Your child comes first

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as I look back on the over-six-years that I’ve been co-parenting with my daughter’s dad. We’ve had good days and bad days on this journey, and I am ever-thankful to him for joining me on it.

But the stresses of co-parenting often become overwhelming, for a variety of reasons. Be it new relationships, money worries or a variety of external factors. I’ve had the displeasure of witnessing some atrocious situations post-divorce. Situations where parents seem so hell-bent on destroying each other, that they destroy their children’s happiness in the process. I’ve tried to help parents as they navigate the often-frightening journey towards making it as single parents, by reflecting on my own.

So I decided to think about the basic fundamentals that go into creating a good co-parenting relationship.

People often look at my kid’s dad and I with wonder. We’re one of the “lucky ones” (by the way, there is no luck, there is only hard work). We have a wonderful, supportive family on “both sides” of the fence. We work together to give our child the happiest life possible. Some people find it strange that we “get on with it without the drama”. Some people don’t understand how we moved beyond the regular side of pain that came with our splitting up. The thing is – we do disagree. We both figuratively stomp our feet and feel frustrated with each other. I over-communicate when it’s not necessary, and sometimes he takes too long to give me important information. Sometimes we get frustrated with each other.

But here’s the thing – even in the very first days of our daughter being alive – we agreed that she would never, ever experience the pain of seeing her parents tear each other to shreds. Why? Because, in all honesty, we’re actually on the same side. No matter the money worries, the concerns of who does what with who, what she does when, whatever – we are on the same team. And that team is our daughter.

This is my simple plea to parents, everywhere. Whether you’re married/co-habiting/single/co-parenting/blended-familying or whatever you define yourself… treat the other parent in your child’s life as a human being first.

Yes, there are extenuating circumstances, especially if you’ve had an unsuitable scenario play out in your child’s life.

Some tips for navigating co-parenting:

Respect - Treating each other as a human being, with respect, will do wonders for your children. Yes, I know he annoys you and she drives you around the bend. Yes, I know he frustrates you when he does not respond to your messages. Yes, I know it’s annoying when she messages you 8 times a day to send you a cute picture of your kid, especially when you’re at work, on a deadline. When you treat your co-parent with respect and as a human, you teach your children how to treat every other person on the planet with respect. You teach them that your love for them supersedes every other situation that ever existed. You teach them that your love for your child goes beyond every silly disagreement and every single altercation that’s ever happened. You teach them that they were born out of love, and will live that love every day. Isn’t that what you want for your children, anyway?

Email – if you have to discuss something that could turn into a fight, do it over email. That way, you both have time to constructively think through your responses, and will avoid any sort of public blowup. Do not be tempted into fighting in front of your children – nobody wins in those situations, especially not your children.

Acceptance – most often, divorced parents move on to find new partners or relationships. Take an interest in the new partner, for they will have an influence on your children’s life. Try not to approach them in an aggressive way – they generally don’t enter this situation to start a fight with you, so why are you starting one with them? That said, if you feel that the new partner in your co-parent’s life is unsuitable for your children, express your concerns in private. There is no need to play that tumble out in front of the kids. At the same time, new partners? People split up for a reason. When you see your new boyfriend or girlfriend being nice to the person they have kids with, it’s not a sign to get insecure. It’s a sign that you’re in a relationship with someone who is mature enough to understand that their kids come first, always. Calm down.

Neutral Spaces – it’s important that co-parents meet in a neutral space when they need to discuss things. Meet over your lunch break from work, while the children are at school. Use this time to catch up on your kids’ lives with each other and, if necessary, thrash out any issues you need to.

Play Fair – be fair to each other, first. If you follow that one rule, you’ll be fair to your children. Don’t think you’re doing the right thing for your kids by attempting to screw over the other parent. You’re not. If you destroy one parent, a child loses out. Be happy for your ex’s successes as best you can, for they will have a positive effect on your children’s life.

Teamwork – No matter how much you may despise the sight of each other, you are still on the same team. If you were to choose a team name, it’d be your children’s. Act like it.

How do you deal with co-parenting?
We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24