us to seek alternatives. We may not always like the choices available, but we can do with it what we want and move forward. Here me out. Saying no creates an opportunity for resiliency, negotiation, and boundary setting. It’s ok to tell them they have to go to their room an hour before bedtime, finish chores or homework before play. And, even if there’s not a really good reason to say no it’s ok to say it anyway to create a teaching moment.
Communicate. I’m not telling you to talk for the sake of talking. Communication comes in many ways. Family meetings, email, call, text, showing up for events, offering to help when it’s not normally your responsibility. Involve the entire family where appropriate and when appropriate and if able. At a minimum, don’t assume. If you don’t know, ask. If they are asking again and you are irritated because it’s the fifth time they’ve asked the same question, take a deep breath before answering.
Be consistent. A really simple example is a rotating chore list. Each house can have a different list of chores and ownership of those chores. I’m not saying everything has to be identically between parents or homes; however, the expectation of having roles and responsibilities on a daily or weekly basis is important.
We do things based on what we know and what our experiences. Situations and events cause change. With change comes disruption to consistency. Leverage #4, #5, and #6 it will help establish a new norm.
Choose kindness to each other and yourself. Situations and moments can really suck. Revert to #3 and then remember no bitch talking, backstabbing or bad mouthing your husband’s former wife to the lady behind the bakery counter. Seriously! People can see right through your B.S. Allegiances can change. When you say one thing and do something else, people notice. Events happen, terrible words said. Vent when appropriate in a safe space but come back to the plateau.
Said another way, treat others poorly and I guarantee it will come back to haunt you one day. Choose the high road.
Be Curious. Stay Curious. When possible, remove the emotion. Doesn’t mean the situation isn’t emotional. Step back and choose to understand, remove the emotion or hurt that may have come from a comment or message. Ask questions.
Think of your emotions as a ladder. When you are on the bottom rung, you are at the lowest of emotions, likely defensive and reactive. If you are curious, you are mid-ladder, a little off the ground, not quite the top. Mid-ladder creates vulnerability, which can look and feel like a risk. Try hanging out mid-ladder, not attached to the outcome or the emotion. Seek to understand. Mid-ladder doesn’t require you to agree or disagree.
The human brain is incapable of a negative thought and positive thought at the same time. Choose positive. Curiosity is a baseline positive emotion.
Practice makes better. Yep, I didn’t say perfect. There’s not a manual and you’re not required to know everything. Allow yourself space to change, make adjustments, forgive and move forward.
I was raised to be perfect. The perception of perfect is different for everyone and I wish I’d known that long ago. It took me years to quit beating myself up and focus on the practice of parenting. I’ll admit, it’s a hard place to navigate sometimes. We argue less and focus on the big picture. Acknowledging our own and each other’s strengths and weakness has been of benefit.
All the love, consistency and compassion in the world don’t prepare you for parenting with someone else, and it can be more of a challenge than you would’ve ever imagined. You have a choice, chose positive. Then live it. Don’t strive for perfection; strive for practice, for good I’ll leave you with this… none of us are perfect and it does take a village to raise each other. Use your village, be curious with each other and remember to think about how you want your children to respond in life. Children learn what they live.