Getting divorced may mean not having to live with someone anymore but if there are children involved, it doesn’t mean not having to talk to your ex again. If there’s shared custody, then communicating is as important if not more so than before. For Holly, whose son was a toddler at the time of her divorce, co-parenting has gotten easier.
We have to talk to each other. There are parent teacher conferences, there’s homework, there’s guitar, there’s transporting things back and forth, summer schedules, school, sleepovers and all kinds of stuff. But communicating with him is difficult. It’s a struggle when I want to do something that’s outside our divorce decree, like take my son to a concert or get him a cell phone. Sometimes that gets so frustrating for me that I will go see the therapist I saw after the divorce. She was really key for me standing up for myself, trying to do it in a healthy way, staying clean about it and not getting caught up in the anger and resentment.
We used to be so strict like ‘if you’re keeping him for three extra hours, I’m keeping him for three extra hours.’ It was a tedious job of keeping track of the days and who got him for what kind of time. I think we’ve mellowed on that and realized ‘if you want him for an extra day, go for it, take it.’ Or if he wants to trick or treat in your neighborhood even though it’s my year, he’s 13 let him do what he wants because he’s old enough to have some preferences.
Our son was only three or four when we got divorced and he would alternate between my ex and I every two or three days. He had stomach problems and we couldn’t figure out why. Finally, he said, ‘I want to go back and forth but why can’t I just stay longer? I feel like as soon as I get there I have to turn around and go back.’ We said we could do a week at a time and I remember saying, ‘Aren’t you going to miss the other parent?’ He said, ‘Mom, we have phones.’ So we switched him to a week at each parent’s house and his stomach problems went away. That’s the way it’s been for 10 years now.
The parenting has gotten easier I think because we’re both 10 years older and we’ve mellowed. I think there was something in the back of our minds that was like ‘he’s going to take my son away from me’ or ‘she’s going to take my son away from me’ and here we are with a teenager realizing neither one of us is going to take him away. We can’t take him away. He loves both of us and he needs a dad. I realize that. He needs a mom and his dad realizes that. So we’ve mellowed and that’s gotten easier.
My children were 14 and 11 when I got divorced and so had preferences about parenting time from the very beginning. I always felt it was better that if they didn’t want to go to their dad’s on the day they were supposed to, then they needed to speak directly to him about it and then, if needed, he and I would discuss it. At first they needed some coaching on how to do that – I think they didn’t want to upset either one of us – but both my ex and I tried to be flexible when we could and these days the kids are quite comfortable – they know what the basic schedule is but will take the lead when that won’t work with their plans.
How have you found co-parenting? Has it gotten easier as your children (and you!) have matured? Any communication tips that have worked well for you?