The reality of being a co-parent can be quite sobering but you can get through it if you focus on these 5 elements: Self-care, Level-Headed Support, Grieve Your Relationship, Make Home a Neutral Space, and Commit to Your Child's Happiness.
It is important for parents in a co-parenting relationship to not only nurture their children but to also nurture themselves. Self-care is the maintenance of your physical, mental, and inner self. How you treat yourself will speak to how you will be able to cope with the transition of your co-parenting relationship and life transitions in general. Terri DiMatteo, LPC of Open Door Therapy suggests that while it may seem counter-intuitive for divorcing parents to focus on themselves while in the throes of divorce or transitioning during to being a co-parent, in truth it is actually one of the healthiest things a divorcing parent can model for his or her child. By doing so, a parent is ‘saying’ (by example and in lifestyle) that during times of heightened stress and uncertainty it’s especially important to take care of oneself when managing the additional stress.
We all require connections with friends or family to be a support through trials of life. When maneuvering through your co-parenting transition, separation, or divorce you may seek comfort and advice from friends and family. But all advice isn't good advice even from people we love. Sometimes confiding in others can make the situation worse because the people we have chosen to confide in are also emotionally invested in your situation and they can't always be objective. Seek a professional if you are looking to work through emotions, thoughts, and getting a better understanding of how to move forward.
Grieving Your Relationship
Although you want to make sure that your children are okay and provide them a healthy environment, it is important to grieve what you have lost. Whatever that loss is for you, (the relationship itself, loss of the family unit, loss of finances, your dreams connected to your ex-partner) healthy grieving will help you deal with the emotions related to that loss and adequate support will help you reorganize your life based on your learnings about your relationship, yourself, and your experiences. You will most likely develop new values and perspectives on life, and you will naturally begin to think of new horizons that you may never have thought about before.
Home: A Neutral Space
Your relationship with your ex can be in a constant state of chaos but you should always commit to having a safe, neutral environment for you and your child. This means being accountable to maintaining that space by:
- making sure you don't speak ill of the dead (the old relationship that is)
- not using your child as a confidant
- encouraging your child to foster a relationship with their parent if they are comfortable doing so
- respecting the child's relationship and love for their other parent
- when they go low you go high-refrain from arguments and all-around nastiness especially in front of the child.
Committing to Your Child's Happiness
Committing to you child's happiness is the ultimate goal of your co-parenting experience. Your sacrifices to maintain control of emotions and creating a neutral, safe space for them is what they will remember in the end. Pay attention to your child's ques regarding how they are handling the transition and seek additional support or help if they are having an especially hard time adjusting. Stay the course, because your character and actions DO matter...and because the children are always watching. The time, thoughts, patience, laughter, fun, and love that you share with your child will have the most meaning.
1. Hart, Julie (2016, February 2). Grieving When Your Relationship Ends: The 3 Important Phases. The Hart Centre. Retrieved from http://thehartcentre.com.au/grieving-when-your-relationship-ends-the-3-important-phases/
2. University of Washington. (n.d). Healthy grieving. Retrieved from https://www.washington.edu/counseling/resources/resources-for-students/healthy-grieving/
3.Philyaw, D.,Thomas, M.D. (2013) Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Thrive in Two Households after Divorce. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.