Flashback to when I was a young, twenty-something new elementary teacher: I loved teaching! Life was great, yet – the thing that kept me up at night? The parents (of one of the kids in my class) were going through a very messy divorce. Co-parenting after divorce is not easy, I know, and the little boy was heartbroken. As his teacher, I had to ensure that there were separate parent/teacher conferences, info nights, paperwork, field trip options and help him feel secure while at school.
While I don’t judge those parents for navigating parenting during divorce, what I saw stayed with me.
Fast forward several years later: I become a mom and suddenly found myself going through a divorce. We even spoke of that little boy during that time, because my ex remembered what I witnessed. We agreed to do our best not to fight, to agree on finances without an attorney, to share custody equally, and never to insult the other in front of our girl. We wanted try our very best at co-parenting after our divorce.
The pain and utter devastation I felt after my own divorce was palpable.
I worked on that heartbreak with a truckload of counseling, a mountain of self-help books, and the passing of time. I know he is a fantastic dad and that my girl needs him. This helps so much when it’s not my time with her.
I remember later when I first heard about my ex’s new girlfriend. My daughter mentioned something about “Daddy’s friend” helping her. Oh, the raw hurt at the feeling of being replaced!
But even though my heart sank when I learned of my ex’s new girlfriend helping my child, I noticed happiness on my girl’s face. Then, I was actually flooded with gratitude.
If someone else was going to be in her life, she was kind and was helping my kid! I verbalized how great that was and never shamed my girl for bringing her up.
When we met unexpectedly one night at an ice cream stand, I thanked her for being so kind and surprised myself at the very genuine tears in my eyes. All that mattered to me was that my girl was growing up in healthy environments and exposed to great people.
The more humans that loved her, the luckier, happier and more emotionally well-adjusted, she would be.
Of course, when co-parenting after divorce, neither my ex nor I wanted to miss special moments. So we would still celebrate some holidays and big moments together.
Sharing holidays with an ex was one thing with the two of us but adding someone else?
The first time we tested out this new paradigm of our co-parenting after divorce agreement was Halloween. My ex’s new girlfriend actually fit right in! Somehow in the midst of the craziness of trick-or-treating, she showed me that she wasn’t trying to replace me, just be there in addition. We all had fun watching our kids (she brought her daughter) run through the streets and enjoy the festivities. I felt such pride and contentment seeing my girl filled with joy that we were all together.
Years later, we’re even friends now. The two of them have gone their separate ways and yet I’ve stayed in touch. Particularly because of this experience, I vow to be open, kind, and grateful to any women in my ex’s life — whomever she might be.
To anyone going through a divorce and the challenge of co-parenting after divorce, my heart goes out to you. Here are my top tips for making the best of a tough situation:
Talk to someone.
Take your anger and pain there. My counselor has been invaluable through the years. She pushes me, is at times tough on me, yet always helps me to see options and work through my baggage.
Try a mediator.
In NH, we were provided one by the court because we were agreeing on everything and thus saved ourselves a lot of money and having to appear before a judge. A sliding scale is even available! Check out HERE for more info.
Work on yourself.
You’ll suddenly find yourself with free time. Feel your feelings and sit with them. Then get to the gym, read books or take classes that will help you learn, grow and evolve.
When you are with your kid(s) be sure to compliment their other parent when the opportunity arises. You are a co-parenting team and your kids define themselves as part of you both. Make sure they hear about the good in your ex. Furthermore, what about saving your ex a seat at the game or the school play? Kindness goes a long way toward working together at the co-parenting gig.
I sure as heck lost my cool with my ex sometimes…not in front of my daughter, (be sure to shield your kids from conflict) but my actions hurt the co-parenting partnership we had established. Trying to make amends on those actions (leaving past marital drama behind) is a beautiful thing, which can bring some healing to both.
Stuff comes up that doesn’t fit into the Parenting Plan and when you both allow for that, it pays dividends. Heck, one of our writers even shares a joint checking account with her ex! Talk about flexibility and paving your own way while co-parenting after divorce!
We divorced when our girl was young and we are both pretty different personality-wise. It helped when we talked about how we disciplined to try to be consistent.
Your ex will likely find a new partner one day. If you’re able to keep the mindset that co-parenting well will help your child’s well-being, it makes it easier. No one else in the world will love your kid like you and your ex. You’ve got to trust that they will bring in someone else who will also be good for them and love them.
Now I’ve remarried, and I’m so grateful to report that my ex has been equally open and welcoming to anyone I’ve brought into my girl’s life. Surprising acceptance has morphed into a beautiful thing that keeps our girl’s best interests front and center as we all Trick-or-Treat, sit together at games, and work together at co-hosting birthday parties. We even all go out to dinner once a year on our girl’s birthday.