Tips for successful co-parenting

Tug of war: what children get stuck in when parents do not cooperate

Co-parenting is the cooperative parenting by exes in the best interests of their child. It involves sharing parental duties. It may also include step-parents should the separated couple seek new partners.  It is of utmost importance that the parents work together to raise well-balanced, disciplined children despite any differences that they may have. This involves some level of civility towards each other, which may seem obvious but which is not always the case and many fail at. They engage in constant arguments, belittling and bad mouthing each other and sometimes going as far as alienating the other parent, denying them access to their child and cutting off all communication. This is bad for the kids as they have a right to have a relationship with both parents.

When you behave badly towards your ex in front of your child, or bad-mouth them to your child, you diminish yourself, your ex-spouse, and most of all,  you diminish your child. You dent their self-esteem. You put them in the awkward position of choosing between parents whom they love in equal measure and worst still you make them blame themselves for the breakup.

So how then do you make co-parenting work? How do you create an environment that allows the children to enjoy the love of all their parents while not sacrificing important aspects such as discipline?

Realize that you are ex-spouses not ex-parents

Whereas your relationship may have come to an end your parenting is forever. As painful as the breakup is, you will have to put that aside when it comes to matters that concern the well-being of your children. Talk to each other and cooperate on all issues regarding the children such as school activities, hobbies, interaction with extended members of the family, birthdays and other milestones in their lives. Your children desire to have a relationship with the both of you. They don’t care about what happened or who did what to who. Focus on loving them and demonstrating this love by showing up for them. That is all they want

Speak positively about the other parent or don’t speak at all

When parents badmouth each other or use mean and unkind words when speaking about the other parent, the children feel like they are being put down as well. In their minds they translate it to mean that they too are just as bad simply because they are an extension on their parents. Using comparison statements like “you are just like your mother/father” especially in negative light, chips away at your children’s hearts and should be avoided at all costs even when there is truth to the statements. For example if a parent promised to pick up the children to spend some time together,  doesn’t do it and the kids get upset or sad about it say something like “I know you’re sad that daddy/mommy wasn’t able to make it today. I am pretty sure there is a perfectly good explanation for it and he/she will tell you the next time you meet “. This is a much better response than “Your father/mother can’t keep his/her promises, this is one of the the reasons why I left her”. Get the gist?

If you really cannot say anything positive then don’t say anything at all.

Have and keep visitation schedules

After separation or divorce it takes time for the children to adjust to the new living arrangements. They will miss their old family and want it back. They will also really miss the absent parent. Parents need to provide some level of structure and predictability in their interactions. Children thrive in environments with structure so try to have this as much as you have control over. Make visitation schedules that allow them to spend time with the parent who is away and try as much as possible to stick to it. Agree on certain routines to be practiced in both homes for example meal times, playtime, bedtime, household chores, curfews and the like. That way both homes are similar to some extent and you can spare yourself the agony of having the kids being spoilt while with the other parent which is a very common issue.

Not all the rules will necessarily be applicable to the other household but both sets of rules need to be honored. It is your job as parents to reinforce them not just with words but in action because children are constantly watching your actions.

Your children are NOT messengers nor are they spies

Your children should really be left to be just that. Children. If you need to convey a message to the other parent and especially if it is a matter that frustrates you do it in person and resolve it without putting your children in the middle of it. Do not send your kids to deliver your messages or pry into the other household’s affairs by questioning them about the other parent and their activities. This puts them under pressure to watch what they say and do in a particular home. They will be afraid to mess up or let you down, which is completely unfair to them and robs them of their childhood and innocence.

Respect the privacy of the other home.

Co-parenting is not easy but you have to make it work for the sake of your children. Putting them and their happiness first is a good way to keep yourself in check as you work through whatever obstacles that come your way.

 

 

Single moms dating single dads, are you prepared?

 

I can’t count the number of times a single mom has declared that it is easier to date a single dad than it is to date a single man especially if you are looking for a long term commitment. I always wondered is it really? Sure it’s easier to hit it off, understand each other and bond over kid-talk but when the warm fuzzy feelings die down and you now have to focus on partnering to raise a blended family is it still easy? Well I don’t think so and here is why. There are far too many issues that get overlooked and yet need to be carefully considered before taking the plunge whether you are a single mom or a single dad. If you deal with these early enough then you will be in a much better position than letting the issues creep up on you unexpectedly and creating fertile ground for serious conflict in your family. What exactly do then look out for and need to know well in advance before you take the big plunge?

 

 

It’s a complex family

Think about it, two parents, two sets of children who now have to accept and adjust to new siblings, two exes to deal with, two extended families or four if we count your exes family has close tie with the children, four homes that the children will be shuffling to and from, and that is just on the relationships side. Add on to that schools and church, visitation schedules for the other parents and finances. It’s a lot to handle not just for the couple but for their children as well. This complex dynamic needs to be addressed by the couple because it will definitely not be a seamless fit. Ask yourself the following questions;

  • What is the current custody agreement and how will you manage as a couple in future?
  • How old your children? This is important because it will alter the order of birth in your new family and the children will have a hard time adjusting. For example a child who was first born child when with the mother is now a middle child because moms new partner has an older child.
  • How are the exes involved with the children? Are they active or passive?
  • How will you handle your respective exes?
  • Where are you going to live?
  • Which schools will the children attend?
  • Child support? Who is getting it or paying for it, how much? how frequent? What does it cover?

Make sure you are the right fit

Take time to observe the relationship between you and your partner as well as between your children and his. It has to be more than just love if you want a successful long term relationship.  Ask yourself

  • Are you the right fit?
  • Do your children get along and are they OK with having new step siblings?
  • Are you  willing to share responsibility over all the children not just your own?
  • Do you intend to have children with your new partner?

Get involved at the right time

All children regardless of their age love their parents and dream of them being together again one day. Introducing someone new to them kills that dream and so it is important that your new partner gets involved at the right time. Introduce them gradually so that your children can get used to the idea of them. Get to know them better and form their own relationship at a slow pace. This also gives you time to have private chats with your children and find out what they think about the person and address any fears or concerns they might have about your new partner.

The older the children the harder and longer it will take for them to adjust

Set new boundaries

You have been raising your children now for ‘x’ number of years now. You have your own style and know whats best for them, what works and what doesn’t. All this changes when you have a new partner who is now a new parent to your children too. You will have to trust him to do right by your children and yet he has been raising his children in his own style with completely different set of boundaries. You will therefore need a new approach to parenting that is inclusive of both of you. A new set of boundaries for you and the children to live by. The boundaries are not just with regards to the children but also apply to your exes, communication with them and visitation for the children, extended family involvement, basically on every matter. You will need to operate a team and the only way to do that is by playing by the same rules. Make time to come up with your new family rules.

Couple time

Your blended family will only be as strong as your couple’s relationship. Its easy for couple time to be sucked up by parenting duties. Too much time spent on making sure the home is running smoothly and that there is peace and harmony among all involved. You will need to be very deliberate about setting time apart to spend with each other as a couple, away from the children. This keeps your friendship and bond strong. The stronger your relationship the more capable you are of positively driving your family onto the path of love and happiness.

Parenting Styles

This is a biggie. You need to look out for signs that that your parenting styles do not conflict. Does how you approach your own children work well on his children and vice versa. Who is the strict disciplinarian and who is the liberal? Once you have these details then sit down and discuss on what the best approach will be for all the children.

Are you single mom dating a single dad? what was your experience like and what lessons have you learnt from it? I would love to hear about it. Drop your comment below

 

 

 

 

Dating a single dad? Here’s what you need to know

At 25 years of age I met the man who I would later call my husband. Of course I had no idea back then, it was not love at first sight  or anything like that. Well at least not for me. Before we even became an item he was very open with me about being a father. Something that I never gave much thought to at the time but which would later play a very big role in our relationship. I thought it would be a relationship like any other but experience revealed that the dynamic was quite different. I grappled with ego issues, jealousy associated with the ex, feeling like I was not his number one priority; the list of emotional challenges is endless. These are all challenges that we had to work out as and when they came up which was not easy. I wish someone had given me a heads up on what to expect, then maybe I would have spent less time trying to fit the relationship into the traditional relationship mould where there are no kids involved, and more time into understanding my particular situation and making the best out of it. In a bid to pay it forward I have summed up some of my crucial lessons and what you need to know  and expect if you are a single woman dating a single dad.

Loyalty is to his children first

Be prepared to hear a lot about the kids when you spend time together, after all he is a proud single dad. I know it doesn’t make for good conversation when you are out on that date. He may have to cancel a few dates, postpone some plans due to some conflict with the children’s events or unforeseen circumstances like the illness of child; all of which may hurt or frustrate you but remember, THAT IS A GOOD THING. It means you’re not dating a deadbeat dad. It says that he has his priorities straight and he will not compromise on his role as a father regardless of what happened between him and the mother of his children. Give him some time, be supportive and patient and eventually he will get to the point where its it is about you and him.

On the flip side should you meet a single dad who drops everything, alters his plans with the children for you then that is a serious red flag for your relationship.

Respect his children and the relationship he has with them

You have to respect them before and after you meet them. Your actions towards his parenting responsibilities will tell him if you respect his relationship with his children and his responsibility over them. Say you had planned this romantic getaway to spend some quality time together, God knows you need it right? After all, you never really get to spend quality, uninterrupted time with him. Flights booked, hotel booked, itinerary is all set and then at the last minute he has to cancel. For some reason baby mama who was supposed to have the kids this weekend is suddenly not able to and needs him to step in. That’s enough to make any woman flip. Taking it out on him doesn’t help you nor the relationship. If he feels attacked of course he will back off, have reservations about making plans with you in advance, may be even end things. Instead try and take a more supportive approach, express your disappointed but willingness to try. By doing so you are indirectly encouraging his parenting and he sees that you understand his situation.

There is no escaping the EX

Unless of course he is a widower there is definitely an ex somewhere. Whether you have met her or not, know about her or not; know that she exists and there is no way you can ignore her presence and influence. If you still think this is not an issue for you wait until you get a little closer to the kids. Its not uncommon for some mothers to be completely out of touch with their children, hardly seeing or speaking with them or being in any way involved in their lives only for them to come out of the woodwork when they hear their kids are getting close to daddy’s new mate.

Avoid trying to be a replacement mother or trying to make everyone get along. If you did not break it, you have no reason or right to fix it. Understand and support the fact that due to co-parenting responsibilities your man will be in contact with his ex every now and then especially if she plays an active role in their lives. Its not easy being with someone who’s past is in your present, who has shared so many of his big firsts with somebody else who is now permanently in the picture. You will have to be honest about how you feel and deal with the challenging emotions as they come along with your partner. Knowing when you have genuine concerns or are just being driven by emotions and feelings.

Expect a different dynamic

A lot of the expectations you will have will be based on your experience dating men who had no kids. Some of the dynamics will definitely be different. For example you may find yourself dating in secret for a while simply because he doesn’t want to introduce someone he not sure about to his children. He doesn’t need his children to be emotionally attached to you and then have to explain things when you break up. I dated my husband for a little over a year before I met his kids. Something which I didn’t understand then and made me question his love for me because of it but which I now fully understand and appreciate as a wise decision on his part.  A dad with physical custody of the kids means he has less availability than one who has visitation so be prepared to share his time. Just roll with the punches. Experience has taught me that when it comes to children so many unpredictable things can happen that will throw out your ‘plans’

Decide if this is for you

Single dads come as a package. You cannot have the man without the children. If you say yes to the man you are ultimately saying yes to the children and all the responsibility that comes with that decision. Think about it in advance and decide whether you can do it or not.