Some would say parenting is the most challenging, yet rewarding job on earth. I like to say it brings me my greatest joy and my deepest grief. A bit like growing a second heart and wearing it on your sleeve everyday. But what happens in regards to parenting when a couple decides to get divorced? It could make parenting, specifically coparenting, extra challenging. Coparenting with someone who hurt you can add a whole other layer–a whole new dynamic and a new set of challenges to raising children.
Parents getting divorced can find themselves in a relationship where mutual respect is non-existent and effective communication seems unattainable! The idea of trying to coparent might even seem like someone’s idea of a sick joke!
But even though coparenting with someone who hurt you can feel challenging, frustrating, and hopeless, it can work if the couple is willing to put the children’s best interests first. It’s not easy, but it’s definitely possible.
Here are 5 tips to coparenting with someone you hurt you:
1. Deal with your own feelings.
In divorce, grief is to be expected. No one gets married with the intention of having kids and getting divorced. Grieving is a natural transition from ending this relationship, and moving on to the next stage of your life. Give yourself the opportunity to feel all the powerful emotions associated with your divorce. If you need support, get it. A coach, therapist, or support group can be life changing!
2. Keep communication brief, and child focused.
You and your ex no longer need to be sharing details of your lives with one another. When you communicate, use the BIFF method developed by Bill Eddy. BIFF means brief, informative, friendly and firm. If it’s not about the kids, it’s not relevant. It might not be this way forever. In time, when anger fades and both people learn to move on and find happiness, divorced couples can become friends. Even good friends, in some cases. But at the beginning of a divorce, and for some time, it’s important to stay businesslike and truly limit discussions to the kids. Bringing up the past is the worst thing you can do when trying to coparent.
3. Focus on your motivation.
Your motivation, of course, is raising healthy, happy, emotionally sound kids. But more specifically, stay focused on what you are trying to achieve. For example, if you want your ex to switch vacation days with you so that you can take your kids on a special trip, make that subject the only thing you discuss in a particular conversation.
In other words, ask him, tell him how wonderful it’s going to be for the kids, and then stop talking! Let him think about his answer and don’t bring up anything else that might be bothering you about him or the way he is parenting. Remember, always this is your goal. Ask yourself, “is this in line with my goal?”, if the answer is no, don’t do it!
4. Separate your parent mind from your spouse mind.
Try not to think of your ex as your ex, try to see him or her as your co-parent; someone with whom you are in the business of raising your children. Perhaps you can try to see them through the eyes of your children. For example, don’t think about the fact that he cheated, or that he is getting remarried, or that he was abusive towards you five years ago.
Leave the past in the past. All you need from him at this point is to be the best parent possible for your children. That might sound cold, and I’m not saying you should stop caring about what happens to him, but he isn’t your husband anymore, he is the father of your children.
5. Forgive your Co-parent.
No, I promise, I’m not crazy! Perhaps the hardest part of coparenting with someone who hurt you is forgiving him. The idea of forgiveness might sound repugnant to you. It might feel like you are being asked to forget how they hurt you, or condone their behavior. That is not true at all!
Webster’s New World College Dictionary defines the word forgive: 1. To give up resentment against or the desire to punish; stop being angry with; pardon; 2. To give up all claim to punish or exact penalty for (an offense); overlook; 3. To cancel or remit (a debt). This definition says nothing about forgetting about or condoning an offense, nor does it say anything about the forgiving person appearing weak. It simply says that by forgiving you give up your resentment and your anger.
When you hold on to your anger and resentment, you suffer. In fact, researchers have found that hostility is related to a range of physical problems, including increased blood pressure and heart problems. But there are other ways that holding on to your hostility, anger, and resentment can hurt you. By focusing on your negative feelings, you are less able to concentrate on your responsibilities as a parent, and you are giving away your power as an individual while at the same time diminishing your ability to focus on the purpose and the meaning of your life. In other words, not forgiving is bad for you, and it’s bad for your children.
Bishop Desmond Tutu once said that there’s nothing more destructive than resentment and anger and revenge. “In a way,” Bishop Tutu said, “to forgive is the best form of self-interest, because I’m also releasing myself from the bonds that hold me captive.”
In closing, coparenting with someone who hurt you isn’t easy. It can feel unfair, or like you have to walk on eggshells, or like you are faking your feelings. But once you see the benefits of following these tips–benefits to your kids and to you, it will start to feel normal and life will be so much easier and less stressful. In other words, most everyone walks away from a divorce feeling hurt, but if you can set aside the hurt, just for when it comes to the kids, you will benefit tremendously.
I’m here to help if you’d like a consultation on how to better coparent with your spouse or former spouse.
Rita Morris, M.A., LMHC is a Certified Life Coach, a Parenting Coach, a veteran therapist, and a mom of two. Rita, who holds a Masters degree in education and who has been a practicing psychotherapist since 2003, specializes in helping men and women during and after divorce with coparenting through strategies to ensure their children thrive. Rita also has a concentration in helping parents with kids who have ADHD and anxiety disorders.