No one says you have to like your ex. Let’s face it, if you still had a great relationship, you would probably still be married. But once you split, how you choose to handle your co-parenting responsibilities can have a long term affect on both your well-being, and your children’s.
Learning how to put differences aside and picking your battles can mean the difference between cooperative—or contentious–co-parenting.
Know what matters
You may feel like the rules at both homes need to be synchronous. If Mom does not allow ice cream until dinner is finished then Dad shouldn’t either. If Dad lets the kids push their bedtimes back two hours on Fridays, shouldn’t Mom follow suit?
Not necessarily. According to an article in the Huffington post, many psychologists suggest that differences are not the worst things to which kids can adjust—what makes things the most difficult for children are parents who insist their ex should capitulate to their parenting style. Not so, they advise: Learning to agree to disagree can teach you—and your kids—valuable lessons.
What do they recommend?
The article lists several areas where parents can adapt their styles, and reap the concomitant benefits. They include:
How you talk about the other parent in front of the kids: It goes without saying, but bears repeating, that anytime you bad-mouth your ex—even in jest—it affects your kids. Your children are part of your ex and by denigrating him/her, by extension, you in turn denigrate your kids. Of course you will get frustrated, but your friends are the appropriate people with whom to have those conversations—out of complete earshot of the children.
Schedule changes: Some parents want a strict schedule. It makes them feel secure and they rely on it to effectively manage their time. Your ex, however, may prefer spontaneity. The fact that you are different won’t harm your kids. Arguing about it will. Take a deep breath and recognize the kids need to follow the rules of the respective households. It teaches them graciousness and flexibility. Who can argue with those character traits?
Listen with an open heart: The kids are adjusting, too. They may have hated that you fought, but they also hate that they have a new normal. If they want to talk, listen. Put down your book, your work, or your frustration and give them your full attention and willing ear. Doing so gives them a sense that they are important to you, and that their concerns are yours as well.
What better message can you send? Love and acceptance engender love and acceptance. Can you think of a better gift to give your kids?