You’re finally free from the pain of disappearing date nights. Free from the exhaustion of climbing into bed after an argument. Free from the ex who weighed you down more than they lifted you up.
While you can enjoy the weightlessness of no longer loving them, you still have a responsibility to co-parent with them. Co-parenting isn’t a new concept, as the US has a 50% divorce rate. (41% for first-time marriages.)
Do it well by learning five tips from a therapist on successful co-parenting.
1. Treat your partner with respect.
Whether you’re speaking directly to them or speaking about them to your child, show your partner respect. (And ask that they do the same for you!)
Avoid bad-mouthing each other in front of your child, and teach your child that you don’t want to hear it, either. It might be funny when they first roast your ex, but encouraging them will only hurt your child in the long run. It deters them from building a healthy relationship with half of the most important support system they have.
Instead, speak on your partner’s strengths whenever you have the opportunity. Studies show that exhibiting gratitude daily improves our overall wellbeing, and it can help you have more positive interactions together.
For example, if you can’t help your child with their homework, admit to them, “I know, I’m not the best at explaining things. Mommy’s great at this stuff!”
2. Work to agree on a consistent routine.
Establishing a predictable routine for ourselves is one of the biggest things we can do for our mental health. For kids, it’s imperative as they’re still developing their sense of self-esteem. Knowing what the “next move” is makes kids feel safe and secure at home.
Work to agree with your partner on things like meal times, bed times, household responsibilities, and behavioral expectations. That way, both houses can feel like one consistent home.
3. Keep your child in focus, not your ex.
By focusing on the healthy development of your child, you should naturally want to stick to routine and rules decided by both parents. If you’re trying to stick it to your ex or “win” at being the favorite parent, you may ease up on these rules.
If you enter the day feeling insecure about your parent-child relationship, you may choose to see a new movie instead of working on homework together. This threatens your child’s routine and adds friction to an already stressful relationship with your ex.
Exposing children to parental conflict introduces feelings of vulnerability, as if their whole family system will break down and leave them behind. Don’t be the reason your child struggles to feel confident in their own skin.
4. Deal with parental guilt and frustration outside of the home.
Feeling like you’re missing out on your child’s life is disheartening, but try not to act on feelings of guilt. Children already struggle with impulse control, so if you overspend to give them quick spurts of excitement, it will bite back as an overgrown ego in your child and a lack of empathy for others.
Instead, allow yourself to be boring around your kid. Let them have perfectly ordinary days at home with their perfectly ordinary parents.
5. Keep an open dialogue.
Whether it’s face-to-face, over text, or through an online scheduling service, keep your ex updated about what’s going on. (Don’t make your child “pass notes” to the other parent.)
If it helps, start viewing your ex as a coworker. Communicate with them in professional and emotionally neutral or pleasant ways.
Instead of pointing fingers, stick to “I” statements when your ex’s behavior becomes bothersome. “I noticed Jack was more aggressive than usual when he came home this week. What kinds of stress-relieving activities should we teach him?”
Still, communicating regularly with someone who has broken your trust can be stressful. Instead of taking it out on them—or worse, you kid—work with a therapist.