The term 'co-parenting' can be a detriment. It is a mushy and loving word, but many people in these situations are not feeling mushy and loving. As a divorced co-parenting teacher and therapist, I often hear comments like, "It is absurd to think that we are co-parenting!" or "My ex is a bully and has no interest in compromising and communicating. How do you co-parent with someone who has NO interest in co-parenting?".
The problem with the term 'co-parenting' is it implies that the two people in the relationship can cooperate and communicate. And that if they can't, they are hurting their children. So even if your intention is to communicate effectively, you cannot MAKE the other person do it. People get frustrated because they feel like they try, but they can't control what their "co-parent" does. When you are holding out hope that your ex will co-parent with you, and then they don't, things get worse.
Here's the thing: you both don't need to be on board for you to make things better. If you are in a conflict with your ex and feel like you can't communicate with him/her, you can still significantly improve the situation just by the changes that you make within yourself.
Here are four ways to make co-parenting with your ex easier for YOU:
1. Accept what you can't control.
You could spend a lot of time and energy being aggravated by the things your co-parent does, but don't waste time trying to change what you can't change! Instead, channel that energy into some quality time with your kids. Learning to accept what you can't control is NOT easy because it ends in grief, but even though grief is uncomfortable, it's an important (and necessary!) step toward moving on. Accepting what you can't control frees up emotional energy that'll benefit your kids—no matter what your ex does.
2. Be PRESENT with your kids.
Don't waste the time you have with your kids being upset about your co-parent (or co-parenting situation). Why? Because when you're upset, you aren't present. And studies show that being present is the most important thing we can do for our kids! Pay attention to them and be practice mindfulness—focus on your breath, thoughts, feelings and physical sensations.
3. Make your home a calm and secure environment.
Since there are many things that you can't control or change about your ex, the best thing to do for your kids is provide a calm, grounded and secure environment. If your kids are brought up in two homes, one emotionally chaotic and the other calm and stable, they will learn how to be calm and stable. However, if they grow up in two homes that BOTH emotionally chaotic, they will only learn how to be emotionally chaotic. Believing that your ex will ruin your kids creates emotional distress that contributes to your home being unstable, which you dont' want. Be aware of your beliefs and shift them to create a positive environment for your kids.
4. Focus on what is GOOD.
Many divorced co-parents have a great deal of guilt about the effect the divorce has on their kids. It's easy to focus on what's wrong and forget all the things that are right for your kids. Notice good moments—they don't have to be extraordinary, they just have to be GOOD. When you are not with your kids, imagine those moments and feel good about them. Remember that your ex can't take these moments away from you and your kids. And NEVER underestimate the positive effect these feel-good moments have on your kids'!