How to Co Parent on the Same Team
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 the decision to divorce was layered with pain and grief, I know now it was the right choice for us. Yes, it was far from what I wanted in the beginning. But years later, I see as 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 placed our child front and center. It was not easy, and it required a lot of soul-searching. But I navigated a path with my ex that ultimately landed us on the same parenting page. So, I decided to share what I learned. I 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 from your divorce must take top priority. It's difficult to operate in a healthy blended family until you've dealt with the trauma that led you there in the first place. If you're still in those raw beginning stages, it can feel nearly impossible to co-parent with a person (or people) who brought you pain. So, treat every interaction with them as a business transaction. You don't have to be harsh or rude, but you likely have too many emotions weighing you down to interact otherwise.
Communicate directly. (No child messengers.) Keep exchanges cordial and short. It's fine if this is all you can handle right now. Stay pleasant and positive, but prioritize your healing. Process emotions, grieve, get reacquainted with yourself, and cultivate positive friendships and a support network. In short, do what's needed to take care of you.
Related: Design a Self-Care Plan for Divorce
Build a new relationship with your ex
Once you've dedicated time to proper healing, you'll start to feel more whole. Your focus can now shift to a loving co-parenting relationship. You have the bandwidth to create the "reorganized" family your little ones deserve. If there aren't stepparents in the picture, throw your energy into creating new dynamics between yourself and your ex. Yes, your relationship looks wildly different, but you still share a vital common interest: your children. Set a foundation in this new dynamic with these simple tips:
- Pick and choose your battles.
- Avoid negative talk about your co-parent.
- Respect the time your children have with the other parent.
- When emotions run high, wait a while. Process the situation before conversing about it to avoid saying something you regret.
If you can, embrace this stage. Enjoy the extra free time you have when your children are with their other parent.
Set the tone for relationships with 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 control YOU. Your co-parenting attitude can remain the same: constant, stable, respectful, and peaceful. And the way you approach stepparents will greatly impact the way your children interact with them.
In our family, we always say you don't just have two parents who love you ... you have four. (Insert child eye roll here.) Your kids need to see that you believe their stepparents add to their family. This isn't easy. I'm not saying you should shut down any real feelings your kids have about the change. However, your responses and reactions to the new stepparent(s) will shape how your children adjust.
Related: Dating after Divorce Worksheet
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 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 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.
Remember that your kids' other parent makes up half of who they are. That parent is a huge part of their world. Keep this awareness 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 interact peacefully with others in any situation.
If your blended family needs a boost, check out Same Team: The Ultimate Co-Parenting Guide. This resource features 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.