I think it’s safe to say that no one arrives in a blended family as their first choice. A marriage didn’t go according to plan and the redirect happened. For me, my first marriage ended quite abruptly (from my side, at least). And while there were layers of pain and grief that went into the decision to divorce, I know now it was the right one for us. It was far from what I wanted in the beginning, but years later I see, clear as day, that it was the best choice for our family.
During this unexpected detour, my ex and I had to figure out how to co-parent in a healthy way that put our child front and center. It did not come easy and it required a lot of soul-searching. But I navigated a path with my ex that ultimately helped us get on the same page about parenting So, I decided to share what I learned and wrote the book I would have wanted to read in the pits of my divorce. And later, deep into my second marriage and blended family life, I wrote a co-parenting guide. This is where my heart lies, present-day.
Healing Must Come First
Before you dive into co-parenting, healing needs to take priority after your divorce. It’s difficult to operate in a healthy blended family until you’ve taken the time to heal from the trauma that led you here in the first place. If you’re still in those beginning stages of healing from a raw divorce, trying to co-parent with a person (or people) who’ve brought you pain can feel nearly impossible.
So, treat every interaction with them as a business transaction. This does not have to be done harshly or rudely. You likely have too many emotions weighing you down to interact otherwise. Use direct communication (no child messengers) and keep the exchanges cordial and short. If this is all you can handle right now, that’s fine. Stay pleasant and positive but make your healing the priority at this point—whether it’s making time to process emotions, taking time to grieve, getting reacquainted with yourself, and cultivating positive friendships and a support network. Do whatever you need to do to take care of you.
Related: Design a Self Care Plan for Divorce
Building a New Relationship With Your Ex
Once you’ve put that dedicated time in toward your healing, you’ll start to feel more whole and your focus can now shift to co-parenting in a loving way. You have the bandwidth to create the “reorganized” family your little ones deserve. If there aren’t stepparents in the picture, put your energy toward creating new dynamics between you and your ex. Yes, your relationship looks wildly different, but you still have a very big common interest: your children. And, even though it might sometimes feel like it would be easier to create totally separate lives, your ex isn’t going anywhere.
Simple ways to set a foundation in this new dynamic are picking and choosing your battles, not talking negatively about your co-parent, and respecting the time your children have with the other parent. If emotions still feel high at this point in the game, make sure you are waiting and processing situations that come up before initiating a conversion about them. This tip will save you from saying something you regret. If you can, embrace this stage and enjoy the extra free time you have when your children are with their other parent.
Set the Tone for Relationships With New Stepparents
When (and if) new stepparents enter the picture, the dynamics will shift again. What doesn’t change, however, is the underlying truth that you are in control of YOU. The way you co-parent can stay the same: constant, stable, respectful, and peaceful. And, the way you approach stepparents will have a HUGE impact on the way your children approach them. In our family, we always say, you’re not only lucky enough to have two parents who love you, but four (insert child eye roll from time to time). Your kids need to see that you feel like these extra parents are adding to their family. This isn’t easy, and I’m not by any means saying to shut down real feelings your children have about this change. However, your responses and reactions to the new stepparent(s) are crucial to how your children will adjust.
Whether you’re fresh in co-parenting, shifting to see your ex in a new role, or years down the road with stepparents in the mix, so much of co-parenting well comes down to swallowing your pride, assuming the best, and as mentioned earlier, ditching the trash talk. Things will come up that you would handle differently, but this isn’t about you. There are many ways to parent well. It’s really easy to assign blame to what may be nothing. In these situations, assume the best. Assume that the intention was not a personal attack and respond accordingly.
Related: More Coparenting Resources!
Remember that your kids’ other parent makes up half of who they are and is a huge part of their world. This awareness should stay at the center of your co-parenting. At the end of the day, you are the only one in charge of the example you set for your children. Show them what it means to get along with someone in any type of situation.
I hope that if you’re looking for an extra boost in your blended family, you’ll check out my Same Team: The Ultimate Co-Parenting Guide. This resource has my top co-parenting tips, videos that correspond with each point, and reflective questions to help you dig deep. It’s my whole heart for co-parenting in one place and I believe it will help you be the best you in your blended family. It’s not always easy, but it sure as heck is worth it. Cheers to rockin’ the co-parenting gig!
Ready to download Lauren’s Ultimate Co-Parenting Guide? Click here.