Co-Parenting 101 (Updated)

For the most part, this post was written with my Mama hat on. I have an extremely happy, well-adjusted 9 year old little boy. His father and I share time and the boy never misses a beat! It IS possible!

Parenting relationships do not end with divorce. These relationships will go on for many, many years. Think all day soccer tournaments, stock shows, parent-teacher conferences, birthday parties, the multitude of child exchanges, high school football games, prom, graduation, college graduation, weddings, grandchildren, etc.! The real key to effective co-parenting is to get along with the other parent. Period. Your life will be so much better if you can simply co-parent and get along with your child’s other parent. [Clearly, this blog post is for run of the mill “normal” cases, absent domestic violence.]

It’s not the end of the world if your child’s mom is 15 minutes late for an exchange. Not the end of the world if the baseball belt accidentally gets eaten by your ex-husband’s dog. As a family law specialist, I hear these stories every single day. Dad didn’t return the rain boots, mom didn’t return all of the Minnie Mouse socks, child was late to baseball, dad put an Oreo cookie in the child’s lunchbox (the horror!), etc. Not the end of the world, people. (By the way, these are all real life examples of the things parents bicker over.)

Litigation is Stressful and Expensive

I’ve tried to explain this concept to many, many clients over my short seven years as a family law attorney. Litigation is time consuming, stressful, emotionally draining and expensive. Part of the stress of litigation is due to the unknown. There is not a lawyer on this earth who can guarantee the outcome of your family law case. Do you really want a judge, who only gets to see a snippet of your life, to make the decisions for your child? The faster two parents learn to get along and co-parent, the better life will be for everyone – especially the child.  And you will save a ton of money! (College is expensive.)

So, first RELAX.

As a parent, your goal should always be to do what’s best for the child. You must be able to put your feelings aside and always do what’s best for the child. Not what’s best for mom or dad, but the child. If that means letting the child go to dad’s an extra day, then do it. (Go get your nails done!) The key really is to just be able to get along with one another. Keep in mind that most Texas child visitation/possession orders have language that basically says the parents can mutually agree on whatever possession schedule they want, and if they can’t agree, then of course they must follow the Court’s order. If the other parent calls and wants to talk to the child, let her. Who cares? It takes 5 minutes and it makes the child happy! Remember, do what is best for the child.

Second, communicate.

If a problem arises, then talk to the other parent. Don’t confront, just talk. For example, a simple text message, “Hey, can you send little Timmy’s rain boots when you drop him off Thursday?” There’s just no need to get all worked up about a simple non-issue.

Make big decisions together. Get input from the other parent. If you happen to get the invitation to the Pre-K Graduation, send the other parent a copy so that they can plan accordingly. These might seem like very simple things, but they can make a huge difference. Imagine for a moment that you didn’t receive a copy of the Pre-K Graduation invitation. What would you want to happen? Remember that old Golden Rule?

Third, extracurricular activities.

This one personally drives me nuts. If your child plays t-ball, and a practice happens to fall on your day/week – take the child to practice!! I cannot tell you how many parents ask me if they have to take the child to extracurricular activities that fall on their days. Why would you want your child to miss out on the thing that he/she enjoys? (Remember the main rule– always do what’s best for the child!)

Take it a step further and sit together at the extracurricular activities. It will have such a positive impact on the child to see his parents (and step-parents) not fighting or arguing and actually getting along and cheering for him as one unit together.

Fourth, let it go!

Think Frozen. Let. It. Go. Let go of any resentment that you might have from the dissolution of your marriage or relationship. Bad things happened – the marriage resulted in a divorce. That ship has sailed. Now it’s time to be an amazing parent for your amazing child.

There are going to be a ton of things that the other parent does that might drive you absolutely nuts, but you must stop and ask yourself if it’s worth fighting over. (And by fighting, I really mean wreaking emotional havoc up your child.) Remember, the fastest way to cause your child emotional turmoil is to constantly fight with his other parent, litigate every chance you get, withhold the child, disparage the other parent in front of the child – if you do these things you are emotionally damaging your child. Period.

Fifth, don’t flip out.

When the other parent starts dating (this is usually a precursor to the modification suit) or the other parent does something you don’t like, don’t flip out. Relax. You and your child’s other parent will very likely have different parenting styles. Everyone has different parenting styles. It doesn’t mean that either of them are right or wrong, they are just different.

 

 

 

 

Miscellaneous stuff.

When your child is upset and doesn’t want to go for a visit with the other parent, encourage him! Tell the child how much fun he’s going to have with the other parent. The child will very likely have a great time. He probably just needs a little encouragement to get out the door.

My number one – all time – no excuses rule: Do not ever talk bad about the child’s other parent in front of the child. This is so incredibly damaging to a child. Call up your mom (thanks Mom!) and vent when your child’s not home, but do not ever talk bad about the other parent in the presence of your child. Treat the other parent with courtesy and respect. (Golden Rule!) Remember, your child sees herself as half of you and half of her other parent.  Any snide comments or maltreatment made about the other parent in front of the child is a direct hit to the child’s self worth.

When you are struggling with all of the changes that are taking place, change in lifestyles, new significant others, different parenting styles, new school, new home, now communities, etc., remember that your child is going through all of those changes PLUS he is being bounced around from home to home and he is just a child. Remember that you need to relax, remain calm and be an adult. This will help your child tremendously in the long run.

If you and the other parent have a great co-parenting relationship and things are working, do not let a third party significant other come in a wreak havoc on your good co-parenting relationship. There is a time and place to introduce new people to your children; this of course should be after you are in a long term and committed relationship with that person and you perhaps have discussed the introduction with your co-parent. (Of course, be mindful of any morality clauses in your particular order.)

Lastly, don’t get discouraged. Co-parenting is not an easy breezy thing to do. There’s definitely a learning curve. It takes hard work and patience, but wouldn’t you do anything for the happiness of your child?

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