Co-parenting is really twice the work, when you get down to it. Not only do you have to nurture and guide your kids, but you have to cover the logistics and emotional minefield of sharing them with someone you may not be on great terms with. In addition, you have to manage it while they're not under your watchful eye all the time. It's a tough balance trying to let go and let them be parented elsewhere. These are just a few of the pitfalls you really need to avoid:
- Fighting in front of them - This is the biggest of the no-no's. Your kids have enough to go through - they're losing their family! Don't put them in the middle of the ugliness. Save your heated exchanges for when they're out of earshot, or limit them to telephone calls, texts or emails.
- Grilling your kids about their time away (even inadvertently) - It's only natural during the separation process to wonder what your kids are doing over at the other parent's house. You may even have legitimate concerns about things that occur under the other parent's roof. Regardless, you shouldn't be pumping your kids for information. It may make them feel like they're betraying confidences or possibly providing information that could lead to an argument. It's okay to say "how was your weekend?" but keep it generic, particularly if you and your ex are not on good terms. On the flip side of that, if your kid wants to tell you about their time away at the other house, you should be all ears. You can learn valuable information about their new family dynamic and how they're getting along after the split.
- Bashing your ex, openly or passive-aggressively - Look, we all have problems with our ex. That's why they're an "ex", right? But don't air your dirty laundry in front of your kids because it isn't theirs to wash. Your ex might be cheating, lying, irresponsible, and selfish. Just keep in mind - that's your opinion. Show your child the respect of allowing them to form their own opinion about the other parent, without any coaching from you.
- Showing up late or changing nights and weekends too often - Flexibility of schedule is a big perk when you're a co-parent. Having a cooperative spouse is a blessing when you have work demands or a social event that disrupts the normal visitation schedule. Be appreciative when your ex is willing to rearrange to accommodate your commitments, and don't abuse it. Showing up 20 minutes late for picking up the kids may not seem like a big deal to you, but you might have just derailed any plans the other parent had for the evening. Always call ahead if you'll be late and never assume you can easily switch a weekend. The more notice you can give on any of that, the better.
- Letting your kids play you off each other - This is a tricky one, particularly if you're not communicating regularly with your ex. Kids catch on pretty quickly that two houses can mean twice as much of the good stuff (like double field trip money, for instance) or that they can claim one parent says okay to something the other parent wouldn't go for. If your child tells you the ex okayed something that you're pretty sure they never would have agreed to while you were married to them, then call, text or email them for confirmation. They may be just as surprised as you to hear they endorsed it.
Co-parenting isn't easy. It means you need to communicate clearly with the other parent about all the important things that affect your children, and you both need to keep your focus firmly on them and their needs as you do.
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