10 Steps to get from Ex-husband to Coparent
I realized last week when I saw my coparent at drop off that I didn’t care. He was just another person. When he walked in the room I looked up and said hi like I would with anyone. Sounds pretty simple, doesn’t it? Ha! It’s taken me five years to get to this point. And our divorce wasn’t even drawn out. It only took three months. I was told that it just takes time before you get along after divorce. I wanted it to be sooner rather than later but you can’t just wave a magic wand and make it happen. There’s another half that’s out of your control that has to evolve as well. Here’s what I did to move the process along:
1. Change his name to Coparent - This is the first big game changer. Grab your phone, go into your contacts and make “Coparent” his first name. Now when he texts or calls the first thing you see is Coparent, which will act as a reminder that it’s now about the kids.
2. Do Not Engage - Don’t react to his criticisms or get defensive. If your divorce was highly contentious keep communication limited to text and try not to have visual contact at drop off until you’re ready. Texting keeps your words simple and is no place for detailed conversation. For example, if the text is “Next time the kids come over make sure they have all their outdoor clothes,” remember you don’t have to respond. It’s a text. If he calls you let it go to voicemail. It’s none of his business why your son didn’t have his jacket with him but you don’t need to waste your time and energy explaining that. It’s between you and your son or your coparent and your son, but not you and your coparent. In this example, the problem is that your son didn’t have his jacket. This is actually a learning opportunity! Your son has responsibility issues to work on. Your coparent could have had the conversation with him but instead put it on you. Don’t put your energy into defending your parenting style to your coparent; use it where it counts, to teach your children.
3. “Just the facts, ma’am,” as the saying goes. Your days of engaging with your ex-husband are over. As coparents your goal is to raise your children. The easiest way to do this is to keep emotion, drama, and opinion out of your communication. Let him know the main things such as schedules, appointments, grades, successes. You can still send pictures of milestones. But don’t elaborate, pass judgement, or offer an opinion. If you need his input on something, pose the question as simply as possible, preferably as a yes or no, and ask what he would like to do. If he wants to know more about why your son had to stay after school and asks you, have him call the school directly to find out. Don’t make yourself the middle person. If the doctor’s diagnosis is complicated, ditto.
4. Let it go - It’s done. As of the day of the divorce, he’s not your problem anymore. Going forward, don’t waste a single second of your valuable time trying to fix him. Whatever he did, whatever happened to make you part ways is now in the past. Inhale, lift your shoulders up and as you exhale drop your shoulders and feel the weight of the world leave your body. Do this every time a divorce thought pops into your head.
5. Fake it til you make - Say hello, how are you every time you see him. When you’re ready of course. But the sooner the better. Your attitude is setting an example for your children. No matter what feelings you may be harboring, get your emotional maturity in check and be the parent your children need by “momming up” and acknowledging the other key person who is in their lives with respect and dignity.
6. Treat him as you would a babysitter - no expectations, just safety. When the kids are with your coparent for a visit, think of it as no different than being with a babysitter. You appreciate a babysitter and have everything set up for a smooth transition. You are so happy to have the time off that you even pay her! But pay a coparent? It’s enough you don’t scream at him. No matter what his parenting style, as long as the children are safe, fed, accounted for and returned unharmed then consider yourself lucky. Having a coparent is a luxury.
7. No expectations, only appreciation - This is a tough one. But remember, if he didn’t do it before, he won’t suddenly change and start doing it now. Forget about it. Find the positive and focus on that. Organic only, no tv, one hour of screen time, brushing teeth - these are all extras. If they happen, great. But if they don’t is it really the worst thing? Be grateful that there’s someone connected to your children who is giving them another world view. And that he’s giving his time in one way or another. Set the bar lower, not higher, than when you were married and see how much easier the transition is.
8. Remember your boundaries - When you need to vent about your ex-husband keep this in mind: Therapist first, paid professional help in a pinch, maybe your best friend, but everyone else is off limits. Don’t be a drama mama. If you catch yourself telling your hairdresser the latest drop off story, or wasting time at a massage venting about how stressful your life is while you’re supposed to be relaxing, or worse trying to update your dental hygienist while she’s cleaning your teeth, stop immediately and make an appointment with your therapist. Also be careful about taking advantage of your best friend as a sounding board. No one wants to hear the same stories over and over. To the rest of the world he is now your coparent. Especially at work. And certainly with your children.
9. Learn the lesson - In every encounter in life there’s a lesson to be learned if you’re open to it. In divorce it’s huge, possibly the biggest lesson you may ever come across. And it doesn’t happen overnight. It comes in waves and it takes help every step of the way, professional or otherwise. Bottom line, something fell apart and you were half of it. Once you accept the role you played it’s easier to be open to seeing the relationship in a new way. Which is that you now have a coparent in your life.
10. Celebrate the little things - At each step take a moment to acknowledge the change you made. As you settle into your new life remember to congratulate your success along the way. Divorce can be very overwhelming and there will be times when you wonder why on earth you thought being a single parent was a better option. Honor it, remember that it’s just a thought, and then be proud for challenging yourself to improve the quality of life for you and your children.