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Co-Parents are People Too

Co-Parents are People Too

The co-parenting life can be a tough life, and it’s not a question of whether you’ll blow it at times.

You will. Guaranteed.

You’ll blow it with your kids, your co-parent, and yourself.

But this is about you — about the times when your frustrated emotions override your common sense and you just blurt out — to your co-parent, or to your children — the first thing that comes to your mind, regardless of the harm it might do. This is about the times it all becomes just too much, when you fall apart and cry in front of your kids, unable to hold it all in any longer.

People are not required to be perfect to become parents — in traditional families or in co-parenting situations.

All you can ask of yourself is to keep moving forward, doing whatever it takes every day of every year to raise your kids in a whole and healthy way so that they will not drag, for the rest of their lives, the heavy baggage of their past.

It has been a ten-year journey for John and me. We have both, at times, had to acknowledge to each other that we were wrong, or that we had not been patient in a previous conversation. We have had to agree to disagree on some topics, but in order to parent forward — to keep moving the ball down the field — we have had to work together consistently.

It might happen at the baseball field as you’re both watching Johnny in a game, or at Jenny’s dance recital — something unforeseen happens, you disagree about how to handle it, and everyone launches into a flurry of frustrated, hurtful responses. Ask yourself, first and foremost, what was the motive behind that sequence of events? Most times — not always, but most times — I think you’ll find that the motive was positive, but the outcome got messy because we are all flawed, imperfect people.

The motive may have been to encourage your shared children, but perhaps the words were clumsy, or perhaps the gesture was misunderstood by the other parent.

The motive may have been to protect, but maybe it was interpreted by the other parent as something negative, perhaps intrusion into the way they run their home.

Life happens without a pre-written script. When children are being raised by divorced (and sometimes remarried) parents, awkward situations will inevitably arise, usually accidentally. Certain moments will send even the best co-parenting team reeling.

Here’s an exercise that may help: If you and your children’s other parent were able to agree on one thing — what would that be? Think about it. Is there more than one thing? Probably.

I’d challenge you to record your thoughts like this:
We agree: _______________________________________________
We agree: _______________________________________________
We agree: _______________________________________________

Now come up with a statement of the shared motive — not just your motive, but the shared motive — that guides you and your co-parent in contributing to the raising of your children:

My motive as a co-parent is: ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Here’s a challenge: Bring up at your next (or first) co-parenting meeting this subject of shared motives and bring a worksheet for each of you like the one above. Write down the similar goals you have, the dreams you have for your children, the future you want to create for them, the things you agree on that affect your kids.

Clarify for your co-parent your personal motive in the co-parenting process. You have a common cause — take the time to articulate it and write it down. This will give the two of you something to come back to when either of you have failed. It will be a reminder that you share the same motive — and it can help re-direct your course when you find yourself in chaos. It can help get you back on track.

This will, hopefully, give you a little more grace with each other when one of you fails at communications or is late to pick up the kids.

Forgiveness and flexibility are key in co-parenting; they aren’t easy and they don’t come naturally, but if you want to succeed at co-parenting, you need them.

This exercise can help.

More than anything, I want you to remember to forgive yourself when you fail. That is probably the hardest forgiveness to offer. Some people are convinced that it’s impossible, that it can’t be done. I don’t believe that — it’s far from easy, but it can be done.

Don’t spend the next ten years dwelling on the past and all the ways you wish it could have been different. Don’t surrender to a downward spiral of self-blame or negativity. Don’t beat yourself up daily because you’re divorced. Forgive yourself for being an imperfect human being and decide today that you are moving forward.

Excerpted with permission from Co-Parenting Works by Tammy G. Daughtry, copyright Zondervan.

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Your Turn

While co-parenting doesn’t come with a script, that doesn’t mean you can’t develop your own with your fellow co-parent. For those of you living this right now, how do you remember to give both co-parents (remember to include yourself!) grace?