Co-Parenting with Your Ex
Dealing with an ex when you have children together can be difficult, especially when negative emotions are involved or you feel a desire to never see your former flame again. Unfortunately, being a parent means putting your child's best interests above your own, and that means finding a way to form an amicable relationship with your ex as co-parents. Dr. Phil has advice for beginning this new relationship with your ex:
Embracing the dos and don'ts helps considerably to normalize your children's lives. The key is for you and your ex to take the high road and truly make sacrifices for your children. It isn't only self-indulgent, but self-destructive for you to thrust your children in the middle of emotional crossfire. What's more, they simply don't want to hear it. I've talked to so many children in divorced homes who tell me they are so sick to death of listening to their parents complain and whine about each other that they could just scream. So don't be a tedious bore. You wanted children, and now you have them. The fact that your relationship didn't work out is unfortunate, but it's not their fault.
If your ex simply won't get in the game and adhere to the guidelines I've set forth, you must do so anyway. The only person you control is you. Let me appeal to your greed by saying that, if you do take the high road, in the long run your children will admire you for it. The day will come when they'll look back and say, "My mother [or father] behaved with such class, dignity and respect that I can see how much he or she loved me and wanted peace and tranquility in my life. I'm so grateful for that gift. I only wish my other parent had been so selfless."
As hard as it may be, sit down with your ex and make a commitment to set boundaries about your new relationship as co-parents.
- Never sabotage your child's relationship with the other parent.
- Never use your child as a pawn to get back at or hurt your ex.
- Never use your child to gain information or to manipulate and influence your ex.
- Never transfer hurt feelings and frustrations toward your ex onto your child.
- Never force your child to choose a side when there's a conflict in scheduling or another planning challenge.
- Never turn family events into pressure cookers.
- Never depend too much on your child for companionship and support because you're hurt and lonely.
- Never treat your child like an adult because you're lonely or just want help.
- Never become so emotionally needy that your child develops feelings of guilt if he or she spends time with others.
- Never convert guilt into overindulgence when it comes to satisfying your child's material desires.
There are two important rules concerning children during times of crisis and instability in your family:
1. Do not burden your children with situations they cannot control. Children should not bear such a responsibility. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their own strengths and abilities.
2. Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems. Their focus should be on navigating the various child development stages they go through.
- Commit to learn, adopt and apply all the principles set forth in Family First.
- Sit down with your ex and make an affirmative plan that sets aside any differences you may have and focuses instead on meeting the needs of your children.
- Agree with your ex that you absolutely won't disparage each other to your children. Further, forbid your children to speak disrespectfully about the other parent, even though it may be music to your ears.
- Negotiate and agree on how you can best handle such things as handing off the children for visitation, holidays, or events.
- Agree on boundaries and behavioral guidelines for raising your children so that there's consistency in their lives, regardless of which parent they're with at any given time.
- Negotiate and agree on the role extended family members will play and the access they'll be granted while your child is in each other's charge.
- Communicate actively with your ex about all aspects of your child's development.
- Recognize that children are prone to testing a situation and manipulating boundaries and guidelines, especially if there's a chance to get something they may not ordinarily be able to obtain.
- Compare notes with your ex before jumping to conclusions or condemning one another about what may have happened.
- Although it may be emotionally painful, make sure that you and your ex keep each other informed about changes in your life circumstances so that the child is never, ever the primary source of information.
- Commit to conducting yourself with emotional integrity.
Focus your efforts on what your children need most during this difficult time: acceptance, assurance of safety, freedom from guilt or blame for their parents' break up, structure, a stable parent who has the strength to conduct business and the ability to just be a kid.
For more, read Post-Divorce Parenting Mistakes and Strategies or pick up your copy of Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family.