I have two beautiful daughters, Maisie aged 11 and Isla aged 10, and I co-parent them with their mum. Co-parenting isn’t always easy. There are heartaches and frustrations, but there are also happy times and successes. Whether you’re new to the co-parenting world, or you’ve been doing it a while and things are tricky – Here is some advice and a few tips that I picked up on my journey.
Becoming a Co-Parent.
I met my daughters’ mum in 2005, we married in 2009, and had our girls in 2010 and 2012. We decided to separate in April 2016 – and this is where my co-parenting journey began.
I have always been a hands-on dad. I didn’t want to miss out on seeing my girls as much as possible. I’ve also worked with children for 25 years, and have seen the impact an absent parent or difficult co-parenting situation can have on them. The number of times I’ve seen children in tears because of the things they’ve been told by one co-parent about the other, isn’t right. I’ve also seen kids devastated by parents behaving poorly toward one another at sports games because they can’t find a way to either ignore one another, or be friendly for a few hours. I’ve talked to older teenagers who resent their parents for how they behaved after the break-up and how they were put in the middle of the situation.
I didn’t want any of these scenarios for my girls. That knowledge, as well as my love for my girls, fueled me to make the co-parenting as easy as possible. Especially for the kids.
My Co-Parent Set Up
Knowing I wanted to be heavily involved in my children’s lives, we had a 50/50 split from the beginning. My girls are with me half of the week, and with their mum for the other half. This has worked well for us.
It was easy for the first 2 years which lulled me into a sense of security. Then it changed when my ex partner met someone new. This was great for her, but it made our relationship more difficult. I was worried about being replaced as daddy. Although I knew I would always be there, accepting there is a new man in the house and in their lives was tricky. I also struggled with accepting the opinion of the new partner on what was best for my girls. There was a lack of boundaries, and I was expected to accept the opinions of the new person no matter what I felt.
Because of those difficulties I had to change my expectations and how I managed the situation. It took a while but things settled back down, and we now are able to co-parent even though we don’t get on. These are my top five tips for how you can do that to:
1. Have No Expectations
There will always be people who want to give you advice… whether they have been through what you are going through or not! Generally, this is because they care. Many people around me tried to tell me “how to do it” or “what they would do”. Some of it was helpful. But some of it made me feel I wasn’t doing the right things no matter how hard I was trying. These expectations of how it “should” be made things hard for me. Which contributed to issues with my own mental health. I couldn’t live up to the expectations I created in my own head. And I couldn’t control what my ex was doing or how she managed the situation. So I had to change.
Remember that every single situation is different. And your journey around co-parenting may be very different to everyone else around you. That is ok. You can’t control how the person you co-parent with behaves. So cut out the expectations you have for them. Focus on you. What you can control and how you react – that will make things easier in the long run.
You also have to accept that you have limited say in what happens at the co-parents house. And unless your child is in danger, or there are safeguarding concerns, you have to let that go. Your co-parent might have different rules, or parent differently to you. That is ok. As long as your children are safe and happy, that is all you have to be concerned about. Focus on being the best parent for you kids when they’re with you, let go of what is happening in their other home.
2. Deal with Your Co-Parent Like a Co-Worker
This is one that I really have had to work hard on. And I have to remind myself of often, even now.
As much as you can, take the emotion out of the situation. Talk about the co-parenting factually, and deal with your ex-partner in an amicable and friendly way. Try not to react emotionally – and focus on the child at all times. Keep conversations simple and factual. Most importantly, don’t have emotional reactions.
Think of what you would do if you were at work and co-worker said something that annoyed you. You wouldn’t react emotionally to them because of the risks to your job if you say something unprofessional. In the same way, if your co-parent says something that makes you angry or upset, don’t respond immediately. If it’s face to face, explain that you need to leave the conversation as you don’t want it to escalate. Then call or message the co-parent when you feel calmer. If it is a message, take time to breath, talk to a friend or family member – whatever you need to do to let that stress and aggravation subside. Then respond when you feel calmer. Taking the emotion out of the communication leads to calmer, easier conversations, which will reduce stress for you both.
CAFCASS have some great advice for how to talk to your co-parent. They also advise being positive – this is something I agree with. If you can, share the positives of parenting to help grow the co-parent relationship. Got a great picture of the kids doing something fun? Share it. Did you get to a sports game, or a school play that the other parent couldn’t go to? Let them know how it went. Even if you don’t get this back, be the positive one in the relationship. It can help over time.
3. Be Consistent
For me, this is the most important thing. And it will have the biggest impact on your relationship with your child / children.
Balancing work, life and parenting can be tricky. But it is really important for me to prioritise time with my girls. They don’t need to be spoilt every time they’re with me, they just need me to be there. So I do everything I can to manage life around when I have my girls. This allows me to be there on time to pick them up, and means I am more emotionally present when they’re with me.
There will be times when something unavoidable comes up. If their mum or I need to change timings, then we discuss this in advance. It works best for us to do that via messages and we will usually work any changes out. But, if you have arranged pick-up times do everything you can to be there. This is especially important when you don’t really get on with your ex. Try not to give them any reason to dislike, or argue with you further. And remember – this is about the kids having stability and meeting their expectations.
4. Keep It All About The Kids
OK. so this point isn’t really about the co-parent, but it is one of the most important parts of managing my co-parenting relationship. We all want to be the best parents we can be. With happy, well rounded kids. We can’t do that if we aren’t prioritising their emotional wellbeing when co-parenting.
Never, ever use your kids as a pawn in arguments or to try and hurt your ex through the children. The only ones that get hurt in situations like these are the kids. Adults get over things much easier, and kids absorb everything that happens. Kids can sit and overthink things just as well as any adult. They can fester and become longer term issues. Don’t talk badly to the child/children about their other parent – they don’t need to hear your negative opinions, let them be kids and not worry about the adult issues.
Do keep showing up at school and sporting events, do be present even if it can be difficult. And always keep your friendly, amicable face on when you’re there. Be friendly to the co-parent and show your child that you can all be there to support them. I know not every situation will allow that, but if yours does, then show up as much as possible. The kids will remember these things when they’re older.
5. Live Your Life
It has taken me a long time to get used to this one. But now, I regret not doing it sooner.
For the first 3 years of the split, I wasn’t doing things for me. Which had a massive impact on my own mental health. In turn this will impact those around you including the children.
I needed to get out of a victim mentality. I was blaming other people for what happened and wasn’t taking responsibility for what part I had played in the split. This meant I couldn’t move forward and be the best, happiest version of myself. Your children need to see the best version of you and I needed to get back to the positive person I always had been. Life is tough but we need to show resilience, our children need to see us show resilience and by doing this we also pass this on to the children growing up.
As parents we should be the positive influence our children need. Be the one that lives life, that loves, that laughs, that cries too. But most importantly, be you because no matter what your relationship with the co-parent, your child/children need you in their lives.
Being a co-parent can be hard. It can make us question everything we’re doing, and take away our sense of self. I really struggled with this over the years. I got to the point where I questioned whether my children would be better off without me at all. At that point I knew I couldn’t do it alone anymore. I had to take control and move forward. For me, that meant getting therapy to help me deal with my issues. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. You can find therapy and support in your area through Hub of Hope. Or by contacting your doctors, and asking them to point you in the right direction.
As well as finding a great therapist, I found a community of likeminded parents! I was looking for a community of people who wanted to be the best parents they could be. And that was when I found Dadvengers. I have been a part of this community for around two years, and they’ve helped me to keep moving forward. I can reach out when I need parenting advice, or just a laugh and a joke on days when things seem a bit rough. You can read more about Why It’s So Important To Have A Good Parent Community to Support Dads here. This post is something I agree with wholeheartedly. We all need people in our corner, pushing us forward – and for me Dadvengers is a huge part of that.
Now I am able to be the best version of myself for myself and my kids. This means I can be the best co-parent I can be too. If you’re finding yourself struggling with your situation, please don’t try and cope alone. Don’t let it get to the point I did. Find a local dad group, reach out to Dadvengers, find a therapist. Talk to friends and family. Get support. You won’t regret it.
More on Co-Parenting.
If you’re looking for more on this subject – type co-parenting into the search bar! There you will find great Dad Chats on the topic, and other blog posts that might help. Or you can listen to Casyo Johnson, AKA Krept on the Dadvengers Podcast to hear how he manages his co-parenting situation.
Has this post helped you?
Has this post got you thinking about your co-parenting relationship? Maybe you have your own experiences you’d like to share with us? Please leave your comments in the section below and share this post and other Dadvengers Posts with your family and parenting friends.
Dadvengers is a community of parents (that’s Mums and Dad’s) focused on supporting Dads on their journey through parenthood.