Listen, I’m going to level with you: parenting, even under the most ideal of circumstances, is one of the hardest things we’ll ever do. Maybe THE hardest! But when you’re a single parent, or attempting coparenting with a former partner, it goes from regular hard to “WTF am I doing?” hard in the blink of an eye.
The thing is, relationships don’t always work out. Forever isn’t always forever. People change, circumstances change, things come undone. And you know what? That’s OK. It is! It took me a while to learn that when my own marriage ended. But it ended after the arrival of two of the world’s most amazing kids, so we had to somehow put aside our own shit and be adults and coparents. It was not easy. We failed A LOT. But we kept at it, because we had to.
So here we are, four years into our new relationship with one another: as coparents to the two things we did right. We’ve learned a lot through trial and error, and we’re doing pretty good! We still stumble sometimes. But over the years, we’ve learned some stuff that’s helped us make this work, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned with you in the hopes that it helps someone else.
It’s not about you.
Like, at all. Not even a little bit. Not even on your birthday. In my experience, a successful coparenting relationship is dependent on both parties coming to the realization that the only interests that matter are those of the kids they are coparenting. When we stopped trying to “win” and instead focusing on doing what was best for the kids, things got a lot easier.
You won’t always get your way.
Nor should you! You may not be romantically involved with your coparent any longer, but you are still very much partners. And a good, solid partnership relies on equity in order to work. Again, it’s about doing what’s best for the kids. So that means you’re both going to have to compromise sometimes. If it helps, I try not to look at it as me not always getting my way; instead, I focus on the fact that my coparent doesn’t always get their way either (I am working on being the bigger person thing, I swear).
Establish family rules, not house rules.
This was a big one for us. The girls would have totally different sets of rules and expectations depending on if they were with me or their dad. And that caused a lot of conflict and friction, particularly during reentry (when they came back home to me). Or, I’d hear a lot of, “Well dad lets us do it!”, which is about as infuriating as you’d imagine. Consistency and routine are so incredibly important with kids, and we realized that we were really doing ourselves a disservice by not implementing the same strategies across the board.
So we came up with a specific set of family rules that traveled from house to house. For us, they included rules about mealtimes and bedtimes, since those were the areas that tended to fall apart the fastest. So now, no matter where they are or who is in charge, they know that the same rules and expectations apply.
Now, I’m coming from a place of privilege here—my ex and I have a pretty good relationship at this point, so being flexible to suit the needs of the other isn’t a terribly heavy lift. If you do NOT have a good coparenting relationship, then my advice is to stick to the parenting agreement, right down to the letter. Your boundaries are incredibly important and there is nothing wrong with expecting them to be respected.
But, if you and your coparent are on good terms, flexibility goes a long way toward keeping things copacetic. If they need to switch weekends or you have a couple of late work nights on your week, it takes so much stress off the both of you if you can work together to move things around to make it work. And should you ever need a favor (last minute girls weekend popped up or a hottie swiped right on you and asked you out for drinks on a school night), your coparent is more likely to grant the favor knowing you’ll do the same when it’s their turn to ask.
It gets easier. I promise.
It didn’t feel right, the first couple of nights my kids were away from me. It felt unnatural and very, very wrong, to be quite honest. It took awhile for that to feel less wrong, and really, all that helped was time. It still feels like a part of me is missing, but it’s not as acute.
We made a pact to do what we could to keep our family as much of a family as possible for the girls’ sake. So that means we still do a lot together as a family; we go on outings together, we spend holidays and birthdays together. We really wanted to make sure our girls understood that their parents didn’t have to be together in order for their family to be together. When the pandemic hit, we decided that it was in everyone’s best interests to have the entire family under one roof where we could minimize contact and exposure to others without sacrificing time with our kids, so we’ve been roommates for the last year, too. Certainly not where I ever saw this going, not going to lie, but extenuating circumstances call for extraordinary solutions, you know? We’re making the best of a truly difficult situation. And trying to stay flex, as always.