I was chatting with a friend recently about the differences in the way we coparent with our exes.
“You and your ex have such a good coparenting style. Your kids are well adjusted and it seems to work. I wish I could have that.”
I started to respond with, “You can!” because deep down, I really want to believe that.
I sat down to write and started thinking about all the people I know who are coparenting and it struck me: they’re all doing different things. This is because each of us is such a different person, that there is no ONE plan that will work for everyone.
I know some people who had such horrible, scarring, devastating divorces that I’m not sure they’ll ever get to peace. I usually tell people who are in the midst of a divorce that they just need time. Time heals. But, to be honest, I’m not sure that is true. Time will make the pain and scarring lessen, but if the person carrying that painful story doesn’t do the work (and it IS work), to come to peace with their circumstances, it won’t ever be peaceful. Pain and anger are sneaky. They lay dormant for a while, making you forget that they still reside within you until something triggers them and then it’s like they’re angry at being silent for too long and they come out in a volcano of emotion.
I know one woman who was so angry, she fought like a true warrior when her marriage was crumbling. She was hateful, she screamed, she withheld her child, she threatened to take everything from her husband, she was HUGE with anger. In the end, she had to admit she didn’t even want to be married anymore! She had been talking about divorce with her therapist before her husband even mentioned it. But she was scared. And if she wanted to divorce that would be one thing, because she would be in control. But when her husband left HER, she was no longer in control and she got angry and…scared.
I wish I had a “method” for divorce to ensure that everyone can go through the process and remain unscathed but that’s just not possible. I can only write this because I am six years out from my divorce. I didn’t do all the right things at the right time. I did the best I could–truly.
I have some ideas, things I learned from my experience that I think might help and I’d like to share those. None of this is new news but sometimes a reminder is helpful.
9 Things You Need to Know About Coparenting
- Listen to what you need and either make it happen or ask for help. Asking for help is not weakness, it is courageous to put yourself out there and admit, you’re not superhuman.
- Allow yourself to feel the emotions. Don’t try and bottle everything up and put on a false happy façade. BUT, find a safe space to feel and share those emotions and that’s not in front of your kids. It’s not a bad thing to cry in front of them, you are human and they need to see that, but explain that you’re feeling sad and you’re getting it out through your tears, so you can let the happy in. Hug them and let them know they are safe. Then call a friend, go see a therapist, journal–whatever you need to do to get it out.
- Resist the urge to bad-mouth your ex to your kids. This is ONE piece of advice I feel strongest about. There is no good to come from trying to get your kids to hate their other parent. It might feel good to YOU but life isn’t all about you. You’re the adult. Save that talk for your social circle and if you don’t have one, find a message board online, rant on Facebook or in your journal.
- Beef up the self-care. Indulge in more time for you, it’s ok, you need it. Take that walk, bike ride, swim. Lay in the bath longer, read more books. Go to a Happy Hour with friends and enjoy it. Your kids will benefit from seeing you happy and taking care of yourself.
- Give up the need for control! I am still not good at this one. Realize you and your ex are different. Don’t expect them to parent the same way you do. They won’t. Let them do what they think is best and unless you truly feel like what they’re doing is endangering your kids, keep your mouth shut. You’re both doing what you can to survive right now. If that means the kids eat junk food at the other house and watch too much TV, so be it. As long as they eat, sleep and are taken care of, they’ll be fine.
- If your ex is a man, remember he’s not a “mom”. He does not have that maternal instinct you do and we need to stop thinking that men can somehow “learn” this. They can’t, they’re men. If you want to understand the sexes better, I highly recommend the books, “Understanding Women” and “The Amazing Development of Men” by Alison Armstrong. I am not affiliated with her but I listened to both audiobooks and it was fascinating and truly helped me understand both sexes better. I am not a man. My ex is not a woman. We need to each play to our strengths and stop expecting the impossible.
- Love your kids more than you hate your ex. Period.
- Repeat the phrase, “This too shall pass,” and meditate daily on the fact that it is true. It will pass. It will get easier, maybe not ever perfect but it will get easier.
- If you have an ex who just won’t let go, who can’t contain the anger or who is doing the opposite of everything listed above – RISE UP! You can’t change them so don’t expend energy trying to do so. RISE UP and be the bigger person. Not in a competitive way but for your own sanity. Love your kids, be kind to yourself and allow them to rant, rage and act out. Shield yourself and do not stoop to that level.
You’ll make mistakes. You’ll make a comment you wish you could take back. You’ll do things that don’t follow the “shoulds” of how people should act. It’s ok. Have compassion for yourself and if you can, have some for your ex. They’re hurting, they’re scared and they’re sad. Divorce is always sad, even if both parties wanted it. It is an ending but one that (if you have kids) still has ties.
Be kind. To yourself, your kids and even your ex. You’ll end up at peace if you keep kindness in mind.