Co-parenting is not for the weak of heart.
After choosing to end a romantic relationship, it can be painful to spend years continually navigating the tender and fraught landscape of parenting with your ex. As our Advisor, Gwyneth Paltrow says of co-parenting, "You have to constantly let go. You have to let go of old ideas, old resentments."
After separation the goal is to create the best, most stable, most loving life for your kids. One of the crucial ways you can do this is by creating a solid foundation with your co-parent. Gwyneth's trick? "If you once loved the person enough to have kids with them, you have to focus on what you still love about them and what's beautiful about them and all the good aspects of your relationship."
If you're currently finding it hard to locate those things you love about your ex fear not. We have three simple steps below, as sort of "fake it 'til you make it" guide to being the best co-parent you can be (even if your ex doesn't deserve it). Because it's not for your ex. It's for your kids.
1. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Or as Leo Babuata of ZenHabits says, "take the good-hearted view." This is when we assume that people who have done something to bother us are not incompetent jerks, but are in fact good people with decent intentions who made a mistake or are having trouble of some kind. One of the most positive things we can do in a relationship with a co-parent is to take a good-hearted view of them. From this place it can be easier to assume that errors made, pickups forgotten. permission slips left unsigned are not a signal of maliciousness, but rather the normal experience of a good person trying to do their best and occasionally making mistakes. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt diffuses the situation, leaving you more content and modeling for your kids an accepting and generous relationship.
2. Speak well of your co-parent.
Kids are very astute about verbal and non-verbal communication cues. Children as young as two or three can tell when parents are in conflict. It's not just speaking poorly of a co-parent that kids pick up on. Some co-parents attempt to solve this with the age old adage "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all." Yet from this silence, kids learn that speaking of their other parent is taboo and partition off their lives with each co-parent. This leads to parts of your children's lives that they don't share with you and positively reinforces them withholding information, which can be harmful as kids get older.
If instead you say kind things about your co-parent, even tiny, off-handed remarks, kids will realize that your home is safe for them to discuss their full lives. Something simple like, "Oh, your dad loves this show!" or "Your mom has always had such a great sense of humor" serves to validate the kids themselves, who see parts of their own personalities and selves inside of each parent. It will give them a sense of peace that even thought their parents are not together, they do in fact still respect one another.
3. Take on more than your share when you can.
Over the course of our children's lives, there will be times when one parent has more bandwidth to dedicate to parenting. This will naturally ebb and flow with each parent's career, health and personal life. When you're in a couple, this is often decided or mapped out intentionally: the staggering of professional and personal obligations so that there is always one parent available to the kids.
This is a far more complicated balance to strike as a co-parent; you're no longer in a romantic relationship nor are you strategizing for parenting under one roof, so there's no promise of a tradeoff when each parent has independent responsibilities. And yet, if you find yourself in the place, for whatever reason, that you have more time and energy to dedicate to your kids: do. Even though your co-parent may not be able to (or not be interested in) paying it forward, your kids will benefit immensely even from brief periods of undivided attention from you.