Co-parenting can be a very contentious and stressful situation for divorced parents and step-parents if approached from an unrealistic standpoint. Many co-parents fail because: 1) one or all of the parents involved have an unrealistic idea of how things should be and 2) when those unrealistic ideas and expectations fall through, they give up, assuming that the whole thing won’t work and choose bitterness and hatred instead of effective communication and co-parenting.
The key to effective co-parenting is establishing realistic expectations and healthy boundaries from the very beginning, and to go slow and allow the relationships to organically evolve instead of forcing the issue of everyone being friends and one big happy family. Below are some co-parenting myths that may help struggling co-parents put it all into perspective.
Myth # 1: We all have to be best friends who vacation together and have dinner together once a week.
Although I applaud every blended family who is able to vacation together, share holiday dinners together and overall, merge as one big happy family, I want those who aren’t able to or have no desire to do so, to know that they ARE NOT failures if they don’t accomplish this task. It is okay and completely possible to not be totally engulfed in your ex-spouse’s and his new spouse’s lives, yet work together to raise your child. You can communicate effectively, not subject your child to conflict and make decisions together without doing everything else together as well. By that same token, you can still get along and even be friendly without sharing holidays, weekly dinners or vacationing together, so don’t believe this new found hype of every blended family having to do everything together in order for the kids to be emotionally healthy. It’s not true! More importantly, it is important to know that no relationship, especially blended family relationships, happen by force. If accomplishing this task is your desire, allow it to organically happen and know that it takes TIME, often times years, before it genuinely happens.
Myth #2: We all have to hate each other!
Just like everyone in the blended family doesn’t have to be best friends, you don’t have to hate each other either. Society and the media convinces us to believe that getting along with our ex-spouses and their new spouses is some sort of weird thing that needs to be studied by scientists and researchers. It’s not weird if we can all minimize conflict, do our best to compromise, get along and yes, even like each other. It doesn’t mean that we have to be best friends and do everything together or that anyone desires to be back with their ex-spouse. It just means that we’re committed to handling our respective emotional baggage as a result of the divorce, and not allow it to interfere with working together to do what’s best for our child.
Myth #3: The ex-wife and wife must be best friends in order for it to work.
Most people think that the harmony of the blended family has to revolve around the ex-wife and wife being the best of friends. They think it simply won’t work if she and I aren’t the primary parents in the family; meaning, we have to talk about scheduling, visitation and child support together because WE are the only ones raising the kids. My question to them is; where is dad in this co-parenting equation? While it’s true that you don’t have to hate each other and it’s unhealthy to do so, you don’t have to be best friends, share slumber parties and spa dates and exclude dad from parenting responsibilities for it to work either, and that extreme can be just as unhealthy. As a matter of fact, in my experience and the experience of many co-parents that I’ve spoken with, dad often feels excluded when ex-wife and wife operate this way. I encourage co-parents to leave initial discussions about visitation, school plays, parent teacher conferences, child support, etc. to the biological parents. Now this doesn’t mean that the step-parents are totally excluded, but it is the responsibility of his or her spouse to include him or her in those decisions, not the ex-spouses. This way minimizes confusion, resentment and establishes healthy boundaries!
Myth #4: If we have arguments or disagreements along the way, we’re not good co-parents.
If you argue with your spouse, which we ALL do from time to time, what makes you think you’re never going to argue or you’re always going to agree with your ex-spouse and/or his or her new spouse? Arguments and conflict, in any type of family, is inevitable, but it doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to a life of hatred and vengeful thinking due to one or even several arguments. People argue and that’s okay. It’s what you do afterward that’s important. Do you stew over it, and allow it to prevent you from moving forward, or do your best to compromise, let it go and move on?
Myth # 5: Good co-parents always find a way to agree on everything.
Although it is healthy for everyone to do their best to find a solution to an issue and compromise, it’s equally important to realize that sometimes everyone won’t agree, and won’t be happy with the final decision. Simply put, everyone is NOT going to agree all the time! That is an unrealistic expectation that often times sets co-parents up for failure. During the times when co-parents can’t agree it’s helpful to defer to the court order or seek the help of a third party (stepfamily counselor, mediator or judge) to assist you with achieving some sort of consensus. But again, what’s important is how you recover from these types of situations. Do you use your child as a pawn in a chess game because you didn’t get your way? Do you hold a grudge indefinitely? Do you refuse to communicate because she (his wife) took your ex-husband’s side? Do you allow it to totally trivialize the hard work you’ve put into being good co-parents up to that point? Or do you simply recognize it as a argument or something that you just couldn’t agree on and move on? Just remember, it’s not the arguments that make or break a blended family but it’s how you recover from those stressful times.