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May 23, 2021

Co-parenting is Not Hard—& How I Keep Mine in Check.

“Did you have fun at your dad’s this weekend?”

My daughter will usually respond with a “ye,” as I have been informed, that is just yes without the “s” and it’s cool to say that.

“Good. I missed you. You hungry?” will usually be my next exchange, which will then lead to a “No, dad made French toast” or “Yeah, I just had a Pop-Tart, can you make me some French toast when we get home?” Usually that is followed by a “missed you too, Mom.”

One would think that after nearly eight years of exchanging my child almost every other weekend with her father, it would get easier. In a way, it has, but I am always a little on edge till my daughter is back with me. Her father is not a bad man, he just has a vastly different view of what is acceptable parenting compared to what I view as acceptable parenting. I can’t say that I am right and he is wrong, our views are just different. It’s those differences in views that contributes to my anxiety as a mom, and that is okay.

Like any couple that has gone through a divorce, there was a period of bitterness and resentment. I am no different than any other person in that, I too, found myself extremely bitter at the way things had transpired with my child’s father. In fact, I got bitter to the point that I almost used my daughter as a tool for revenge against him. I use the term almost because it did not happen.

I was fortunate enough to watch my current partner go through the aftermath of his divorce, which was no different than mine in that we drifted away from our original significant other. It was and is continually painful to watch him struggle with what is now a relationship with his child that will never be repaired.

Now, you are probably asking how watching my partner and the crumbling of the relationship with his own child can be called fortunate. I call it fortunate because seeing how they handled situations that were similar to what I was going through with my own situation made me be a better mother. I was better able to see what the actions of the mother can do to a child, and how it can affect the relationship with the father (or vice versa, this goes both ways). I made my choices based on what was best for my daughter, not decisions based on my personal opinion of her father and the bitterness I held for my marriage’s deterioration, like I saw happening to my current partner and his situation.

Watching one parent play on the immature emotions of a child to manipulate them and have them pick sides is wrong. 

To involve small children in the complexities of co-parenting and let them have a say in adult decisions is wrong. 

To make a child be told what conditions to love either of their parents is wrong. 

Telling your child that the other parent loves their new family or picked their new significant other over them is way beyond wrong. 

By no means am I saying I am the perfect co-parent with my daughter’s father 100 percent of the time, but the following things are what I consciously work on to ensure that my child is having the best relationship with her father while she is under my roof. Once she is older and on her own, that is up to them, but while she is in my care, I will do my part for her to have the best experiences she can get between two households by supporting her and her bond with her dad.  I never want her to feel she has to pick and choose between us, ever.

Encourage communication

First and foremost, I encourage, and on some days, downright enforce communication. My child is a preteen. Kids can get so sidetracked and forget to talk to the people in their own home, let alone ones that don’t live with them. At a minimum, my daughter will call her dad no less than two times in a week. I don’t care if I can’t remember the last time he actually called her, that’s his deal. I make sure my daughter calls her dad. I want to ensure that the communication is always there. How they choose to communicate with each other once she turns 18 is up to them. I certainly don’t hover, though, either. What is discussed between my child and her father is between them. I just make sure the conversation starts.

Don’t discuss or speak ill of the other parent in front of the child

This should go without saying. Then again, if it did, I wouldn’t have to bring it up here as a point. Obviously, there were things that my daughter’s father and I didn’t see eye to eye on. Otherwise, we’d still be married. The issues that were in the relationship and the causes of its demise are not my child’s business. I might not particularly like my child’s father, but that is my issue, not hers. Just because he is my ex, doesn’t mean that he is her ex. Her father is still daddy; he didn’t become her ex-father the day he and I decided we were no longer going to be a couple. Granted, now that she is older, there are things I have told my daughter that I don’t agree with him on, but I also make sure I let her know that just because I don’t agree with it does not mean it is wrong.

If you need to vent your grievances with anyone about how you were wronged, you better make absolutely sure your child will not hear it or hear about it, ever. Regardless of your feelings, that is still the other half of the child’s genetic code. To criticize openly your distaste for the other parent and what you don’t like could make the child feel that they are not good enough because they are half of that other parent.

Which leads me to my next point…

Don’t refer to the other parent as “the ex”

This is my own personal preference. I don’t, in conversation or reference of any kind, refer to my child’s father as my ex-husband. I always call him my daughter’s father. When my divorce was final, he became just that—my daughter’s father. To refer to him as “my ex,” to me, would mean that I still had feelings for him as if he were still “mine.” When I finalized my divorce, all loving feelings were long gone. I wanted to claim none of that as “mine.” Therefore, I started to refer to my child’s father as just that, her dad. That takes all emotion out of it and makes it pretty cut and dry.

Don’t discuss child support or lack thereof with your children

This is another one of those topics that should go without saying. To hear one parent either brag about how much they get from the child’s other parent, or complain how little they get and how they should get more money, makes me feel as if their child is nothing more to them than a paycheck. That is terrible. My only concern all along was that my child still spent time with her father. All the money in the world doesn’t replace precious time. I am one of those crazy people who just doesn’t care about the money. My concern only lies in that my daughter and her dad do things together to make memories. The last thing a child needs to hear about is how much they are worth in monetary terms or that their time with the other parent is based on money exchanged.

Be supportive and encouraging of all members of your child’s family

My child’s father has remarried. I am not going to lie, the first couple of years were rough. There were insecurities on both sides. The old and the new having to deal with each other. There are always animosities. It is the natural way things go, no matter how hard we try not to let it happen. Over the course of the last few years, however, that has done a complete 180 in our family dynamics. First off, I am blessed that my daughter has an amazing stepmom. My daughter loves her and this makes me happy. How can anyone deny their child the happiness of loving another parent figure or even more siblings. It isn’t a competition; love isn’t a trophy. Love is meant to be shared and there is more than enough for all members of the family—regardless if they are blood or marriage.

Last year for Halloween, my daughter and I stopped at her stepsister’s house to trick or treat, as her stepsister wanted a picture of my daughter in her costume. Before we left, I made sure the stepsister also had her picture taken with my daughter. They needed a sister picture. Why not? They are family, too. They need to have this memory years down the road to look back on and cherish.

I don’t get jealous when my child goes and does fun stuff with her dad and his family. It is celebrated, as it should be. I don’t want my daughter to ever feel like having fun and making memories with her other family isn’t wonderful just because it isn’t me and my branch of her family tree.

As the years have progressed, my daughter is maturing to the point that she sees what I do and how vastly different it is for my partner and his son. She has commented how she is glad I am not like that, and that her dad and I share her because she loves us both. She has never had to choose either of us, as she continues to be free to love both of us equally and celebrates the differences of our families.

Isn’t that how it should be, a child free to love their parents fully, no matter what the family situation? There shouldn’t be stress in having feelings for one parent or the other. Our children should not have to feel they need to hide exciting things from one house to another because one of the parents gets jealous. I am not saying co-parenting is easy, but we don’t have to make our children choose how and who they love; they should just love and be loved by their family.

No strings attached.

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