The process of divorce is hard enough, but when you have to co-parent with an ex who has become the bane of your existence, things can get worse. Some parents become better at being caregivers after divorce because they find their own voice and style outside the relationship. Others transform into an unrecognizable version of themselves, making parenting a horribly intolerable experience. Either way, when you can’t stand the person you are parenting with, life can become a drag, and the battle becomes exhausting.
If you are struggling to co-parent with an ex you despise, here are five tips to help you manage the experience:
- Reduce your ex-pectations: Expecting your ex to be the kind of parent you need him or her to be creates frustration and disappointment. While some exes flourish as parents after divorce, others become ornery and annoying. The rule of thumb is to expect no more than the ex was doing in the marriage, and brace for less now that he or she has other priorities. Even if you think he or she should be doing a better job, remember that it’s not up to you to police your ex’s parenting.
- Try not to be a hater: Hate is a very strong word, but when it comes to an ex, there may not be a lot of other words (that we can use here, anyway) to describe the level of negative feelings you might have. However, to hate causes YOU stress and makes it hard to parent effectively. Get some professional help to move from hate to tolerance to see if that makes co-parenting any easier.
- Look through your child’s eyes: You are most likely making your children the priority when it comes to co-parenting, but sometimes the mind can become clouded with negativity. Empathy is a great stress reducer, and it can really help to shift a detrimental perspective. Try to see your ex through your children’s eyes, a view that is most likely idealized and positive. Children will do anything to maintain an attachment to a parent, even in the face of horrible behavior. You can learn from their innocence.
- Let go of control: Co-parenting with an ex is one big lesson in letting go. You may not approve of your ex’s parenting style or what he or she does with the kids during their time, but this is mostly out of your control. If your ex is stonewalling you and refusing to share information about your child’s well-being, you need to manage that anxiety. Your ability to relinquish your illusory power will not only reduce your frustration and stress, it will open space for you to enjoy your time alone. You cannot change your ex with your will and desire to be right. You can only model with the hope of being a positive influence.
- Value your influence: Having your kids half the time (or sometimes less) may invoke a feeling of powerlessness with regard to your parental influence. All parents worry about scarring their children emotionally, and divorced parents may fear that the parenting going on in the other home may damage their little ones. If you are a parent who dreads letting your kids go with your ex, or who is concerned about your lack of authority, try to remember that whatever you are doing will be enough. If there is another (or new) partner involved, stay grounded in the fact you are the primary parent and no one can replace you.
Your children love you, are attached to you, and need you to be strong and centered as the “good enough” parent that you are.
© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD, BCHN, therapist in Pasadena, California
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