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I meet countless divorcées who have very complicated relationships with their children's fathers. There's all the unresolved stuff about the marriage and then there are the kids. Or is it the other way around? Once you have kids, after you end what was once a dream-come-true relationship, you don’t get to dust yourself off and walk away. Instead, you get to co-parent. When children are involved, divorce means something very different from what it means for childless couples, because parents are tethered to one another forever. It’s therefore best you learn to live with the situation — and if possible, thrive within it.
My co-parenting experience has shown me that whenever one of the parents makes a move, the other parent, willingly or not, must shift in the new direction. Depending on how drastic the shift is, a tug-of-war may ensue, and with some frequency one of the parties winds up with a face full of dirt. A job change, job loss, relocation, illness, marriage — these are just a few of the events that will affect everyone in the family.
Regardless of feelings toward your former spouse, you're tethered at the waist, and everything you do impacts the other.
We can look to celebrities for proof of how difficult co-parenting can be. Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin’s public battles over their daughter showed the pain and frustration that can be experienced. "Real House Wives" Bradi Glanville and Eddie Cibrian's public divorce seemed to consider everyone but the kids. The anger, hurt, even shame, that may arise in divorce can bring out the darkest side of people, and still the kids need both parents. Regardless of feelings toward your former spouse, you're tethered at the waist, and everything you do impacts the other.
Recently, my ex-husband and I went through some definite changes that had us both tugging at the rope that hold us together, and I wound up picking myself up out of the dirt. All co-parents must find a way to get along and accommodate one another, but as co-parents of a child with special needs, it's all the more important that my ex and I work together for the well-being of our child. There are doctor’s appointments, therapies, medications and dietary challenges on top of the everyday sports, camps and homework to manage. He and I must come together very regularly. One thing I’ve learned is that communication is the number one key to co-parenting.
Here are few ways to support effective co-parenting especially during challenging times:
1. Set up weekly meetings to discuss issues that impact your children.
2. Find a neutral party to attend your meetings, maybe a close friend (of you both!) or a grandparent that can take notes, help moderate difficult topics and help set agendas and goals for the week.
3. Spend time with your child together as a family to create a sense of safety and security during changing times.
4. Stay focused on what is best for your children. In the face of anger or when feeling compelled to blame your ex, get yourself some support. Therapy is great (if not mandatory!) for such difficult times and complicated relationships.
5. Give up the control. Co-parenting is a joint venture that lets each party learn how to surrender, be flexible and go with the flow. If you’re a control freak, like I am, you’ll be destine for a lot of unnecessary pain.
6. Learn not to take things personally. Even though it might seem like every move your ex makes has some impact on you because of the children you share, I promise they aren’t trying to make your life difficult, just as you are not trying to make theirs a living hell either. Train yourself to stay focused on the children and what is best for them. Focusing on how you feel or what you think about what your ex is doing or not doing is a recipe for disaster for everyone, including the children.
At the end of the day we all want our children to be well and happy. And that happiness hinges on whether we work well together. Deciding that you can’t love and live with your ex doesn’t mean that you can’t work out a way to be good parents together. You must simply put your big-girl panties on and set your feelings aside — the only ones who can act like children when you separate from your spouse are the children themselves.