Consistently co-parenting after divorce can be excruciating. Co-parenting consistently if you’ve never done any kind of parenting before feels almost impossible.
There are countless articles out there about how to co-parent with our respective exes:
- Co-parenting with a crazy ex
- Co-parenting peacefully
- The Zen of co-parenting
- Co-parenting with a narcissist
I’m sure that whatever you (or your ex) are like, you can find an article about co-parenting that rings true for both of you.
What’s far less common is an article about parenting somebody else’s children when you’ve never had any of your own. That’s an article I could have used three years ago when I packed up my entire life, boarded a trans-Atlantic flight, and moved in with my boyfriend and his two children in the UK (at least, we get the kids every other weekend).
Let me tell you something, babysitting is not the same as parenting…not at all. I am by no means an expert in this department, but I have learned a few valuable lessons along the way.
So without further ado, seven tips on co-parenting consistently if you’ve never done any kind of parenting before, and some gentle reminders for all the parents out there.
1. Cut Yourself Some Slack
Okay, if you’re a perfectionist, like me, this one is tough.
My favorite show before I moved in with my boyfriend, and my guilty pleasure once I did, was Supernanny. I’m a highly-judgemental person, and I loved watching (and judging) people who had little to no control over their kids.
And then I met my boyfriend’s kids…
Now don’t get me wrong, they weren’t some of the horror children that you see on Supernanny but, to me, they might as well have been.
If you’ve never had children of your own, taking on a seven and nine-year-old can be a baptism of fire so cut yourself some slack. Not everything you do is going to work out perfectly the first time and, as much as I hate to admit it, we can’t all be Jo Frost so just give yourself a break from time to time.
2. Cut the Kids Some Slack
This one is huge and incredibly difficult to do, especially if you are new to the parenting game.
Kids are kids. Sorry, but it’s true. Kids are annoying, they whine, they wind each other up just because they can, and they’re a pain the ass sometimes.
Kids are kids.
Kids are not mini adults. They don’t have your attention span, they don’t remember anything (unless it involves candy or movies) and they think bad jokes are hysterical and will tell them over, and over, and over again.
So when your partner’s kids are driving you insane, just take a deep breath and walk away. Kids are kids and there is nothing you can do to change them. As long as they aren’t being abusive or rude, you just have to let them be kids.
Recognize that they are adapting to their new situation just like you, but they have a lot less experience to help them cope with the transition.
3. Cut Your Partner Some Slack
You might be shaking your head thinking, “Really? I have to cut her some slack. She is the problem in this whole situation!”
If that’s the case, I know exactly how you feel. I used to drive myself crazy thinking about how much easier it would be if my boyfriend would just toe the line. He used to talk over me, say the opposite of what I had just said, and sometimes just ignore me completely. I was livid.
At one point, we discussed what the house rules should be and laid out a plan to implement them. Guess what? I was the only one implementing. He would “bend” the rules “just this once.”
As infuriating as it is, you have to realize that your partner is the servant of three masters:
- The kids
- The Ex
What makes it even harder for her is that you all want different things from her. To make one of you happy means making another angry, sad or resentful.
What is she supposed to do?
On top of all of that, consider that your partner may not have parented full time for months or even years by the time you arrive on the scene.
She’s out of practice and probably spends so little time with his kids that she just wants them to be happy. She doesn’t want to spend her entire time disciplining and reprimanding.
You’re not invested in these kids. You don’t love them the way she does, so you don’t feel the heartache she does when they cry. Try to remember that your partner is doing the best she can and acknowledge that there are parts of being a parent you just can’t understand.
4. Be the Adult
This is another toughie. About 2 months into the big move I called my mom and said, “You’re going to think I’ve lost my mind when I tell you this, but I haven’t. This is serious mom… I’m being bullied by a 7-year-old girl…”
Okay, we can all laugh about it now! But at the time, it really felt that way. Yes, I’m an overly sensitive person but even so, that girl knew what she was doing!
Anytime her father would hug me, she would immediately ask him for a kiss and then stare me down. If anybody tells you that a little girl with blonde ringlets isn’t scary, tell them to call me!
It used to take every ounce of my strength not to sink to her level. Trust me, I realize how pitiful this sounds, but if you’ve been in a similar situation, you’re probably nodding right along with me.
Be the bigger person! Rise above it! Take the high road!
Whatever mantra you need to chant to yourself to make it happen, do it. The fastest way to end your relationship is to make the kids hate you and make your partner resent your behavior.
5. Don’t Let the Ex Get in the Way of Effective Co-Parenting after Divorce
This is where one of the many articles about co-parenting after divorce come in handy. If your partner’s ex is anything less than sweet as pie, you will notice times that he or she gets between the two of you.
In my case, it was my constant need to win that let her get between us. Although I knew there was no competition and, as my dad kept reminding me, by virtue of living with him I had won whatever imaginary competition there was, I always felt like I had to do, or be, better than her.
My paranoia got so bad that anytime my partner would agree with his ex I would go crazy. Even if it was something that was mutually beneficial (a better pick-up point) I would interrogate him about why he was always giving in to her demands. Why couldn’t he just stand up for himself?
Do not let this happen to you! Your partner’s ex will always be around. You cannot change that. As soon as you possibly can, accept that he or she isn’t going anywhere and accept that your partner probably feels more animosity towards the ex than you do. So chill out and don’t give the ex any more space in your relationship than you have to.
6. Be Patient
Successfully co-parenting after divorce takes time. Remember that you are trying to retrain multiple people: your partner, the kids and the ex.
Also remember that you need to do a little bit of training on yourself. It can’t be all or nothing, co-parenting means compromise on both sides.
Be patient with yourself. Be patient with your partner. Be patient with the kids. And be patient with the ex. This is a brand new situation to everybody involved and it’s going to take time (a long time in some cases) for each of you to get used to your new reality.
If you give it a little time, you might find that everybody gets used to having a slightly bigger, slightly more complicated but very happy family.
7. Be Consistent
This is a bit of cheat since I’m supposed to be giving you tips to co-parent consistently but it’s the best advice there is!
If you have laid down rules for the house, make sure you follow them. Always. Be the best example you can possibly be.
Be consistent about never arguing with your partner in front of the kids. If you have just given conflicting instructions, choose one and go with it. Scream at each other all you want after bedtime but in front of the kids, you must remain a united front. Kids can smell fear, and they will exploit it. Make sure you stand firm in front of them and ask your partner to stand by you as you do.
Perhaps the best advice I can offer is to be brave. This is an incredibly difficult thing that you’re doing and you just have to be brave. It’s scary to parent somebody else’s kids and it’s difficult to know when to step in and when to sit quietly. There is no magic solution, each situation is different and you must figure it out for yourself.
Just know that it gets easier and even if you don’t like those kids right now (I’ve been there), you just might grow to love them later (I’ve been there too).
Have you mastered the art of consistent co-parenting after divorce? Let us know how you did it in the comments!