GUEST BLOG: Co-Parenting and Boundaries
Getting divorced is never easy. When there are children involved, things can be more complicated than ever. Not only do you want to do whatever you can to ensure your kids are able to handle the transition, but you want to help them maintain a healthy relationship with the other parent, if possible. That can be really hard when your relationship with that parent is toxic or combative. This is where healthy boundaries can help.
In my experience, setting boundaries has not been something that I’m great at. I have gotten so much better in the past few years, and the impact on my life and relationships has been incredible. Not only has it helped me maintain more balance in my life, but it has shown me a lot about the people around me as well. It seems that the people who have the most problems with my boundaries are those who were benefiting from the lack of them before.
Today, I'm sharing some tips to help navigate co-parenting with an ex.
Do: Concentrate on the needs of your child.
Whenever parents divorce, it can be a very difficult time for the kids. Their whole world is changing, and it takes time to adjust and figure things out. There are bound to be things that fall through the cracks as you are taking time to heal and move on yourself, but one thing that is critical is making sure your child’s needs- physical and emotional- are being met. As long as that’s happening, it’s totally fine to let other things go. Some people may accuse you of being selfish because you are choosing to focus on your child first, but so be it.
Don’t: Try to influence your child’s relationship with the other parent.
Depending on the circumstances of your divorce, communicating with your ex can be complicated, at best. There will likely be bad feelings on one side or the other- maybe both. It can be tempting to hold a grudge or make things difficult for your ex, but that isn’t always the best choice. No matter how bad the breakup, or what the circumstances leading up to it were, your child should never be put in the middle of your conflict. If they have a healthy relationship with the other parent, it is your responsibility to make sure they are able to maintain that relationship, if they want to. That means thinking before you speak about your ex and not trying to influence your child's opinion with your words or behavior. It doesn’t mean making excuses for the other parent’s behavior. Whenever possible, the child should be able to make their own decisions about their relationship.
Do: Understand that rules may be different at their house.
One of the biggest challenges in parenting can be differing parenting styles, and those differences can be magnified when parents split up and have separate households. Add to that the fact that some parents may want to be the “favorite” parent or the “fun” parent, and you have a perfect recipe for conflict. Ideally, the rules will be somewhat consistent at each house, but that isn’t always realistic. Some rules, like those that are intended to keep them safe (wearing seat belts, helmets, etc) are worth the argument, but there are so many others that just aren’t. Sure, it would be nice if you could agree on everything, but sometimes you just have to accept that your ex won’t do things the way you think they should, and that’s okay. Once you can do that, you can put effort into the rules that really matter and let the rest go.
Don’t: Engage in unnecessary conflict.
There are some people out there who just love to argue and can never be wrong. This can often result in endless conversations that go nowhere. Not only is this a waste of your time, it can also have a pretty negative effect on your mental health. I used to get crushing anxiety every time my ex bombarded me with endless calls and text messages about things that we couldn’t even discuss because he only wanted to argue and not talk. Now, I simply don’t respond if I know that nothing will be resolved. Don’t argue for the sake of arguing. Save your energy for the things that really matter. Just choosing to not engage when it’s not necessary will save you so much stress. You can't control your ex, but you can control your reactions to their behavior.
Do: Be flexible (but don’t be a doormat!).
There are going to be times when events or activities don’t line up with the agreed-upon visitation schedule. A family reunion, wedding, or graduation isn’t something that people will plan around your schedule. While you are within your rights to prevent your child from attending those events, being a little flexible can really be helpful. That being said, not everything is a major event that can’t be missed, and the flexibility should go both ways. The same principle can be applied to other, smaller situations, too. If your child has practice and your ex has a work emergency and can't get them there on time, it’s okay to help them so that your child doesn’t miss out. If it is a regular occurrence, then it’s time to put your foot down and have a conversation with the other parent about fulfilling their responsibilities to your child.
Don’t: Forget to take care of yourself.
Not every day is going to go the way you want it to, and sometimes you will want to give up. When that happens, make some time to take care of yourself. Whatever self-care means to you- be it therapy, Netflix and ice cream, or a weekend away- be sure to make time for it. You can't take care of others if you neglect yourself. Take time to heal, and know when you need a break. It isn't selfish to make time for your own health and well-being.
Parenting is hard. Co-parenting can be even harder, especially if you don't get along well with the other parent. I hope that you find these tips useful, and that they help you in your co-parenting journey.
Victoria Ellis is a lifestyle blogger sharing her experiences with life and parenting after divorce. From fun family activities, recipes, and DIY crafts, to household projects, parenting, and relationship advice, you can find her adventures over at The Ellis Estate.