A coParenting relationship, like any relationship, takes work and takes effort to build familiarity, trust and goodwill. You aren’t starting from a clean slate.
There’s a lot of history, some of it positive, some of it not so good. Hold onto what worked and let go of what didn’t. You have an opportunity to build a better coParenting relationship if you don’t allow the frustrations of the past to affect the present.
Primary parents are often surprised by the changes in parenting interest and energy by a parent who was previously focused on work or personal interests, when parenting was a side gig. We see this all the time. This stepping-up, stepping in, and wanting a recognized coParenting role is often felt to be disruptive, threatening, a day late and a dollar short
History aside, the newly interested and sometimes not-so-prepared coParent is stepping up to directly meet your kids’ needs. No better time than the present to help him/her successfully engage as the children’s other parent. He/She may not know how, but he/she can learn.
From your “spouse mind,” you may want to push back and not allow the other parent to suddenly come to the parenting party; from “parent mind,” you recognize how much your children will benefit from a strong, positive, nurturing relationship with each of you, allowing you to relax and help your coParent succeed. Skill-building takes time, so you may need patience and perseverance through this stage of coParenting development. When sharing information with your coParent, be constructive not instructive.
A father will never be a “stay-at-home-Mom” nor vice-versa. Parents, whether two moms, two dads, or a mom and a dad, will each be unique, bringing strengths and weaknesses to parenting. Parents often divide duties in a one-house family that can result in one parent having more of certain kinds of information about children than the other. Getting helpful information “downloaded” and shared between coParents helps kids feel like their lives are more similar than different as they move from home to home. Have a conversation about what kind of information would be helpful to share and when. Would your coParent like you to put information in an email or talk with him/her? Help each other prepare to be good parents — keeping in mind that coParenting is a relationship between equals regardless of history or current skill-set.
Building a functional coParenting relationship takes time; treating your former romantic partner in a business-like manner can feel awkward. Starting with a renewed perspective gives you the chance to create something constructive and sustainable — and most importantly, something that works in the here-and-now and for the future in the best interest of your kids.
Keep adult emotions separate from kids’ emotions. Adults and children have a very different experience of divorce/separation. You’ve divorced/separated from your former spouse; kids aren’t divorcing ANYONE. Your kiddos shouldn’t carry anything for your hurt, angry, betrayed feelings. You don’t want to embroil them in a loyalty battle—it’s a lose-lose for children. Most importantly, allow them to love their other parent openly and without reservation. Allow them to do the same with all the loving people in their lives—even new partners. Allowing children to maintain a full range of loving connections, and protecting their precious childhood from our adult issues demonstrates enormous respect and caring for them, and helps them stay healthy emotionally.
Editor’s Note: This is an excerpt from Karen Bonnell’s book, THE CO-PARENTS’ HANDBOOK. For more information on Karen or her book, visit http://coachmediateconsult.com/co-parents-handbook/