Babita Spinelli, LP JD
Co-parenting can be one of the most difficult elements of divorce. If you are struggling, or need some extra advice, here are 5 co parenting tips from our parenting and relationships coach, Babita Spinelli.
Practically co parenting has its set of challenges trying to coordinate a family when two parents are living separate lives. Emotionally, it can be tough to watch your children go through this process while you are just trying to keep it together yourself. It’s safe to say that no one has completely mastered the art of co-parenting. In fact, no one has mastered parenting in general. The adventure of co-parenting can be a rocky one, but here are a few tips to help strengthen your co-parenting foundation and make that journey smoother for you and your child.
Lowering your expectations to raise your children perfectly is essential for every parent, especially those trying to navigate co-parenting. You won’t be perfect—you’ll make mistakes. But you can still be an excellent parent. There’s no right way to do this, and as long as you are keeping in mind that you are establishing what works for you, your child and your unique situation.
Not every day will make you feel like mom or dad of the year. Such is the nature of parenting. On those tough days, show yourself some self-compassion. It is understandable that this can be stressful, so remind yourself of this instead of being critical of yourself. Successful co-parenting does start with you, and taking care of yourself. You can’t provide your kids with everything they need if you are depleted or not present with your individual needs. Taking some time throughout the day to check on yourself is essential to being present for your children.
Every parent second guesses their decisions, and this feeling is often more powerful as you are navigating the co-parenting space. You are not always going to be on the same team when it comes to decisions for your children. Having confidence in your ability to communicate your why to your co-parent and setting healthy boundaries as needed could make those conversations easier or at least less anxiety provoking.
It’s easy to get caught up in comparing yourself to others—even your ex. But every family looks different, so focus on what is healthy for you. When you are not sure about the best course for you and your co-parent, it is okay to ask for help or seek a professional resource who can guide you. You can also check in with how your child is feeling about a situation. Is there something they really need from you or your ex that you both have been overlooking? Do they have a solution to a problem you and your ex have been arguing about?
There’s a difference between confidence and pride. It’s important to stand by your decisions, but your confidence in yourself doesn’t preclude you from growing and learning through the co-parenting journey. Not every decision you make is going to be perfect and you may learn a few things as you figure out how to make co-parenting as amicable as possible. You can lean into where you land on decisions while also recognizing that there is room to learn and compromise when it is in the best interest of your children.
Approach parenting with a growth mindset. Take every experience with your kids—especially the negative and difficult ones—as an opportunity to do better next time. Focus on being a better parent each day, rather than on being a perfect parent in general. If you make a mistake, you can work through it. Sometimes it will be messy and give yourself permission to figure it out without being critical of yourself. You may not always have optimal open and cathartic conversations with your ex, but you can take accountability for your own growth.
Freezing out your ex just isn’t going to work if you are going to try to co-parent. You are going to have to occasionally discuss your children —what they’re going through, what they’re doing, and how you should address it. Even things as small as what they’re eating for lunch can cause disputes amongst co-parents. The trick isn’t about never having differences although that would be ideal—it’s about learning how to communicate and productively resolve them.
Some divorces are pretty amicable, allowing for open lines of communication immediately. Others are more contentious, making this element much more difficult. Regardless, you and your ex don’t have to be best friends. But you will have to find ways to talk about the important things that concern your child. Coming into the co-parenting experience with the understanding that you are going to have to communicate will make that inevitable communication so much easier on you, your ex, and, most importantly, your child. It may mean leaning into the discomfort of uncomfortable feelings, but keep in mind you are trying to set a foundation for your child as best as possible.
No matter how open your communication with your ex is, you are bound to have some disagreements on matters. It will be a natural instinct to want to defend every decision or stance you take about your child. It’s not that you aren’t a good parent, it’s that conversations that involve defensiveness are usually very unproductive. These conversations aren’t always about proving you were right, but rather about figuring out how the two of you can work together to do what is in your child’s best interest and listening with an open-mind.
For example, if your ex is upset with a decision you’ve made, check in if you are actively listening to their “why.” Perhaps you may find when you take a step back that there is merit in their concern and you might understand where they are coming from before diving into your justifications. You may find that it resonates with you and validating their experience could create a healthier foundation between you and ultimately a more productive discussion on how you can both work together moving forward.
We don’t talk about this enough—every parent is their own whole and complete person. Just because we have children doesn’t mean we become parenting robots. And when we’re going through something as difficult as divorce, it’s easy to lose perspective.
At the end of the day co-parenting is a balancing test. You want to be confident in your ability to raise your own child, but you don’t want to get so defensive that communications break down between you and your ex. You want to be kind and caring to yourself, but you also need to be there for your child. No one said this is going to be easy, but if you can continue to invest in yourself, stay open to both communication and lessons learned you will feel more grounded in your co-parenting journey.