"The best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other."
- Jane Blaustone
Parenting, like so many other things in 2016, has evolved dramatically since the 70's, 80's and dare I say -- even the 90's! This evolution of parenting has taken us away from the traditional sense of family, which consisted of Dad, Mom, brothers + sisters. According to Google, family is now define as a group of parents and children living together in a household. In reality, we know that people identify family as close friends, someone who shares the same beliefs, people who live together and on and on and on. There is no strict definition of family anymore. There are blended families more now than there has ever been.
What is a blended family? Simply put: a blended family consists of me bringing my children from a previous relationship into our marriage and/or you bringing your children from a previous relationship into our marriage. Can I just stop for a second and be completely honest? Managing family relationships is hard! Managing blended family relationships is even more difficult! I firmly believe it can be done + living together peacefully is possible, but not without doing the work!
There is first your ex's thoughts on who you're dating/decide to marry. Then there are the child's feelings regarding the person you're dating/decide to marry. Next there are the child's feelings about the other parent's feelings about the person you're dating/decide to marry. Did I mention the person your significant other's feelings about your ex or your child? This list could go on and on depending on how many people are involved, the status your previous relationship ended on, the current status of your relationship with your ex + much more. Sadly many people move into new relationships before they even explore all of the feelings attached to the previous statements.
How do you master the art of co-parenting when you're still angry at your ex? How do you get your child to love their new step-parent when the other parent constantly makes negative statements about them? Why does your child feel like they have to choose a parent they love more? I will be honest with you: Although I am part of a blended family, I do not have all the answers! This is why I love the idea of a tribe of people committed to helping each other grow, because the answer I don't have - you may have. The answer I have - you may not have and would benefit from me sharing! In the meantime, here are several pieces of advice that I believe will help you master the art of co-parenting!
Agree to be respectful....to your ex! I can see some of you rolling your eyes, smacking your lips or thinking murderous thoughts already, but just give me a second here before you decide to stop reading! I did not say you have to love your ex. I didn't even say you had to like your ex. I said you should be respectful to them. Being respectful to your ex does not mean that they can disrespect you, but it does mean you make a conscious effort not to disrespect them. What do I mean? No matter how irritated (or pissed off because this is the real world) you get - you should try to be respectful to your ex! Being respectful to them goes a long way even when you think it isn't having an impact on them.
If your relationship ended rather rocky, there will most likely be conflict when you're learning to navigate the world of co-parenting. However, if you make a conscious choice to be civilized when you are dealing with your ex, their frustration + anger will eventually subside. I use the term eventually very loosely! Some people's anger subsides in 6 months, while other people's anger subsides gradually over the course of 6 years.
You should also try your absolute best never to say anything disrespectful or rude about your ex to your child and/or in the presence of your child. If you're thinking, what classifies as disrespect - ask yourself: Would I want my ex to say this about me? Is this something my ex would be upset about if they found out? Believe me that when I write these posts to you, I am not underestimating the difficulty of what I'm suggesting you do. I am offering you choices + challenges in an effort to help you improve your relationships!
Decide on limits...for everything! Kids are the biggest manipulators when adults are not communicating! If you think about it, I bet you can find at least 3 things you got frustrated about regarding your child + your ex. Got the 3 things? Now let's honestly look at the situation...was there an area where you + your ex could have communicated better that would have changed the outcome of the situation? Having trouble answering that question? I will give you an example: your teen is grounded from electronics at your house, but it's their weekend to go to your ex's house. When they return home on Sunday, you find out they've been all on social media and video games. You get angry, call your ex + start what you intended to be a "sensible discussion," but what ends as an all-out-verbal brawl. What could have eliminated this issue? Discussing the expectations for both environments in advance.
If the teen is on punishment at my house, does that punishment carry over to your house? If the punishment does not carry over to your house, is it possible to switch a weekend up in order to uphold the punishment? If the other parent had something planned that weekend, should you extend the punishment when the teen gets home? These questions might seem excessive, but they eliminate a lot of drama in the long run. Even though you are separated, will you still uphold the same beliefs? What is acceptable in your house? What is acceptable in mine? I would encourage you to explore these questions for yourself, then with your current significant other (because they play a role in co-parenting as well) + finally with your ex. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! The more you work together to respect each other + communicate on how to raise your child, the better relationship your child will have with both of you!
Be honest...! (Here's a nice throwback for you - thank me later! Ha! ) You need to be honest with yourself about how you're feeling, you need to be honest with your ex + most importantly you need to be honest with your child! Keeping in line with communication + being civil: be honest if you are frustrated. Sometimes there is no point in telling your ex you're frustrated, because they may not care depending on where the relationship is. How do you move past frustration when you disagree with something your ex wants to do? You're not going to like my answer, but... you should talk it out.
Obviously once you are both in a calm state of mind, you will need to talk about the differences and/or see if you can come to a compromise. If one or both of you is unwilling to compromise, you will need to talk about how you will deal with your disagreement. If you don't talk about how you will handle it, more than likely you will end up bad-mouthing your ex or saying something disrespectful when the issue is brought up. You may not be a couple anymore, but you are still parents over your child(ren) together. Separation of a marriage doesn't always have to be chaotic for the child(ren). If you're both at least committed to making their childhood as peaceful as possible - it can work.
It is very important to remain age-appropriate as far as the amount of detail you share with your child. Being honest is certainly important, because kids can sense when something is wrong with their parent(s). However, it's unnecessary to share with a 10 year old that their mother isn't coming to their final basketball game, because she thinks it's boring + the child is no good at the sport. This statement will most likely frustrate you, but it is not appropriate to share with the child. It might be more appropriate to say their Mom isn't coming, because she had some other things to take care of OR to allow the mother to explain why she can't make. Any way you look at the situation it's going to be a hard conversation to have, but lying to your child will not make things easier.
Finally, as parents of blended families, you must offer yourself grace! This is hard, because there are so many emotions attached to the situation. You may be feeling guilty for divorcing, you may be feeling guilty about bringing children into the marriage or you may be feeling really bad that your child has a parent that isn't as invested in them as you are. There are a number of things you could be feeling + parenting is not easy - even if you don't have a blended family! SO go easy on yourself when you're trying your best!
How are you mastering the art of co-parenting? Did I miss any helpful tips? Is there anything you have found particularly helpful? Leave a comment below or join us in the FTHC Tribe Lounge to discuss it!