If you are divorced or divorcing and you share custody of your children, this online book is for you. It doesn’t matter if you’re a mom or a dad, the information in this book will benefit you equally. Practical Co-Parenting contains the practical knowledge, tips, and co-parenting guidance you need to co-parent with your ex in a low-conflict, cooperative manner. Unlike many of the books and websites you will find on this topic, this is not a psychology-focused self-help book based on theory; the information in this book is based on hard-learned lessons and first-hand practical experience, that will give you what you need to successfully co-parent with your ex (yes it’s possible!). This online book is your easy-to-read guide to navigating the challenges of co-parenting in our hectic, run-around world.
Once divorced or separated, the dynamics of your relationship with your ex and your children will undoubtedly change. Co-parents will encounter and have to navigate through many situations and circumstances that married parents would never need to consider. When co-parenting, many of the situations and interactions that used to seem simple will now require more consideration, coordination, and planning. In the chapters that follow, I will review many of these specific situations and the best ways to navigate through them.
Children want and need to have a relationship with both of their parents; always keep this point in mind. Your ex may have been the worst spouse in the world, a lying, no-good cheat. They may have terrible habits, nonexistent parenting skills, and poor hygiene. Despise your ex to your heart’s content, but barring extreme circumstances, your child loves them, and you’re going to have to find some common-ground with them; let your child be that common-ground.
The goal of this book is to make your shared custody co-parenting situation the best it can possibly be, and to bring you the comfort of knowing that, despite how impossible it may seem, it can work. Moreover, I hope that what you learn from reading this book will bring your children comfort. By modeling a relationship based on respectful cooperation with your ex, your children will never doubt that they are loved and secure.
Where I Was
Seven years ago, I was nearing the end of what was undoubtedly the most painful, confusing, and contentious year of my life. After five years of dating and nine years of marriage, my ex and I began the process of disassembling the life we had built together. Our relationship had disintegrated to the point where much of our communication was passed through our lawyers, even though we were still living under the same roof.
We both wanted out of that living situation desperately. It was a tense, toxic, and unwelcoming home. It wasn’t pride or lack of resources that kept us in that house for that very long year, it was two young daughters (two and five years old at the time) that we both desperately loved and cared for. My soon-to-be-ex and I were facing an unknown future, and both of us were terrified of losing our children. It may have been a better living situation for our girls if one of us had moved out. But when you’re lawyered-up and afraid, believing an abandonment claim could be used against you, you do what you have to do.
Where I Am Now
The previous eight years have passed in a blur, but at the same time they seemed to take forever to pass. So many things have changed and many things have remained the same. I am neither a better person now than I was, nor am I worse; I am a different person. I have adapted through various changing roles including: married-father, single-father, single-dating-father, and remarried-father/stepfather.
Once the divorce was finalized, I moved out of the original family home and into a smaller home nearby, where after some time, I perfected the skill of transitioning between the roles of father one week, to bachelor the next. After two years of raising our daughters as a single dad (on an alternating week-to-week basis), I met my second wife. We dated for five years, and have been together for just over six years now. We recently bought a home together and married.
Now, my daughters are eleven and fourteen years old, and much has changed. One week they live in the house I share with my new wife and her two children; the next week they live at their mom’s house. It’s not a perfect living situation for any of us, but it works. We all have adapted and accepted change as a part of life that can neither be avoided nor entirely controlled.
How deeply I respect and admire my daughters! As difficult as the divorce has been for all of us, especially them, they have emerged masters of adaptation. They are masters of resilience. They are masters of change. Despite having to live in two homes with different rules, bedrooms, possessions, pets and extended families, they have thrived. They have excelled academically. They are kind, caring, and well-adjusted, and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
There have been, and continue to be some challenges. There has been time spent getting professional assistance and counseling. My ex and I still disagree often. However, something is working here. My ex, our girls, and I have found a way to make things work. We are a family, an unconventional, disjoined, nomadic family, but still a family.
It’s Practical. It’s Common Sense.
My ex and I often receive compliments from our daughter’s teachers, their friend’s parents, and other adults we know in common. They’re often shocked that divorced parents (despite being grown adults) can co-parent effectively. While I do appreciate their compliments, but I can’t help but feel as though it requires little more than common sense. There is no wondrous, profound method involved in loving your children, it’s just something you do. Why should there be any surprise when two adults can put aside their differences for the sake of their children?
Throughout this book, I will impart the following simple phrase repeatedly:
Your child’s needs come first.
Let that simple phrase be your guide throughout all of the challenges you are sure to encounter as divorced co-parents. If you remember nothing else that is written in this book, remember those five words. If you let them, these words will guide your every interaction, behavior, and communication with your ex. I cannot emphasize how important it is to fully-understand and accept the truth in knowing that your child’s needs come first.
Regardless of how cooperative your ex is or is not, let your behavior towards your ex exemplify the behavior you wish to have reciprocated (a.k.a. The Golden Rule). You cannot control your ex’s behavior, but you can control yours. Always take the high-road, no matter how hard your ex makes things for you. If you have a difficult ex who wants only to fight with you, don’t play along. Every time you react to their instigating behavior, you’re giving your ex what he or she wants. Don’t play that way.
Children Want Both Parents in Their Lives
Despite the fact that divorce is more prevalent and commonplace than ever, it is no less hard on those involved. It is not the way it should be for your children; they were never expecting their parents to be apart. You don’t need to beat yourself up because of it, but understanding that by default, a child loves both parents and wants both parents to play an active role in their life. This will help you to comprehend the difficult emotions your child is feeling.
There are basic rights that you and your ex both have as parents. You are both equally responsible for bringing life into this world. You and your ex are both parents and nothing can change that, no court-order, judgment, or legal decree. You are both parents and that alone affords you a base set of rights and obligations.
Here are some of the key rights and obligations:
1. Both parents have the right to spend time with their children
2. Both parents have a responsibility to provide for and support their children to the best of their ability
3. Both parents have a responsibility to love and care for their children
In the following chapters, I’ll share the practical insights that allowed my ex and I to cooperate successfully as parents while maintaining an ongoing mutual disgust for each other. This book will provide you with all the information you’ll need to be a successful co-parent. We’ll cover these key topics that will make you a co-parenting master:
1. Landing on Your Feet
2. A Child’s Needs Post-Divorce
3. Your Relationship With Your Ex
4. Logistics of Co-parenting
Your current situation may be a rough one, and Co-parenting with your ex may seem impossibility, but I assure you that it is possible.