By Ebony Reddock
Before my husband and I married, we were a baby-mama and baby-daddy to our son. Sharing parenting responsibility with an ex can be difficult. I’m almost ashamed to admit some of the things I did, like the time I slapped him with keys or cursed him out in a church parking lot. I know he has moments he wants to forget too. But after some rough patches, we got to the point where we could co-parent cooperatively. I’m sure you’re thinking we could work cooperatively only because we were still interested in a relationship. But the truth is that we learned to cooperate way before we married or even began dating again.
Co-parenting isn’t just sharing custody of a kid and doing what you do while he do what he do. It’s making decisions about your child together, about schools or health care. While I’m writing this with exes in mind, the fact is that married or otherwise stable couples have to work at co-parenting too. There is one prerequisite to co-parenting: it requires two people. If your current or former partner isn’t interested in being cooperative, then you will need to set boundaries for yourself and your kids. But you can still use some of these suggestions to keep the tension low as possible.
Co-parenting can feel unnecessary or weird at first, especially if it’s different than how you were raised. I grew up in a family where women ruled the roost. Some women in my family didn’t understand why I didn’t just tell my son’s father what he had to do and be done with it. Let’s just say that strategy didn’t sit well with him. Trying to parent differently was the hardest thing for me. But we wanted our son to grow up knowing he had two parents who loved him so much that they were willing to put their drama aside for him. Here are five suggestions that helped us as we learned to co-parent successfully:
5 Ways To Successfully Co-parent
1. Put Emotions Aside: If there are two things that most people get super emotional about, it’s children and relationships. But you can’t co-parent if you let your emotions lead the way. If you need help with that, try to imagine yourself ten years from now, answering your kid when he or she asks you why you and Daddy hate each other. And sometimes, you have to fake it ’til you make it. Treat each other with respect, even if you don’t genuinely feel that way. Even play nice with his family, if you can. When my now-husband and I put our drama aside for our son, that’s when we started to work as a team.
2. Set Ground Rules: You both have issues that are important to you. But other issues? Not so much. Decide what’s non-negotiable and what’s negotiable. Is McDonald’s every once in a while really gonna kill your kid? Probably not. But will your ex taking your son to Uncle Charlie the drug dealer’s house? Maybe. When you’re co-parenting with an ex, you have to be firm about the issues that are non-negotiable, but flexible on the rest. Don’t forget to set rules about child support too. Automatically getting the courts involved is not always the answer. We stayed out of the courts, which was good for us. For others, getting the courts involved might be the better option. Talk this, and all issues, over with your ex. AND–don’t just set ground rules–make a commitment to honor them too.
3. Be Patient: It took at least two persistent years, a lot of arguments and long conversations before we could say we trusted each other. Learning to co-parent takes time, especially when there isn’t trust there. And that’s usually the case with exes. Unless you’re one of those couples that broke up amicably, you probably have issues you’re still upset about. Healing from that, and being able to work cooperatively, takes time.
4. Keep It Classy: I know I don’t have to say this to you–this is for someone else, right? Don’t become the aggressive baby-mama and baby-daddy fighting in the street, or the baby-mama and baby-daddy still messing around and confusing their child. Keeping it classy with my son’s father was definitely not something I was good at in the beginning. I already shared with you my tendency to fly off the handle. If you’re co-parenting with an ex, there’s bound to be some messy feelings. Maybe it’s anger. Maybe it’s sexual attraction. But don’t muddy the waters with some temporary nonsense from an argument or baby-daddy sex. It will make learning to co-parent that much harder.
5. Spend Time Together With Your Child: Even though you aren’t in a relationship, you are still family because you share a child together. Once you have gotten past any beginning awkwardness from co-parenting, make a point to spend time together with your child. Go to the movies. Take your child out to lunch. Go to the park. It helps you learn to work cooperatively, and your child sees that you are a team.
It may take a while before you see the fruits of your labors. But if both of you are committed to being co-parents, you will eventually see that work pay off. How do you and your child’s father work cooperatively? What kinds of ground rules are non-negotiable for you?
Ebony Reddock is a wife, mother of two, writer, researcher and workshop facilitator on mothers’ health and wellness. She is also an advocate promoting social, political and economic conditions that help mothers take care of themselves and their families. Her mission is to support mothers who want to live healthier, more balanced lives. Visit her at her website: www.ecreddock.com