Parenting usually starts on a high note. Two people bring a precious child into the world as partners. Their relationship is bonded with the addition of a life to nurture. And they expect that relationship to last forever.
But life takes turns and bumps. Sometimes the adult relationship ends up not being forever. Decisions are made for lots of reasons to live separate lives. But even though the romantic relationship ends, the parenting relationship is long term.
The end of a parents' marriage can be extremely traumatic for children. They have no control over what is happening to them, and they feel a loss of security and fear abandonment. This can be especially true for toddlers, who may have little understanding of what is going on.
Changing physical households brings lots of chaos and uncertainty to family lives, for everyone in the family. It is both parents' job to smooth that transition. Parents have a responsibility to co-parent smoothly.
During and after the initial turmoil of a breakup, do everything you can to keep an even routine for your children. Assure your child that both parents love and care for him and will spend lots of loving time with him.
And then…take care of yourself. Heal your broken heart and spirit. Seek professional support. Nurture yourself during this time. You can’t help your kids to feel calm and secure unless you feel that way yourself.
But make sure to work on your own healing during your time away from your children. They will be hyper vigilant to your demeanor and your every word. Hard as it is, never speak of your ex’s weaknesses, faults or misdeeds anywhere near your children. Be sure no one else does either.
Celebrate your child’s second home. Allow your child to love being with the other parent. Create a co-parenting schedule, but be flexible about it. Keep your child’s best interests at the forefront of your decisions. Go the extra mile to be sure your child has maximum time with both parents.
And make sure to keep your behavior expectation solid when your child is with you. Understand that he will act up with you upon returning from the other parent. It’s not because the other parent isn’t as good a parent as you; your child is just checking the boundaries. Stay consistent!
Neutral communication with your ex is very difficult. Work at it! This will be your key to successful co-parenting.
Keep your tone soft, and watch your words for emotional daggers. You may have to practice conversations with another person until the word sting is gone.
In the beginning, when emotions are still raw, written communication might work best, such as text messages or email. Always re-read your messages before you send them to catch any words that might be viewed as antagonistic or hurtful.
Keep communications only about your children. Never allow your children to carry messages back and forth between parents -- it’s not their job!
Here’s the hardest part! Let go of control of what happens when kids are with their other parent.
Stop. Let that soak in. You cannot control what happens at the other parent’s house just like he can’t control what happens at yours.
Trust that your children are in the care of a parent who loves them. Each household is going to have its own structure and expectations. Resist the urge to use the children to get information about the other household.
When children tell you things that you aren’t supportive of, like, "Dad lets us eats ice cream for breakfast," consider whether it's really necessary to bring it up. First, decide if it's something dangerous. If it is, speak to the other parent about it from the perspective of concern. But, if it's just a difference in parenting, let it go.
Create a new life for yourself and your children. Create new traditions. Respect "the other family."
Life is full of changes. Appreciate this new family configuration. All families are different. Love your kids deeper than you dislike the other parent.
Jeanne Labana, from Milwaukee, has been an educator for over 25 years. With four grown children and eight grandchildren, she’s experienced it all! She teaches Love and Logic parenting classes and is a certified parenting coach.