Co-parenting can sometimes feel like high-intensity sprints of solo parenting. Balancing all of life’s challenges are hard enough on their own, but add in a breakup or divorce and we are thrown off kilter. There’s no question that it is a process – it takes time to find your rhythm. As a family law attorney for 12+ years, I can confidently assure you that unless you were married to a complete psychopath, once the anger, resentment and fear die down, most parents are able to work out some type of arrangement that feels good on their conscience and workable in practice. Not to say co-parenting is easy, it’s not. (It’s hard enough to parent with someone you love), but there are certainly some great hacks and resources out there to help ease the pain of it all and of course – keep the kids out of the conflict – since divorce doesn’t mess up kids; tension and animosity does. You will survive, you will thrive and you will find your footing. Read on for five tips to get your through the tunnel into the light.
Successful Co-Parenting Strategies for Newly Divorced Moms
- Mighty Bright: the Co-Parenting Calendar for Kids: My love affair with this visual display of your custody schedule is trifold. First, I love the design. You won’t cringe at having to hang it up in your kitchen. Second, it eases anxiety in your children by letting them see ‘the plan’ and know when they’ll be with each parent. Third, it encourages small children to speak freely about life in both households by teaching them that it’s not ‘bad’ or an insult to you when they feel excited about seeing the other parent. By giving your kids ‘permission’ to speak honestly (and therefore not feel like they need to be the protector of your feelings), you not only create well-adjusted kids, they are more likely to come to you and honestly report if something is unsettling or harmful in their other home.
- Maintain a Shared Calendar: While we are on the scheduling topic, maintaining a shared calendar through an app like Our Family Wizard or a (free) cloud based calendar like Google Calendar is essential. Sync to your phone (and thus your other calendars) and you can easily share with your ex, a nanny, grandparent or anyone else in the village that’s helping you navigate all things parenting.
- Age Isn’t Just a Number: A question that I see often is, “Do I breakup now while my kids are young or wait until they are more self-sufficient?” There is no perfect or convenient time to get divorced. But depending on the age of your child when it does happen, we’ve got different considerations to address. For example, a 50/50 parenting schedule will not make sense for a child that is still breastfeeding. Similarly, a week-on, week-off custody schedule might not work for a 4 year old who does better seeing both parents frequently and in shorter intervals. A 15 or 16-year-old may be testing the limits by pushing to spend more time with the parent who is flexible with curfews, dating or driving (or pitting the two of you against each other). Remember, different co-parenting issues come up at different ages. The important thing to remember is to be mindful of this and if you and/or your ex need some assistance from a parenting coach or child custody recommending counselor along the way – there’s no shame in that!
- Push that “Reset” Button: There’s a silver lining to co-parenting. Really. You get to have time for you – just you. Single mommy’ing is chaos in one moment and silence the next. Use that time (or at least a portion of it) to take care of you. You’ve been through a ton – mentally, financially and emotionally. Now is your time to slow down, stop, and survey where you are in this moment. During this “pause”, consider reconnecting with old friends, forming a new tribe, revisiting an activity you used to love, people watching over tea and a good book, a long bath (after you throw the toys out of the tub) or (gasp) indulge in a facial or massage.
- Compartmentalize Your Ex: I wish we could put the ex in a box – taking it out only when necessary or convenient. We can’t do that but we can set some ground rules by agreement or through a court order if your ex is particularly nasty: Use text messages only for urgent (aka emergency) issues. That way every time you look at your phone you won’t cringe with worry. Some clients set up a dedicated email just for communications with the ex. Then you get to choose when you review those messages (hopefully with a glass of wine) and how you respond. Finally, keep the communication business like – stick to the facts and try not to read into everything your ex writes even if it you believe in your heart of hearts that s/he is purposefully trying to undermine you or criticize your parenting style. Ultimately, we can’t control what our ex thinks, writes or says – but we can control our reaction to it. If we’ve learned anything from long term relationships, we know that when we don’t react, they ultimately stop pushing so hard. And let’s face it, we’ll take peace where we can get it.
Erin Levine is the CEO + Founder of Hello Divorce, a service to maximize benefits, lower financial exposure, and empower users to embark on a fresh start. She is based in the Bay Area and has two daughters.