When someone decides to leave a relationship, there’s a very real possibility they may never again see the person who was once the center of their universe. For some, that might be exactly as it should be. But if you’ve been blessed with having children together and your once significant other is not unfit to share in their upbringing, and they want to, then you’ve still got a long road of “together” ahead.
Here are some key ways that have helped ease my pain and confusion on a path that I didn't think I’d be walking when my ex and I first thought about having children together. If you've also decided to separate and co-parent I hope these bring you a lighter heart too:
1. Set the intention to have a compassionate and supportive co-parenting relationship.
Believe it or not, the person who was once your “everything” does not have to suddenly become the enemy. In the end, it doesn’t matter who decides they can’t stay in a relationship — make the decision that if you can’t be great together, then you’re going to commit to being the best co-parent you can be.
2. Remember the qualities that you admired about your ex as a parent, when you were both still feeling the bliss.
Of course there are going to be times when you both simply can’t stand the sight of each other, but just because someone’s no longer your partner doesn’t mean they’re not a great parent. Try to keep their best qualities at the forefront of your mind and remember that you’re in this together.
3. Talk to your kids about your ex’s great qualities. Put photos up of him or her with the kids.
This doesn’t need to be confusing — it’s possible to make it clear to even very young children that you believe your ex is a great mom or dad, even if you two weren’t great together. It’s also a beautiful and important reminder that your kids need both of you.
4. Try not to talk to anyone and everyone about a decision that you two, as parents, need to make.
While speaking with others can help you sift through different ideas, in the case of looking after your own children and the next steps you both need to take as co-parents, in your own unique set of circumstances, it is your two opinions that count. While new partners will naturally be confided in with any decision we make, I believe decisions that concern my children should be made with their needs, my needs and their father’s needs being met first. New partners might just need to be aware of this and be reassured that that their time will come.
5. Don’t dump your new partner’s needs and feelings on your ex.
As much as they matter to you, a new partner’s needs are irrelevant to your ex. If you’re having a hard time with a new partner having something to say about your co-parenting relationship, deal with it yourself. Don’t dump that grief on the person you’re trying to co-parent with. Remember, your first priority is to work out how to best care for your kids. They need to come first. But don’t forget, part of the beauty of co-parenting is that you do get time “off” which is when you can then focus on anyone else you please.
6. Think about how you can make your ex’s life easier while still having your own wants and needs met.
Just because you’re no longer together doesn’t mean that kindness and understanding won’t go a long way to making everyone’s life easier. When my ex and his new partner decided to move in together, because I didn’t care where in the city I lived, I moved across town so that we could continue to be within an easy distance of each other and the kids’ new school. Do what you can for the other person and it will come back to you — if in no other kindness than in peace of mind.
7. Appreciate the parenting skills you see working in your partner’s new relationship, if there is one.
We can all learn from someone else’s experience.
8. Keep to previously agreed schedules and arrangements yet be open-minded and flexible enough to realize that plans will occasionally have to be changed.
Be gracious and understanding, and mindful of how you’d like to be treated.
9. Do the inner work that needs to be done to help you be the best co-parent you can be and prepare you for the next relationship you might want to have.
Be that person you’re looking for. Spend time alone. Immerse yourself in new things. Recharge your batteries for you, your kids and that new person who might already be looking for you.
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