The Ultimate Guide To Improve Your Co-parenting Relationship
A co-parenting relationship means that both parents share the responsibility for raising children. This includes sharing household duties, childcare responsibilities, and financial obligations. But what happens in single-parent households?
Depending on how amicable the split was, this usually, but not always, dictates the association in the future. Ideally, the relationship is positive; a co-parenting approach comprises minimal conflict, mutual respect, open and honest communication, cooperation, and sharing parenting decisions.
This is the perfect situation for children. Despite this, many single parents find it exceedingly difficult to achieve. If it ever happens, it may take several years to reach this stage. Instead, they find themselves in toxic, aggressive and manipulative situations.
Emotions and stress levels run high, often in the early years. Throw in the involvement of courts for asset division and establishment of care routines, and the most level-headed person can lose their composure. Then, add the reason for the split, the personality traits and potential third-party involvement to fuel the fire.
So what is a mum to do? Here are five things I have learned through my experience and talking to other single mothers’ co-parenting struggles.
Co-parenting relationship tip no.1 – Stay Calm
It’s easier said than done. First, not losing your temper when dealing with another parent can be as hard as attempting a handstand scorpion in a yoga class. Taking deep breaths, counting to 10, and even biting your tongue can be useless in some circumstances. But don’t give up.
They say kids know which buttons to push to evoke a nuclear anger explosion. Many ex-partners also have this gift. Some do it spitefully, some unknowingly. The bottom line is that you go out with the best, calmest intentions, and before you know it, you a ripping them a new one, or vice versa.
Prepare for It
The key is to go out prepared. Expect a World War Three and arm for it. You know your ex best; you know the things they can say or do that can inflame your temper. Be ready for it. Just because you have split up does not mean that those triggers have not gone away. Expecting different behaviour from your ex-partner sets you up for a fall. This is not to say that they cannot change, given the time we all do, but managing your expectations is in your hands and a great tool to set inner calm within.
Meditation is an underused tool that assists you in acting from a space of awareness. Meaning you respond, not react to your surroundings. Take some time to visualise what can go wrong during your discussions, and see yourself responding calmly. Then, explore different scenarios and formulate your responses. Finally, create a mantra or anchor that can bring you back if you feel yourself losing it.
An anchor is a great NLP tool, a practice of attaching an emotional response to a physical gesture, allowing you to actively bring about a calm response in a very discrete way. I’ll be happy to teach you if you want to know more or learn its simplicity.
Co-parenting relationship tip no.2 – Stay Strong
I wish for all single-parent co-parenting relationships to be non-manipulative or toxic. However, sometimes one or both parents might find themselves being played or coerced. If you are to improve your relations, you cannot let the other parent control you.
Becoming aware of how you perceive your world is a significant 1st step. Do you see everything rosy, or are you overcritical? What are your expectations of the world, and how much do you value yourself? What are your values and boundaries? By being clear on these, you can recognise the areas where your defence is weaker and then take steps to improve. Remember, you are the only one from whom you can expect change.
Then analyse your ex with compassion. It is easy to say he is noxious, annoying or downright evil and sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we cannot see past those flaws. At this time, I encourage you to look at him through your child’s eyes or imagine he is your son. Are his actions excusable? Probably not, but it changes the way you view them. Alternatively, you can envision him as an inanimate object or a stranger. Do his actions or words hold as much sway? Most likely not.
Compassion is Key
The above may seem like a strange exercise, but it helps. It’s not designed to belittle the other half’s wrongdoings or to excuse them. Instead, it assists you in staying objective in how you view what’s transpiring around you and dictates how you respond. Helping you to stay strong and not be triggered by their attempts to derail you.
Such exercise also allows you to resolve conflict more effectively. In order to resolve disputes, you must first understand what the other party wants, and then you can work to reach a compromise. By changing your perception of your ex, you put an effective emotional buffer in place, making communicating more manageable and thus discovering each other’s needs.
Being clear on your boundaries and vigilantly enforcing them is also a must. Not only does that set up expectations on how you want to be treated by the other parent, but it is also a valuable skill to teach your children.
Co-parenting tip no.3 – Stay Healthy
It is a no-brainer that when we are rested and healthy, we deal with life’s ups and downs better. The same applies to our single-patent co-parenting relationship. Thus looking after our physical and mental health is paramount in improving our relations.
Eating a healthy diet, exercising and honouring our downtime have been promoted left, right, and centre by many health professionals and health gurus. Still, many mums are lacking in this department. I do not mean to sound critical; I am utterly guilty of putting everyone else’s needs before mine, which leads to a massive shortfall in this department. Time and money constraints do not help, and I won’t even start on motivation.
Yet, if we wish to improve our relationships, we must begin with ourselves. These days there are great apps and programs made by single mums just like you who understand your life. My favourite The Healthy Mummy caterers to these by providing quick value-packed sessions of exercise routines, recipe ideas and health products, boosting your health, self-esteem and body confidence. The products and services are budget-friendly too, which is a great plus.
For mental clarity, you can not go past Down Dog, which I use religiously. Meditations, yoga, pilates, HIIT, running, barre, they even have prenatal yoga! Their plans are very reasonable, and they are the only company I know that will give you a limited free membership if you struggle financially and mentally.
Talk it Out
Talking to family and friends is tremendously beneficial, and their support is valuable. Yet we might find our relations strained if all we talk about is how the ex is doing us wrong. However, a positive co-parenting relationship does not need to come at the price of other meaningful relationships. Seeing professional help is much more accepted these days. Although before your 1st visit, you might experience anxiety about talking to a stranger about your matters, you will find you will be much more settled post.
There are many counselling and psychology services available. Online, in person or via phone. A mental health plan from your GP can assist in covering costs and is a great place to start your mental health journey. However, if you find that your local well-being centre has a long waiting list, seeking out counsellors who practice online will get you to help sooner. Single Mama Way services are provided in the comfort of your home, over a secure connection and do not break the bank either. Book a first consult free here.
Co-parenting relationship tip no.4 – Stay Aware
Kids learn by observing others. You can talk yourself blue, and they won’t listen, yet do something once, and they will surely parrot you, especially when it comes to negative behaviour. Their world is also immensely impacted by the quality of your co-parenting relationship. They, after all, are the reason it exists. Thus their needs should always be at the forefront.
Staying aware and regulating your behaviour around the other parent and your children is vital in improving your relations. By bringing awareness into your actions, you aid your sanity and reduce stress for your kids. Utilising the tools mentioned above aids your insight into your behaviour. It makes this process easier, especially in the early days of separation or around divorce court proceedings.
An American practice, Milavets Law, talks of parallel parenting. If you can not have a positive single-parent co-parenting relationship, aim for it to be parallel. Please have a read of their insightful children and divorce guide here. A parallel co-parent relationship is treated like a business project with someone you do not like but must remain professional. It is not warm and fuzzy with Dad coming over for tea. Still, it sets up a civil, regulated working relationship that is the rearing of your greatest gift.
Co-parenting tip no.5 – Stay Real
Finally, permit yourself to feel frustrated, lose your temper and throw in the towel occasionally. You are not a saint or a Buddhist monk. There will be days when any relationship is hard work. Despite your best intentions, disagreements will happen.
Thus be kind to yourself. Acknowledge the slip-up if it happened in front of your children. Apologise and explain to them. You are trying hard, but at the end of the day, you are human. Apologise to your ex, if you can, just as you would to a work colleague. Apologising does not mean you take the blame but share responsibility. Forgive them and yourself. You may not be at this stage yet, and that is ok too. It is a work in progress.