The only reason I feel like I can actually give these tips is because I´ve been practicing them myself for nine years now. My two daughters´ father and I separated almost a decade ago as a couple. But we did not stop being parents to our kids just because we couldn´t make our marriage work (and believe me, we tried to make it work!). Our girls were 4 and 7 back then and will soon turn 14 and 17. A psychologist we consulted a few years back in case the kids had been deeply affected by our divorce, gave us, the parents, kudos for having such well-adjusted daughters. So in case it helps, this is what we did and continue to do for the benefit of our children. I wrote the post mainly for women, because I´m a woman, but of course it could help men too!
1. Practice empathy
Co-parenting your kids with your ex is no easy feat. Practicing empathy, trying to put yourself in both your kids’ and their dad’s shoes will help you successfully navigate this situation. When your kids miss dad, allow them to voice their feelings. When dealing with dad, take into account that he loves the little ones too, and act accordingly. Treat him the way you would like him to treat you.
2. Be open and flexible with schedules
Kids suffer when their parents argue about visitation schedules in front of them. Even if you have a court-ordered parenting calendar, if dad wants to take the kids to a ball game or watch a soccer match on TV on one of your days, put the kids first. Will they enjoy it? Then, let them go! One day, when they grow up, they will thank you for allowing them this freedom.
3. Pick your battles
It’s important to have common ground rules and values for the kids in both households. But it also stands to reason that each parent will deal with certain situations differently. Don’t expect dad to do everything exactly the same way you do it. Even if you were still married you’d have different parenting styles. And that’s ok. Kids thrive on those differences.
4. Communicate directly with dad
You’ve probably heard this one before, but do your best not to use the kids as go-betweens. Not only may they get the message wrong, they will also witness any negative feelings either parent expresses when delivering or receiving it. If your kids give you a message from their other parent, don’t blow up in front of them. Wait until you’re alone to give him a call and address the issue as calmly but firmly as possible.
Also read: How I grew stronger raising teens in midlife
5. Remember he is your ex but also your co-parent
You’re divorced for a reason. If he didn’t change his ways when you were a couple, he’s most likely not going to do it now. Do what you can with what you’ve got, and make the best of your relationship as co-parents. Allow him to rebuild his life however he sees fit, as long as it’s not harmful for the kids. Counseling is a good investment to improve communication between you. The kids will be the winners.
6. Make exchanges short and sweet
No matter where or when you exchange the kids, keep these moments short and sweet. Do your best not to cry or hang on to the little ones when they go off with dad. Especially don’t drag it on giving your ex endless instructions. Say your goodbyes with a smile, so the children won’t feel guilty about leaving you by yourself.
7. Respect their time with dad
If your kids only see dad during the weekends, don’t put a damper on their time together by calling them too often. Especially, don’t call when you know they may be having dinner or if it’s past their bedtime. If you miss them, call a friend to commiserate. Think of how you would feel if your ex insisted on calling your home at odd hours and made the kids feel bad about him.
8. Share photos, grades, accomplishments
When your kids get their grades or are having a special moment their dad is missing, take a picture and email it or text it to him. Tell them that you are doing it, so they know you are including their father in the parts of daily life that he may not be privy to. Ask him to do the same for you, but don’t nag him if he doesn’t. Remember, it’s all about the kids in the end.
9. Encourage your kids to communicate with dad
Make sure they call, email or write to him on a regular basis. Remind them of his birthday and other special occasions such as Father’s day. Help them make or choose a gift and mail it or give it to him in person. Kids are happiest when they feel free to express their feelings of love towards both parents even when they are no longer a family unit living under the same roof.
10. Enjoy your time off
One of the perks of being a single mom is that you will inevitably have time just for you. Take advantage of the days your kids are with dad to socialize, sign up to a drawing class, get a massage, or simply to watch movies, read books in bed or sleep in. Recharge your batteries so that when the kids come back they will find you at your best!