Co-parenting is a fancy word for the fact that you are no longer married to the other parent of your children. Co-parenting is one of the most challenging aspects of a divorce that involves children. It is tough for the parents, and it is tougher for the children. I’ve now been a co-parent for four and a half years, and not a week goes by without a reminder that my children live in two different environments with two different sets of rules and expectations. I’d like to share several things that we have learned when it comes to co-parenting, hopefully it will shed some light on our challenges and how we’ve handled them.
Remember it is difficult for the kids too. I used to spend a lot of time focusing on the difficulties of being a part-time parent. As time has passed, I’ve learned that it may be difficult for me, but it is more difficult for my boys. I try to spend some one-on-one time with each of my kids on a regular basis. Earlier this summer, I took one of my sons on a hike. We sat down by the lake, and I asked him a few questions about how he was doing. I asked him “What is the hardest part for you when it comes to the divorce and living in two separate homes?” He didn’t hesitate for a second with his response. He said “The rules are different in your house.” He went on to explain that there are certain expectations that are present in our home that aren’t present in his mother’s home, and it is hard for him to adjust when he first returns to our house. I’ve had to keep this in mind and set my expectations based on this. The key is learning how to walk the fine line of allowing your kids some room to adjust. Speaking of this…
Keep your custody arrangement in mind. This was a hard one for me at first. I expected the kids to follow all of the rules and adapt immediately upon returning to my house. This led to frustration and a lack of patience on my part. I know it stressed the kids too. If you only have your kids every other weekend, then don’t expect them to adjust to different rules and expectations quickly. We pick my boys up every Friday after work, and on Mondays we drop them off for the school bus. I’ve learned that Fridays are an adjustment period for them, and to give them some room to adjust. If we jump all over them immediately for something that is different in their mom’s house, then nothing is accomplished.
Keep the ages of your children in mind. This one is pretty simple. My sons are 7, 10 and 13. When setting my expectations for them, I’m learning how to account for their age when it comes to parenting them. I’ll hold my 13-yr-old more accountable because he’s closer to being an adult, meaning that he should be able to adjust to various situations quicker.
Communicate with your spouse. One of the things that Hope and I have learned is that to do this right, you have to talk about parenting together. You each will have different parenting strategies and philosophies. As traditional parents, you get to slowly blend your parenting philosophies together with a baby that can’t talk back. As a step-parent, you’ve become an instant parent with another person who may have raised their kids with a different mindset, or who wants to parent your kids with their mindset. More importantly, that person comes into your life with a fresh perspective on how you’ve raised your children, and may be able to see things that you don’t. The challenge is to learn how to communicate openly and have conversations about parenting without them turning into arguments. In addition, be sure to communicate EVERYTHING that will affect the schedule of your home. School activities, ball games, church activities, make sure it is all available for your spouse to review. One solution that has worked well for our situation is using a shared Google calendar that everyone, including the other biological parent, has access to. Set your smartphones so that you can see the calendar at anytime.
The battle isn’t yours. You’re divorced from the other parent. That means you didn’t get along and didn’t agree. Don’t expect this to change when the kids live in separate houses. The thing that has helped me the most is learning that I need to focus on the things that I can control and change, and let the rest go. Don’t think you can change how the other biological parent runs their home, because you can’t. Don’t try to do it through the kids either, because that will do nothing but keep your children in the middle. They don’t want to be there. Always, above all, keep the kids as the focus and the priority. Let the hurt feelings and pain from your divorce fall by the wayside when you co-parent your children with their other parent. Stay out of the emotional battles that may still tempt to drag you back into old feelings or the past. One scripture that continually brings me back to reality regarding this is Galatians 6:7, which says “You will always harvest what you plant.” Keep this in mind in all aspects of co-parenting, and that promise will prove itself true.