You can co-parent with minimal contact & still raise happy kids.
You would think that two adults could figure out how to handle co-parenting after divorcing. It sounds like a no-brainer, “mature” thing to expect -- that parents would naturally put their children above their own feelings.
But if life followed the ideal, couples would walk down the aisle once and for good, and co-parenting wouldn’t have to exist.
We all know that being an adult doesn’t guarantee wisdom, discretion, or even maturity. And bringing children into the world doesn’t guarantee that parents know how to parent. (And it certainly doesn’t guarantee that they will know how to handle co-parenting after a divorce, especially when one parent hates the other.)
Once upon a time, children of divorce were awarded to their fathers because women couldn’t own property. (Yes, children were considered property.) Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution and on into the mid-20th century, and that all changed.
Today’s adult children of divorce can easily expound on the custody arrangements of the mid- to late 1900’s. They normally lived with one parent (usually the mother) and saw the other parent only every other weekend.
The concept of co-parenting is still relatively new and, like every other model of post-divorce parenting, has its issues.
One of the obvious challenges is how to handle co-parenting when one ex hates the other. The risk, of course, is that the hatred will pass through the children or, at the very least, affect their well-being.
In order to gain perspective on co-parenting when there is an undercurrent of hatred, it’s important to first understand healthy co-parenting. Among the twelve requirements for successful co-parenting are the following:
- clear boundaries
- open dialogue between parents
- consistency in rules and parenting styles in both homes
- absolutely zero tolerance for disrespectful talk about the other parent, whether in front of or from the children
When co-parenting is seen through this lens, it’s easy to see how parents wouldn’t know how to handle co-parenting with hatred on board. After all, something as basic as having an open dialogue with or not bad-mouthing an ex can go against what feels instinctive.
If you are on the receiving end of an ex’s hostility, co-parenting will require some extra forethought and strategizing. But if both of you can at least agree on one non-negotiable -- that the kids come first -- you can make co-parenting look seamless. And, more importantly, you can ensure a healthy, happy upbringing for your children.
Below are tips for how to handle co-parenting with an ex who hates you. Some will rely on common sense and mature communication skills. And some will open you to the advantages of current trends and technology. Collectively, they will set everyone up to succeed without forcing incompatible exes into uncomfortable scenarios.
- Remember your non-negotiable: the kids.
All of your co-parenting efforts should revolve around this commitment. Your association with your ex no longer has anything to do with your marriage. It is now only about how to handle co-parenting.
If you are going to maintain this parenting arrangement, you are both going to have to rise above your personal feelings and old hurts. Co-parenting is a generous arrangement for all involved. And if done in a healthy way, it optimizes a child’s chances of living a happy, well-adjusted life. It also makes life easier (and more comfortable) for everyone in the child’s life.
- Set boundaries.
It’s to be expected that negative feelings like anger, resentment, and even hatred don’t disappear when the divorce decree is signed. So, if your ex hates you, don’t let the hostility stop you from asserting healthy co-parenting practices on behalf of your children.
Until the iciness from your ex melts a bit, you will have to rely on clear boundaries to minimize your contact. Having boundaries in place will help you feel more secure in your co-parenting arrangement. You won’t feel so threatened or fearful of unexpected power plays by your ex. And you won’t have to guess about how to communicate with someone who hates you.
- Get organized and document everything.
It’s difficult enough to keep track of kids’ schedules when everyone lives in the same house. But when there are two homes and two ways of doing things, organization is essential.
Consider taking advantage of online technology to help both you and your ex be great co-parents without having to spend much time in direct contact. Here are five online communication tools for co-parents.
Using a custody calendar will ensure that everyone, including the kids, knows what’s going on where and when. And using a digital expense tracker can make sharing expense information easy...and always documented.
If you and your ex have a hostile relationship, it’s important that you document any agreement violations. As much as we would all like to believe that divorced adults would know how to handle co-parenting, problems sometimes arise. Having documentation can make for quick resolution of problems, especially if the courts become involved.
- Change your expectations.
Obviously you shouldn’t lower your standards for the care of your children. But be realistic in your expectations of the person you were once married to. And don’t expect more of your ex than you did when you were married.
- Use a third party for transfers if necessary.
If you and your ex can’t live up to an amicable exchange of the kids, it may be best to have a trusted third party transfer them. You can even choose a neutral site to avoid uncomfortable feelings or the temptation to launch into an argument.
- Don’t bad-mouth your ex in front of your kids.
And don’t allow your kids to speak disparagingly of their other parent in front of you.
Taking the high road may feel impossible if you have an ex who hates you and lets you know it. But remember your focus -- the kids.
- Think like your children.
Your relationship with your ex is not your children’s relationship with their other parent. Except in rare cases, the parent-child relationship is forever, even if the parent-parent relationship ends.
You may not be able to stand the thought of your ex, but remember that your kids each reflect qualities of both their parents. They are entitled to a relationship with both of them. So separate yourself from your children’s relationship with their other parent.
Co-parenting is about making it safe and easy for your children to have a relationship with both parents. And children will do anything to make sure they have access to them. It is, in essence, a form of having access and connection to themselves.
Parenting is tough enough when everything is seemingly perfect. And it’s extra tough when done across divided homes.
Co-parenting may have as many rules and pragmatic considerations as it does benefits. But if two adults are able to rise above themselves and their relationship, they can model for their children the best in relationship and social skills.
And they don’t even have to see or talk to one another to do it.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help people figure out how they can best co-parent post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.