Early in my co-parenting journey, I heard a quote that redefined the way I viewed my relationship with my ex-husband. Glennon Doyle Melton said, “Just do the next right thing. One thing at a time. That’ll take you all the way home.” Often times, co-parenting means dealing with someone who has brought you tremendous pain and, of course, there is no pain like handing over your child every other weekend. For that reason, it is so freeing to think of co-parenting as a series of small decisions. If you fixate on being stuck with the very person you like the least–for at least 18 years–it can seem like a really long road. Just focus on today–how can you best serve your tiny ones and keep your sanity? I have listed out some of the things I have learned over the past few years that may help you decide what exactly is the next right thing.
The reality of the situation is that your child is going to come home talking about people you have never met –new neighborhood friends, new girlfriends or boyfriends, the families of said boyfriends and girlfriends. This can be a hard pill to swallow but my best advice is to accept them as part of your village. Anyone who is contributing positively in your child’s life is a welcomed addition.
I get it, the last person on Earth you want to talk to is your ex. However, if you can do so without screaming at one another, some consistent communication can go a long way. My ex and I have an unspoken agreement to send occasional picture updates if we have our daughter for an extended time. I send him pictures in the hopes he will return the favor– and when he does, it helps me feel a little better when she is gone. Along those same lines, if you can be patient with your ex when they need some help (to switch days or for an assist with drop off), you will likely see that pay dividends when you need some help. Again, no one wants to be besties but healthy communication for the better of all is a good idea, if you can get there.
One day, your child is going to come home with a really juicy story about what happened at their other house. Dad got in a fight with his new girlfriend or your child got to watch TV and eat pizza all weekend long. Try to remember that you weren’t there and children are terrible at recalling details. Before you fire off an angry text demanding an explanation, remind yourself that you are co-parenting with another human and that means sometimes things get messy. Try to extend some grace in the hopes it will be reciprocated.
Don’t vie for favorites.
I am a firm believer that most co-parenting arguments start with a deep seeded fear that one parent will be more liked than another. Worrying about the alienation of your child’s affection can seriously mess with your mental state. You have to accept that sometimes your child will favor their other parent. Truthfully, any good parent finds themselves on the bottom of the favorite list–if they’re doing their job right. Parent as if you would even if you were married to the other parent. Trust your co-parent to do the same. Every time my daughter asks, “Is it time to go to daddy’s?”, it hurts a little – but it’s usually right after I have asked her to clean her room. Remember that your kids are kids and they will play the system.
It takes two — and time.
We are several years into our co-parenting journey and for the most part, things are smooth sailing. However, it wasn’t always this way and it has taken consistent hard work to get here. Put your kids first–even if you are the only one. Make compromises or stand your ground but only when it benefits them. Never do something that you would be ashamed to explain to your children as adults. Help construct a new life for them that everyone can be proud of but be patient with yourself and the other party. We all come to acceptance in these situations in our way and in our time so if you or your co-parent aren’t there yet, there is still hope. In the meantime, just keep doing the next right thing.
Photo: Michael Tercha/Chicago Tribune/TNS/Charlotte Observer file