Co-Parenting 101

Collaboration as a Healing Mechanism

The success of your marriage doesn’t matter to your child’s well-being. What does matter for your child’s mental and physical health is a loving space and a solid relationship with at least one parent — one who provides stability, structure, and a safe space in which to grow. Ideally, both of you are willing to see collaboration as the primary healing, and these simple steps will help your family.

While divorce undoubtedly affects children in the short term, if one of the separating parents exemplifies care, clarity and compassion, children of divorce can grow up to be resilient contributors to society. Holding steady kindness while your ex endures or perpetuates a tough moment can seem utterly preposterous, especially if you’re sure you’ve been wronged.

But your child is watching. And that future adult will be thankful for your peaceful position. If you can be kind, and especially if you two can explore helping each other in small ways as you go forward, the biggest winners are your children.

Here are 5 steps; ideally for both of you. Print out these points, review them first yourself or together as conscious co-parents, and make any edits or adjustments needed.

Next, have a family meeting and read your final version to your kids, sitter(s) and any family who spends ample time in your home. And if it’s just you rising up, take these steps to heart and observe how your personal shifts really do have the power to transform the energy and feeling within your family.

  1. Be patient — with each other, your kid(s) and especially with yourself. Chaotic situations arise. Patience affords you the pause in which to consider all angles. Patience also grants you the presence to respond only after you have calmed down. And when you disagree with the other parent’s style or decisions, please speak about it during a time when you’re not heated, and definitely not in front of the kids. Patience is a muscle you’re developing, and practice does bring you closer to perfect.
  2. Keep your mind and heart clear. Even if your co-parent isn’t behaving, behave like the person you wish your child to become. Study, exercise, journal, gather with community — cultivate practices that keep you emotionally nourished so you can effectively nurture your family. This will ensure your communications are clear, so your child can grow up securely and confidently.
  3. Be consistently respectful. Continuity and consistency of rules and expectations between your two homes is crucial — do the best you can if your co-parent isn’t cooperating here. Remember, your kids are managing divergent expectations in each house; your task is to be an example of respect for them as they navigate both. Encourage your kids to speak openly to you at night, prior to bedtime, about any lapses in your own behavior. “What could I have done better today?” is a question I’ve asked my son almost daily since his dad and I divorced, and he feels safe and heard. As a result, for the most part, our communication is highly respectful. And always speak truthfully and respectfully about your ex. If they’ve done something awful, refer to the fact that while you might not agree with choices made, you’ll always be respectful of and thankful for the good that you’ve experienced.
  4. Peacefully ask for help. Compromise is always needed, and both co-parents should be prepared to maturely give a little in the design of your life going forward. Take a deep breath, step back, and try not to worry about creating the perfect co-parenting plan. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches in his book Anger to communicate when you’re feeling angry and ask for help. He’s taught me how to simply share that I’m suffering with some anger, and that I could use a bit of help. When I’ve said that, the walls come down, and there’s a palpable shift in the energy of the moment.
  5. Remember to forgive. Nobody is perfect, and emotions run high in separation, especially if you don’t agree on certain aspects of raising your kids. You have two choices in every scenario: fear or love. Fear becomes future pain. Love creates pure presence, right now. Even in the most harrowing, disappointing moments, you can practice hosting forgiveness in your body. Your forgiveness helps your entire family be free from painful future grudges and judgments regarding who’s wrong and who’s right. Your main aim is to move forward with compassion, and your forgiveness is the crucial seed for that compassion to flourish in and around your family.

There is no perfect parenting plan. Focus on what your family needs to feel comfortable, and do your best to behave with kindness and compassion.

Excerpted from BETTER APART by Gabrielle Hartley with Elena Brower, coming early 2019 from Harper Wave.

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