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For me, co-parenting is like a relationship of sorts, just without the emotion attached to it. I talk about this in many of my posts and in my view the most successful ingredient to any relationship, be it as a couple or as a co-parent is communication.
(Being a parent can be a juggling act at times!)
Go from point-scoring to creating a ‘co-parenting relationship’
Ok, so if we break this concept down into a more simplistic manner and look back a little. In most cases, you were usually together as a couple and had a child(ren) together. Things may have ended badly, one of you may not have even been part of the decision to split and it was forced upon you. Of course, it could also have been an amicable break-up.
In my experience and from what I have learnt from you guys, more often that not, a break-up usually didn’t finish amicably. Why? Because there is so often raw emotion attached from the outset and raw emotion usually means point scoring. So how do you go from point scoring against one another to getting some sort of ‘parenting relationship’ back on track?
Firstly, you need to establish that as parents, co-parenting is what you both want to do. As I have said previously, this was pretty much a given for us when me and the children’s Mummy split up. That said, even if you both agree that is the right step to take for your children and yourselves, you still need to overcome the potential bitterness or bad blood between one another. So how do you do that?
Relationship break downs are a minefield anyway, but throw children into the mix and it could potentially get a lot more complicated! I have had people say to me in the past, “The children need to spend more time with their Mother” or, “It isn’t healthy for them to spend half the time with each parent” – says who exactly?
People love to give a view or share generalist, unsubstantiated opinion on what is right or wrong for you and your children, but what do they know? I often find the people who judge me for being a single parent are not single parent’s (ironic hey!?) The thing is, no one sets out for this to happen to them in their life, everyone’s situation is different and you can only deal with your own situation effectively – not anyone else’s. If what you think you are doing is right, it usually is!
Of course as co-parents there will be disagreements from time to time – that is inevitable. However, in order to overcome any feelings of bitterness or bad blood, especially while in the early days, no matter how wronged or hurt you feel, you have to find a way to put those feelings to one side for the sake of the children.
(The 3 Musketeers!)
Removal and methodical co-parenting
Somehow, you have to find a way to remove yourself from the guaranteed emotion and try to deal with things practically and methodically – this will not only preserve your sanity, it will also make you feel like you are achieving something. This will benefit your children too, not to mention reduce the stress and dramas in your life.
Naturally, over time you will establish boundaries and things that will and won’t work for the both of you. Other external factors like new partners will also influence and play a part, but perhaps that is a topic for another time. For me, the key things to address early on would be the following:
- What will the routine look like for the children? i.e. how will the days/nights be split?
- The purchasing of clothes, shoes and other essential items for your children
If we put to one side any financial/maintenance arrangements here, the above points are for me, the most significant things to work on in the early stages. Why? Because, these are things that tend to cause the most arguments.
Routine is paramount, I am not saying you will both get it right straightaway, but the children (once old enough) need to understand where they are going, who is going to pick them up from school/nursery and for how many nights they will be with you for. Again, every situation is different, some people do a weekly rota, some over two weeks and some have a week on and a week off. There is no right or wrong here, it is about what works for you, your situation (work/hobbies) and your children.
The purchasing of clothes and other things may fall under a formal maintenance agreement, but in our case we both buy our own clothes, shoes etc for the children. When it comes to school uniforms, we have an agreement in place. Of course, there comes a time, especially when it is summer holidays, when there is a cross-over and you end up with the other person’s clothes that they have bought for the children and for some parents, this seems to be a sore subject.
Normally, I would look to try to wash those clothes and either send the children back in them another time or give them back to the children’s Mummy when I next see her. I admit, I am not the world’s greatest at ironing, so 99.9% of the time the clothes will go back unironed, but then again, I hardly ever iron my own clothes either!
I have heard from other parents in the past about how children are made to change at the front door, so that a parent can keep the clothes they bought. Other stories, whereby parents are sending back the children’s dirty clothes in a bag, if they are not the ones they purchased. Certainly, with regards to the first point any child above toddler age will question why they are having to get changed as they leave one parent’s house to go to another’s.
Here is the thing, these are your children’s clothes, but for some reason, some people seem to think that if the other parent buys them, they can’t possibly assume responsibility for them. What you will find, is that more often than not, these small niggly things, will create an issue in the long run.
Although children are resilient and so often take things at face value, they still can sense and pick up on friction – and why would you want that? For the sake of being a bit more organised and putting the children’s clothes in the wash, it’s a no-brainer to me. After all, it works both ways.
Routine is not just committing to your children, but to yourselves
Routine is more than just deciding on a rota between parents, it is about identifying, working to and sticking to something. If co-parenting is a route you both decide to go down, then not only do you need to consider your own personal work arrangements, hobbies/interests, you also need to factor in the children’s activities too.
Between my two children, they do 6 after school activities a week. Me and the children’s Mummy operate a rota over a two weekly basis as to when we have the children, so we both have to muck in and individually take the children to the various activities. When deciding on an after school activity, both of you need to be in agreement as it is likely both parents will be required to be involved at some point (either from a time perspective, supporting it financially or both!)
(Yep – football is 1 of the 6 activities!)
All of this aside, it is possible that children do too many activities and there is something to be said for spending time reading a book, making a cake or doing some crafts too. Perhaps, something which is equally as important here is that you make time for yourself! This point isn’t just around co-parenting – but for any parent. Finding time to pursue your own hobbies and interests, even watching a TV program is paramount and will give you, that all important ‘me time’.
How to reward and discipline your children when co-parenting
One of the questions, I am often asked is how do you both consistently discipline the children when co-parenting? Let me be clear here, I 100% the trust the judgement of the children’s Mummy and her partner when it comes to this, you have to. Everyone’s parenting style is different, but like I said earlier, communication is key. The last thing, either of us need, is a child playing off one parent against the other – and I sincerely hope that never happens.
Only yesterday, I had a brief conversation with children’s Mummy about our son. To give you the example, I mentioned in a previous post 10 things I do which makes parenting easier (point 8) about the use of a behaviour charts. Yesterday, my little boy was pushing my buttons and I threatened to put a put a cross on his chart. I said to him, “Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t put a cross on your chart?” His reply came in the form of “Erm, erm, erm…well I was good on your Ipad earlier Daddy!!!”
Connie (my eldest) and I exchanged glances across the room when he said this, and we were both in hysterics! His cheek got him out of that one, but I was keen to share to the story with his Mummy, so that we can both try to be consistent when it comes to looking at behaviours. How or if she decides to issue punishments during her time, is down to her – but again keeping the lines of communication open is key.
(Cheekiness got this one into and out of trouble yesterday!)
Rewarding when co-parenting is no different either, again we all have our own ways of doing this. Say we take the example of a child who has two sets of Grandparents and the child receives a good school report, they may get rewarded in two very different ways. It is no different in the scenario of co-parenting. I very rarely get involved in rewarding something that happens when the children are with their Mummy, but again we will share stories so we can talk about it to the children.
The role of a co-parent requires work, dedication and communication – but then again, who said parenting was easy? It can be a difficult and tricky road, although, there is no doubt your resilience levels will improve over time. At the end of it all, it comes down to love and doing what you both think is right by your children and that may well include biting your tongue!
If you enjoyed reading this then why not read 10 things that really p*ss me off as a parent because let’s face facts, we all get p*ssed off from time to time!