“Mom, we are so lucky that you and Dad get along so well,” my daughter nonchalantly mentioned after my ex-husband dropped her off at my place one morning. “Most of my friends whose parents are divorced can’t even be in the same room together — you guys are actually friends!”
My first instinct was to scoff at her declaration, he is not my friend, Molly. Fortunately, I hesitated before responding, as the past seven years since our divorce flashed before my eyes. I remembered the early years when we couldn’t be in the same room together. I remembered the court dates, the lawyers, and the constant stress that accompanied the process of legally dividing our family; the kids’ emotional struggles as they adjusted to their new lives; the public arguments with my ex at soccer fields and hockey rinks and the private ones over email and texts. I remembered those moments and all of the emotional pain that accompanied them.
Yet, here we were, working together as co-parents, or friends, as my daughter put it. It was not an easy process, but we somehow transitioned from angry, bitter enemies to compassionate, cooperative co-parents. That meant biting my tongue, putting an end to score-keeping, and saying nice things about my ex in front of my kids (a particularly difficult one!). It meant making a decision to show my kids that I support and approve of the unconditional love they have for their father. I had to let go of so much, and ever so slowly, life improved for all of us.
Today, my ex and I sit together on the sidelines of sporting events. Sometimes we even hop in the car and drive to the games together — all five of us. We celebrate birthdays, text regularly about the kids, and I can’t remember the last time we had an argument (knock on wood). Some say we make it look easy, but it was not easy to get to this point. However, now that we are here, life is so much better because we finally know how to peacefully co-parent.
Though we didn’t have professional help, we certainly could have used some. So I reached out to Dr. Ree Langham, a family therapist for Parenting Pod, to get her top co-parenting tips for those of us raising children after going through a divorce.
Continue to Do Things Together as a Family
“It’s best to swallow your pride and do some activities together with your children and your ex,” suggests Langham. “It’s important that your children know you are still a ‘family’ in some capacity. Keep in mind, everything in your child’s life has changed, so it is imperative you try to keep somethings as normal as possible.” If this feels like a daunting task, pick one activity each month to do together and commit to a no arguing rule. One day a month. You can do it! Then, be sure to observe your child and take note of how she responds to this quality time with Mom and Dad.
Work Together — Literally!
Being cordial with an ex-spouse can be a daunting and emotionally-charged challenge. “Imagine that your ex is a co-worker that you really don’t care for, but still have to work with,” advices Langham. “You don’t like your co-worker, but you still have a job to do — one that involves him to some degree.” And the job at hand is the most important of your life: loving and raising your child. When you feel yourself struggling to get along, just refer back to the work metaphor and practice self-control and patience. Remember to prioritize your children’s needs above verbalizing your every frustration — they will thank you for it someday.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Refrain from talking negatively about your ex in front of your child. This is easier said than done, of course, but Langham points out the serious impact this type of talk can have on a child. “Criticizing your ex in front of your child will only lower his or her self-esteem,” she says. “Think of it this way: your ex is part of your child, so when you talk [badly] about your child’s mother, your child feels like you are also talking [badly] about her. Children tend to internalize these things, and as a result, blame themselves for things they have no control over, like how you feel about the other parent.”
If you really want to up your co-parenting game, take your words to the next level and compliment your ex in front of the kids. A simple, “Wow, that was nice of Dad” or an acknowledgement of one of his best qualities, “Dad is funny, isn’t he,” will go a long way.
Love is Always the Answer
“A child can never have too much love, so don’t push away someone who loves your child,” says Langham. “She needs both parents in her life. And, he needs both of you to get along.”
When I finally let go of my anger and past resentments, I was able to view my ex as my children’s father, not my ex-husband, and our relationship forever changed. My daughter’s words about us being friends is proof that we are doing something right. Finally!