Let’s talk about co-parenting. I once was an ex to my husband, and we had children together. Now, I’m married to my husband, who has an ex who’s the mother of his children. So I’ve been on both sides of the coin with this. What I have found out through the experience of having communication with my ex-husband about our children and having or being a part of the communication with my husband and his ex is that how much people hurt people, and sometimes the kids get in the middle of it. So I’m speaking from experience, and I’m going to be vulnerable because I feel like that’s the only way to help people learn from the mistakes that we make.
When my children were younger and my ex-husband had remarried, I was so afraid that when my kids would go to his house, they would choose him and his wife over me because I was a single mom. In my mind, I had already created the story that kids want a family unit, and at that moment, I could not give that to them. As a result, I said things out of hurt and fear. It was really out of the fear that I would say things that were not kind. I would create this behavior that was not becoming of me at the time because I was so afraid that I would lose my children, I would lose their love, and I would lose their desire to be with me. Here’s the truth: that didn’t happen. My kids would never choose another mom over me, and it took me going through that experience to realize that was ever going to happen. I watched the love that my husband has for his daughters over the last 12 years we’ve been together. I’ve never seen a man more dedicated to his children and making the effort to be a part of their lives, and I’ve seen both sides where the kids have been put in the middle, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly. I’ve watched what it has done to the kids and the hurt that they have felt. I share this with you because if we know better, we can do better.
Here are some things that we can do better. If you are co-parenting or someone in your life is helping you raise your children that are not theirs, there are sometimes issues with that because we have different ways of raising our kids. To be honest, I don’t know what my boundaries are, like where to step and where not to step, because they’re not my kids, and we do have different ways that we see things that we think are right for the kids versus what is not right for the kids. It could be how long they’re on their phones or their electronics at night; it could be how long they’re staying up at night and not getting enough sleep. We can have different views about that, and so we’re back to those boundaries that we can cross as the stepparent or the partner that’s involved in raising these kids.
The first thing is to remember that it is not about us adults. It’s not about who’s right or wrong; it’s not about who’s in control; it’s really about what the kids’ needs are. When my kids were growing up and my ex-husband had moved back to the vicinity of where I live, we did have a court order where he would get the kids every other weekend. But, by the time he moved back, my boys were older and they wanted to see their dad all the time. So, I didn’t care about the court order, and I let them go. I let them go as often as they wanted to because that’s what they needed at that moment. By then I had done some growing up; I wasn’t so adamant about, “Nope, this is a court order. You’re going to stick to it,” because it gave me control, which made me feel safe that I wasn’t going to lose my kids.
Again, as I knew better, I did better. The fact that I was so open with allowing my kids to go to their dads as much as they wanted while he was here really showed my kids that I loved them enough to allow them to go and be with their dad because that’s what they wanted. They had been yearning for that relationship with their father for so long, so they knew that my saying, “Hey, I don’t care if it’s a court order, you go!” allowed them to know that I supported that relationship and that I wanted to nurture their relationship with their father.
I stopped putting the boys between us. I communicated straight with my ex-husband when I was able to. Here’s another tip, if you cannot communicate verbally with your ex because, for whatever reason, there’s still contention in your relationship, even though there should be a very good co-parenting relationship, email each other. You send it through email because emotions and tonality are not seen in emails or text messages. I mean, someone can perceive them to be in there, and yet we can ask questions to clarify and verify what specifically that person is saying or the reason behind it. Don’t think this is about you having to win; there are no winners here. The best we can do for our kids is show up as a family front, which is co-parenting. It’s parenting together; “co is together. You don’t have to be together, live together, or be in a relationship together to parent your children in a healthy way that meets their needs and lets them know that they are loved.
If we really want to give our kids a childhood they won’t have to heal from, it really starts with how they view our communication with each other, whether we’re divorced or together. How are they seeing that we are on the same page and that we are a parental front that puts boundaries around these kids? Remember, boundaries are what keep our kids safe, and as much as they want to fight against the boundaries because they think we’re being too strict or overprotective, tell your kids that if I didn’t care, I would let you do whatever. It’s the fact that I care and that I put these boundaries around you. So what boundaries are you putting around your relationship with your ex? Is it possible you could help each other be better parents to raise these children in a way that they feel safe, loved, heard, and that they can trust both of you?
These are just a couple tips on how to work together if you are co-parenting. There’s one more tip I’d like to give you when you’re looking at it. If you’re a partner or the stepmom or stepdad and you’re coming into a relationship and asking about where the boundaries are, this is where communication comes from. Ask your partner, “This is what I see; this is why I feel that it’s detrimental to the child if they’re not getting enough sleep” per se if we’re talking about that. Help them understand your “why” before you step over that boundary to correct the child.
In our household, my husband and I have been together for over 12 years, and our six kids have now meshed, my two, his two, and then we have twins together. We definitely have a solid way of communicating, and although I’m definitely more rigid, more strict, and have more rules and boundaries than he does, we have found a way to communicate together. So it’s not that we’re against each other, we are for each other, and we’re for the greater good of our kids, all of our kids. So when you ask yourself, What is my outcome? What is your outcome when you’re co-parenting with an ex? What is your outcome when you’re co-parenting with a stepparent? What is the outcome? If the outcome is to create a safe and trusting space where your kids feel that it’s an open place where they can feel loved and non-judged, then these tips will definitely help you.
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