Just because you are divorced, doesn’t mean you aren’t a family

Tips to make co-parenting work

co-parenting, children, communication, ally, ex-spouse
The author and her husband, pictured with daughter Saige, learned how to co-parent during their time apart

My parents, baby boomers who made it through the peak years of the U.S. divorce rate still married to each other, eventually divorced in 2000. Though their divorce was amicable, in their case, "co-parenting" wasn't much of a concern, as my brother and I were already adults by that time.

The same cannot be said of my husband Mike and myself back in January of 2010, however. From then until June, 2011, Mike and I were, for all intents and purposes, "separated," though no legal papers were ever filed. We had one child, Saige, who was only four years old at the time. Our temporary split was due to our having a tough time getting along with each other for several years, mostly due to me being a severe workaholic, and he, the extreme opposite of that description.

Admittedly, we did still love one another, but didn't know if that would be enough for us both to make significant behavioral changes the other person needed to occur in order to stay in the marriage. Would love be enough? Fortunately, in our case, we learned that the answer was yes.

That's not all Mike and I learned during our year-and-a-half separation. In fact, one of the most important takeaways from our time apart was learning how to successfully co-parent Saige, without us being a couple ourselves. It wasn't always easy, but in the end, it was one hundred percent worth the effort.

Common struggles of divorced parents
Gina Carrigan of Wappingers Falls states that one of the greatest struggles both she and her ex-spouse experienced as newly divorced co-parents was getting past the lingering hurt and anger of the divorce itself. "There was mistrust regarding the safety of our son," says Carrigan. "It took a very long time, with many bumps in the road and disagreements, to teach us both that we need to get along for our son's sake."

Kate Smyth of Montgomery agrees. "Hurt feelings and mistrust can be experienced by not only the former spouses, but also by each sides' extended families," she says. Smyth credits the passage of time with mending fences between her and her ex-spouses' family members as well. "By the time our son had his first communion, both sides were eating together, along with new step-parents and their families," Smyth claims.

Smyth also brings up additional struggles she initially faced as a newly divorced co-parent, which include issues concerning money and differing parental philosophies from her former partner. "My ex and I eventually found our footing with a lot of compromise," says Smyth, adding, "My ex and I will decide together that 'you buy this, I'll get that'." Regarding differences in parenting philosophies, Smyth has also learned to compromise, but in many cases, she does so on her own time. "Though I disagree with my ex-husband's idea of food for our son," she says, "I try to balance it out and get him to exercise more when he is with me."

Julie Ciardi of Poughkeepsie, current host of the 'More Than Mommy' podcast (of which 'co-parenting after divorce' is a frequent topic), points out that some struggles can still occur well after a divorce has taken place. "When kids become teens," says Ciardi, "there is no better time to become partners in parenting with your ex-spouse. Do not make being a divorced family a 'cop-out' for why your child makes bad decisions. Be on the same page, enforce same rules, dole out the same consequences."

Learn more: How to cope when getting a divorce

Best 10 tips for successful co-parenting
1. Communicate with one another, possibly more than you would as a couple, especially regarding anything your child accomplishes or struggles with that the other parent isn't around to see for themselves.

2. Always put your own egos aside when communicating with your ex-spouse. Make every decision with only the best interests of your children in mind.

3. Be each other’s best ally. Bounce ideas off of one another regarding the raising of your children, and seek out the other's help with parenting decisions you may be unsure about.

4. Never belittle one another, especially in front of the kids, even when you think they aren't paying attention. Children are always paying attention.

5. Put up a united front regarding previously discussed and decided-upon rules and/or discipline measures, so that your kids know that both parents have agreed on the ultimate decision.

6. Never use the children as a bargaining chip with your ex-spouse to "get back" at him or her. Your divorce has nothing to do with them.

7. Let your kids form a separate relationship with your ex-spouse that has nothing to do with you. Let them form that on their own.

8. Never use your kids as ‘messengers.’ Always speak to the other parent directly.

9. “Death do you part” is very real even though your marriage is ending. You will be at every birthday, graduation, marriage, etc.

10. Don’t make your child choose between the two of you or vent to your child about your ex. Instead, seek out friends or a therapist to listen to your frustrations.

Advice for those new to co-parenting When asked to give advice to those new to co-parenting, Kate Smyth first encourages them to lean on each other. "Be a united front. This may be hard to do, but just keep telling yourself the truth: that you are doing what's best for your child."

Gina Carrigan once again stresses the importance of communication within co-parenting, reminding new co-parents, "Regardless of the past, remember that your child will be affected by the decisions you make. So, always think of your child's well-being first, and how your actions affect them, both in the present as well as possibly in the future."

Julie Ciardi, like Carrigan, also urges newly divorced co-parents to think long-term when making parenting decisions with an ex-spouse. Additionally, Ciardi reminds us that although marriage can be fleeting, parenting is forever. "Just because you are divorced, doesn't mean you aren't a family."

Jill Valentino is a wife, mom of two, elementary educator and lifelong resident of the Hudson Valley. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Medium @doublesmom77.