This post is also a reader question, but since I couldn’t think of anything else for the letter “X,” I got creative.
“I’ve been reading your posts for a couple of months now, and you’ve mentioned that your ex-husband and you have figured out how to become friends. I am recently separated and I found this both interesting and impossible. My future ex-husband and I are very hostile toward each other. Could you start an advice column full of tips for co-parenting? We have an 11 year old son and a 2 year old daughter. Thanks.”
Interesting and impossible, Jul? I have to disagree, at least that co-parenting is impossible. Yes, it takes time, but it’s definitely doable, and necessary.
A backstory in case I haven’t told it before – Jordan and I started dating a few weeks before my 18th birthday. I had broken up with my high school sweetheart right before I moved to Jordan’s neck of the woods, and I was depressed and on the rebound. But I was also adorable with long highlighted caramel hair and curves in all the right places. I was also still a virgin, so of course, this appealed to Jordan, who was/is 7 years older than me.
Within 3 weeks, I’d lost my virginity. Within 6 months, I was engaged. Within 9 months, I was pregnant with Lexi. Within a year, we were married. Within 3 years, I was separated with 2 children, at 22 years of age.
So I was wildly immature, the mother of 2 and paying some attorney thousands and thousands of dollars to try to keep those kids. I was so angry at Jordan for fighting for custody that, for me, it was all about revenge. And he was so hurt that I’d left that he was fighting me equally hard. We couldn’t talk about anything. We had to go through our lawyers.
After we’d each paid those douchebag lawyers enough to put our kids through 4 years of college, we both lost. Neither of us got what we asked for, and instead, the judge awarded us joint custody. I am the domiciliary parent, which means the kids use my address, basically. We split custody a week at a time, sharing 50/50. No one was awarded child support, and we are each responsible for half of the kids’ expenses.
We’ve been at this for 8 years, and now we’ve become pros at co-parenting, at least in that we’ve found a way to make it work for our family.
And with that, I pass onto you a few tips for co-parenting.
Disclaimer – I am not an expert or a scholar in any subject, especially amicable divorces. I am only sharing what I have learned over the years, since my own divorce.
Disclaimer 2 – my children were very little when their dad and I separated.
Disclaimer 3 – please use these tips at your discretion and use wisdom. No one knows your situation better than you and your ex.
1. Get something in writing from the start. Create a list of rules and terms and custody stipulations that you and your ex can both live with. Sign it and get it notarized. If need be, get a mediator, but I would advise against Court. No one wins and your loss will be an expensive one.
This custody agreement is not meant to be concrete, but it can be used as a fall-back during those times you and your ex cannot get along. Note – Jordan and I have a written custody order on file at the courthouse, and it was signed by the Judge. We follow almost none of it now, but we used to, especially when those bitter feelings got in the way of our being able to agree on anything.
a. The Order says we are to switch on Saturdays at noon. We switch on Friday evenings, because it’s easier with both of our schedules.
b. The Order says Jordan gets to claim both kids on his tax return. He has recently agreed to let me claim one, because I pay for one of the kids’ school tuitions.
c. The Order says we are supposed to switch every other holiday, but we have worked it out so that we each get to spend time with the kids on every holiday, by splitting up the day.
While bitterness and hostility are in the way of good common sense, the custody agreement can be used as a tool to get through hard times. It also creates a routine, and children need stability during a difficult time.
2. Be patient, fair and flexible. Treat the other parent in a “business-like” manner until everyone is used to the separation. Your ex is not your punching bag – that’s the beauty of divorce. You don’t have to care anymore. Communicate directly with your ex. Under no circumstances should you make a young child your messenger. And your child will appreciate your being the bigger person.
3. Make your child’s happiness your number one focus. Encourage your child’s relationship with your ex. Remember that a child cannot be “too loved” by “too many people.” Your child is not angry with your ex, and in fact, should never be made to feel guilty because he/she loves your ex. Your child will resent you if you try to use him/her as leverage or ammunition.
4. Try therapy. If your ex will not go, go alone. Therapy never hurt anyone, and seeking help is nothing to be ashamed of. Going through this, you may feel like you have no one to talk to, and that’s when therapy is beneficial. Your child is not your confidant. Do not burden your child with adult problems. Talk to another adult. A professional one.
At the end of the day, divorce never killed anybody. The trick is to find a way to make divorce work for your family. Children are resilient and they will recover. It’s not the divorce that hurts the child. It’s the attitudes that come with it.
If I had to leave you with just one piece of advice, it would be this: Love your kids more than you hate your ex. That’s how you and your ex learn to become friends.
I hope this helps.
Meg / cC