Sunday, 15 February 2015

How to co-parent like a boss

Whew my last post was pretty cathartic for me. I don't know about you guys but I felt amazing once it was done. I even managed to have a grown up conversation with my friend, and we both got a few things off our chest. I don't know where we will go from here, but it was one of the most honest conversations we had ever had.

Given that my aim at the moment is to get back into the swing of writing again, and I really have no idea how many people are still reading my stuff, I've decided to keep with the theme tonight and provide some advice for any one out there who is trying to co-parent with  an ex. I will preface today's post with a warning that what I am about to share in no way constitutes legal advice and I am in no way qualified to give any legal advice. This information is purely for entertainment purposes. If you or anyone you know is currently going through a custody battle, please seek advice from a qualified lawyer if you are having any issues.

Now that I have the formalities out of the way I should probably explain for any of you who are new to my special corner of the Internet that this conversation happens to be one of my specialities.  Not only do I see all kinds of custody battles all day thanks to my job as a legal clerk for a family law firm, but I then get to go home at the end of the day and deal with my own custody battle with Miss K's dad, Red. Of course given we separated before Miss K was born, I've been living this reality for over 4 years now. So what you are about to read are tried and true nuggets of wisdom.

1. Realise that you two have the same common goal in mind

This seems to be the hardest thing for anyone who has separated from the other parent of their children to ever accept. You've gone from being on the same page together, and creating the same life together to all of a sudden being on opposite sides of the fence, and it becomes easy to forget that just because your exes feelings towards you have changed, doesn't mean he or she doesn't love your children just as much, and they still want the exact same things for your children as you do. Once you can realise this, it can become easier to see their side of any argument. For the parent who is now removed from the family home, they have realised that they have to work even harder to maintain their sense of identity as a parent because their kid's lives will now be happening mostly out of sight. And for the parent who has just become the primary carer, they have just realised that their work load has increased tenfold, and all of the burdens and work that the two of you shared is now solely on one person's shoulders. Put this on top of making sure your kids emotional needs during a separation are taken care of and both parents are faced with a mammoth and daunting task. But you both still just want your kids to be happy, healthy and safe, and you both still want them to know how immensely they are loved and cared for. You both want to share in their joys and tears, and make sure they grow up to be good people. Take the knowledge of this fact and hold on to it tight. Repeat it to yourself as often as you can, especially if the two of you begin to argue, because that seems to be the first thing people lose sight of when battles begin over the kids.

2. Don't put the kids in the middle of your fights

Speaking of fights there will be lots of fights. Even Miss K's dad Red and I argue, on an occasional (or sometimes regular) basis, sometimes about the most trivial things. You've got a lot to defend now that your former partner is now an ex, and things can get heated. Neither of you is going to want to compromise now, and the stakes are higher than ever before because it's your flesh and blood you're fighting for. It is important that the kids aren't made to pick sides if or when this happens. As far as they are concerned, they still love both of you the same as they did when you were together. They don't see what either of you did to fall out of love with each other, because as far as they are concerned you two are both awesome. So to all of a sudden try to make them pick sides is unfair. In order to protect your children from your fight don't make them spy for you when at the other parent's house. Nor should you let them hear you speaking badly about each other. Red and I made that a part of our parenting plan when we drafted it up, that we'd never speak ill of each other or any other family member whenever Miss K was around. What's more we also promised in the plan to stop anyone else from doing the same. Miss K loves her whole family, and neither of us want that spoilt.

3. Don't try to be the "Better Parent"

It is so tempting to try to one-up each when it comes to currying favour with your kids. Non-primary caregivers will use the excuse that they don't see the kids as often anymore, so it's their right to spoil the kids a little more when they do see them, to make up for lost time. I can see the logic in their argument, but it serves no one in the long run. Children are very good at manipulating the system, and will quickly learn how to use your desperation to prove you are still a good parent to their own benefit. It is important to remember that just because you are now a single parent doesn't mean that your children no longer need rules or boundaries. Nor does it mean that just because they ask you for something that you absolutely must get it for them. When the three of us get together, Miss K loves trying to bounce both Red and I off one another, and if one of us says no to something the first thing she does is go straight to the other parent and ask them for the same thing. We've had to learn to tell her that we're both the boss, so if one of us says no, then the answer is no from both. If we think the other parent is being unreasonable we will discuss it, but for the most part we're both happy to back each other up. So far Miss K will still run straight to me to dob on daddy if he says no, but soon she'll learn that I'm not there to undermine his authority.

4. Learn to pick your battles

This one is tricky. There can be a lot of anger surrounding the ending of a relationship, and when there are children involved, it is even easier to transfer this anger towards the other parent's capability to care for the kids. Total bans on junk food, changes to a child's appearance, and the kind of people you associate with when the kids are around can be common limitations that parents try to put on each other, and fights like this never end well. It is important that you remember that trying to enforce restrictions like this can always turn around and bite you in the rear. It is more important to try to learn to compromise with each other. Making life difficult, and punishing your ex for the breakdown of your relationship through the children serves no good purpose in the long run.

5. Accept that you and your ex will need to have a relationship forever

Once upon a time that sounded like a favourable prospect. But now you have severed all romantic ties with the father or mother of your child, and yet you're still stuck having to see them regularly, and talk to them constantly. Even once you've navigated the initial mine field that is the custody battle, you will still possibly have to associate with them at handovers, school concerts, sports days, birthday parties, and one day when they get married, they will hopefully want both of you there. Then come the grand kids who will hopefully love both of their grandparents as much as their mum or dad does, so you need to start the cycle again for the next generation. My parents have been separated since I was 12, and every single time one of us kids has a birthday, both of them show up. Same for the grand kids. Same for every other special events any of us hold. So even 21 years after their marriage ended my parents are stuck having to see each other. Of course it's not as regular now that we're all grown up and making families of our own, but it still happens and will keep happening until one of them dies. And of course they don't really enjoy seeing each other, and there are times where I wish I could choose to invite just one parent instead of having to deal with the guilt of sticking both of them in a room together, but that's just the facts of life when parents separate. I was actually very lucky growing up because there was less arguing between my parents once their relationship ended. They were able to move past it and focus on raising us as civilly as possible quickly. It is because of their relationship that I have managed to create a strong co-parent relationship with Red.

6. Accept that you will both make mistakes

You are both still human. You will both still screw up because of this. I remember when Miss K was younger, her and Red were roughhousing together on the carpet and he actually managed to give her a carpet burn thanks to carelessness. I was so furious at him for hurting her, even though she didn't even seem to notice the abrasion. I didn't let him forget about it for months afterwards, even though it wasn't a major injury. Since then Miss K has given herself carpet burn on no less than two other occasions, but these were never the same big deal because it was self-inflicted. Had we still been together, I probably wouldn't have reacted as strongly, because I only started thinking of him as a giant incompetent child right before we broke up, so his mistake would have simply been human error and not a major blunder. Just as we need to learn to forgive ourselves for making mistakes, we need to learn to forgive our exes. None of us know what we're doing when it comes to raising our children, and that seems to magnify the minute you become a single parent.

If anyone else can think of anything that I have missed then please feel free to drop it in a comment below. I love hearing how other single parents cope with the battles that come with our territory, so come on in and have a say.

Well that's all from the front lines for now. Stay awesome people!
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