Don’t you feel like there’s a reality show for everything these days? Reality dating and divorce shows seem to be the new craze right now, which is of particular interest to me (obviously.) This includes “Co-Parenting 101” a new NBC reality show in production.
I recently had the pleasure of auditioning with one of the casting directors for the show, who asked me what tips I had to offer divorced parents about co-parenting.
Before I give 8 tips I shared, let me explain what effective co-parenting means to me:
- Working together to help your kids through rough times and assist them in solving their problems. Examples: bad grades, peer pressure.
- Being on the same page to raise your kids with good values and shape them into productive, loving, caring, happy adults.
- Together, helping them make decisions so they can achieve their goals and fulfill their dreams.
When kids see both their parents on the same page, it makes them realize a couple things:
- This is the correct way of doing things. – in other words, not just my mom feels this way, but so does my dad, so it must be right.
- I’m not going to get away with crap because both my parents are against me doing this. In other words, I can’t go ask dad because my mom said no.
- My parents love me enough to talk to each other, even after their divorce. That makes me special and loved.
So, with that said, here are 8 tips for more effective co-parenting:
- Communicate. When people get divorced, the last thing they want to do is talk to their ex. Think about it. They just spent many miserable months or years together, followed by a non-pleasant divorce. Since divorce and the hostility in the aftermath almost always stems from some kind of resentment, having conversations with the person who hurt you and/or broke your heart isn’t exactly an attractive idea. All that said, if you stop talking, your kids are the ones who suffer. So, it’s a complicated dynamic. It isn’t necessary to constantly communicate, or to talk on the phone for hours, but for those of you who are stubborn and are saying things like, “I will never, ever speak to him again as long as I live,” think again. Because you really are doing a disservice to your kids.
- Don’t play the blame game. Example: let’s say you are deciding what to do about your child’s bad grades. Is it necessary to say something to your ex like, “Well, when he’s at your house, he doesn’t get enough sleep, so I think that’s the reason his grades have dropped.” It’s Ok to think it, but saying it will hinder your co-parenting efforts, which is bad for your kids.
- Leave the past in the past. It is very important when communicating to co-parent to avoid bringing up things from the past that have nothing to do with the benefit of your kids. For example, conversations between divorced people can always lead to harsh statements like, “Well, maybe if you didn’t cheat, we’d still be married and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.” Is that helping your kids? No.
- Forget societal norms. It’s really sad, but society makes us believe that if you are kind and you get along with your ex, that is strange. It might even be off-putting to the new people that the divorced couple are dating or married to. Don’t stoop to that level. Being friendly and kind to your ex is good. People might say, “After what she did to you, how can you be that nice to her?” The best answer: “Because it is good for my kids.”
- Consider going to a therapist together. I know, you just got out of failed marriage therapy for years. Now I’m telling you to go back? You might be thinking, “Forget it!” But a therapist can help teach a couple how to talk to each other in divorce, making co-parenting easier and more effective, and keeping kids happier and well adjusted.
- Remember that there are boundaries. Good co-parenting and getting along like two old friends doesn’t mean there is hope you are getting back together. It might be hard for some couples to be friendly, because maybe one of them will interpret it as wanting to get back together. Or, maybe if there are still feelings there, it’s just too sad. Try to remember that co-parenting is all about the kids and what is best for them. It might be hard, but you are doing it for them.
- Try to put yourself into your kids’ shoes. My parents are still married, so it’s sometimes hard for me to know how my kids are feeling. But if you try to think, “How would I feel if I was a 12 year old, and if my mom wouldn’t let my dad come into her house?” it might cause you to let your ex come in. It might help you make the right decision. Not saying it’s easy, by the way.
- Co-parenting is really about being selfless. The bottom line about co-parenting is, it’s about putting the best interest of your kids ahead of your feelings and your ego. Grit your teeth, suck it up, deal with it. Your kids didn’t ask to be born into parents who ended up apart. So, if you love them, put them ahead of your hurt and make it work with your ex.
Remember that I am not a therapist, but that I am the real deal. I’ve lived this. There have been times I made mistakes and exhibited bad co-parenting behavior, and there have been times I am proud of the actions I took to effectively co-parent. What I’m saying is, I didn’t arrive here overnight. I messed up at times. That doesn’t make me a bad person, just human.
In closing, effective co-parenting can end up being a really pleasant experience, because even though you are no longer married, you are raising your children together, which is truly what your babies need, and what in the end is fulfilling.
If you are interested in having a better co-parenting situation, you and your ex should audition to be a contestant on NBC’s “Co-parenting 101!” Here’s how: