Co-parenting sucks. I’m talking from the vantage point of being a divorced mom, and having to somehow navigate the arduous path of raising great kids with someone you can’t even live with. Oh, I’m sure co-parenting for married couples isn’t easy, either – one parent is usually still the disciplinarian while the other is the “fun” parent, and that kind of sucks, too. But when the disciplinarian and the “fun” parent don’t occupy the same household, it makes things a tad more challenging.
I’ve been co-parenting my children for the past 10 years, since my son was 4 and my daughter was 2. They were young, but I actually think it was better because it’s really all they’ve known. I think it was easier that we were able to make the transition before they were really old enough to understand what was going on.
Their young ages also gave me a lot more time to really think about how I wanted to do this whole divorce and co-parenting thing, and if you ask anyone that knows me – and here’s my humble brag – they will tell you that I have handled it with far more grace and tolerance than they could have. And I probably have. In fact, the only other person I’ve ever even heard of that has been able to come out with such an amicable relationship with their ex is Arianna Huffington herself. I have executed exactly what I set out to do, for the benefit of my kids, since the day my ex and I separated, and here are the five things that have gotten me to where I am today.
1) Take the high road.
No matter what. All. The. Time. My marriage ended because he had an affair. And they’re still together. With 2 kids of their own. But as angry and humiliated and sad as I was, I was still able to acknowledge that we’d had almost 20 years together filled with fun times and great memories. I have too much optimism and positivity inside me to feel that I had to throw that all away. Instead, I picked myself off the floor, got divorced and stayed strong while also recognizing that it had been a fun ride while it lasted.
2) Think hard about the example you want to set for your kids.
I’ve had friends whose parents were divorced, and some of them couldn’t even be in the same room together. They hated each other. This sometimes even materialized into one of the parents not being at their graduation or their wedding. But no matter what went on with my kids’ dad and me, it wasn’t my kids’ fault at all. So I made damn sure to do the right thing, be able to smile and actually enjoy being together as a family for the kids’ benefit.
3) Be nice to the outlaws.
I mean, they’re no longer the in-laws, so they’re the outlaws now, right? The point is that obviously things will never be the same with them, either. If you never liked them to begin with, this could be the perfect excuse to limit their time with your kids. But here’s the thing – they’re still your kids’ grandparents. I wasn’t close with my grandparents, and I grew up jealous of my friends who were. So refer to tip #1 here. I’ve taken the high road and never gotten in the way of them seeing my kids, even when I knew they were bad-mouthing me behind my back. My logic is that my kids see me doing the right thing, allowing them to be together and even all of us celebrating big family milestones together. And my kids deserve that, don’t they?
4) Don’t bad-mouth your ex in front of your kids.
I know, I know, easier said than done. And I may have had a few things slip out of my mouth that maybe shouldn’t have. But, I can probably count the number of times that’s happened in 10 years on one hand, and that’s a pretty good stat, all things considered. I’ve also kept my mouth shut and zipped my lips hundreds of times without responding to things my kids have repeated from their dad. How, you ask? Because I don’t want to be that mom. I want to be the mom that my kids turn to when they’re grown up, and say to me “wow mom, I never even realized how hard those years were for you, but I’m so glad you never made us feel like we had to choose between you and dad.” It may be wishful thinking that they’ll ever actually say that to me, but at least hopefully they’ll feel it.
5) Don‘t micromanage.
Omg, this is probably one of my biggest struggles, and I work on it daily. As a mom, there are obviously things that are ok and not ok for my kids to do, and duh, I’m always right. So when my ex decides to let them do something – like have sleepovers on school nights – that I would not approve of, I have learned to take a deep a breath (or clench my teeth) and just try to stay calm. He’s not putting them in harm’s way, so I cannot micromanage what he does with the kids on his time. I know married couples where the dad lets the kids do things the mom wouldn’t allow, and it’s really kind of the same. It just pisses me off more than it probably does them.
So where has all of this gotten me? I’m proud to say that it’s gotten me to the point where my ex and I can be the chaperones at my daughter’s birthday party, sitting at a table alone with his other daughter. And have a normal conversation. It’s gotten me to the point where it’s never weird to go to the kids’ school events together and save each other a seat. Do I get annoyed at their dad? Of course. As do all of my friends that are still married. But ultimately, it’s gotten me to exactly where I was hoping to be, and I think my kids are better off because of it.
This essay originally appeared in Arianna Huffington’s platform Thrive Global