Last fall, I did a wonderful webinar with Cindy Grossman, the Executive Director of Kids’ Turn San Diego, to talk about co-parenting. Kids’ Turn San Diego has a mission of “promoting, supporting and securing the well-being of children who are experienced family separation” and runs workshops for separated and divorced families and provides a co-parenting program for the parents and a program for children ages 5-17. During the pandemic over the last year, they’ve moved their programs online to continue to provide wonderful services to separated and divorced families. During that webinar, Cindy shares something so important about being a good co-parent. She said that you need to “be the best parent you can be when your children aren’t with you.” Now I think we can all agree that as parents it’s important to be the best parent we can be when we have our children, but when you’re co-parenting with an ex, what does it really mean to be the best parent when your children aren’t with you? I wanted to share some ways to accomplish this.
How You Interact with Your Co-Parent
When you exchange your children with your co-parent, it’s important to think about how you interact with them. You might not be at all happy to see your ex when you do exchanges, and this past year you may have had to see them more than you wish since many schools were closed and exchanges that normally occurred at school had to take place at home. However, your children should never be able to tell what your feelings are about your ex. This goes beyond the absolutes of not talking inappropriately around them or saying mean things to the other parent. It means being friendly to them and saying hello and how are you doing so you can model friendly behavior for your children, even towards someone you may not have a good relationship with. Hopefully, your ex can reciprocate this friendliness. However, even if they don’t, it’s showing your children that it’s important to be kind to people even if they’re not kind to us back. Additionally, it would help if you thought about what you talk about at these exchanges. If there are things that you want to make sure they’re doing when they have the children or reminders, it’s better to text, email, or use your co-parenting app (whatever has been agreed upon between you) so that you’re not getting into these things in front of the children. It will facilitate these exchanges being amicable and happening quickly so everyone can continue with their day.
Communicating with Your Children
Depending on how many days your ex has the children in a row, you may have built-in time to call, text, or video chat with your children when they’re with them. This is another time when it’s important to be the best parent you can. Being available when you say you will be and talking to your children directly and not to the other parent or using that as a time to check up on your ex is important. This should be a time to talk with the children about their day and tell you what they want to tell you. Also, understanding that it’s the other parents’ time and it’s just an opportunity to talk to your children. Some parents choose to have a consistent time talking to their children anytime they’re with the other parent. I had a friend in law school who would have a call with his children every night before they went to bed because they lived out of state. It didn’t matter where we were. He would step outside and talk to them before they went to bed. That was important to him, his children, and his ex, and he always made sure to make that call a priority.
Attending Events when It’s Not Your Parenting Time
One thing that often comes up is school meetings, recitals, games, or other events about the children when it’s not your parenting time. One thing we usually discuss in mediation is that it doesn’t matter who’s parenting time. It is both parents should be able to and should show up for these events. These events are only about your child(ren), not about your or your ex, and even if you guys don’t get along, it’s important that your children see that both parents will show up for them no matter whose time it is. Now it’s also important that if it’s not your time with the children that although you show up and, of course, may say hi to your children that you respect the boundaries that it’s the other parents time to be responsible for the children and them to go home with them. Putting your children first shows them that not only can you guys be in the same vicinity and not argue with each other but that the children are what is most important to you both, and you will both make sure that you’re there for them.
If you have difficulties co-parenting, contact us, and we can assist in putting together a co-parenting plan that puts your children first and allows you to be the best parent you can be even when your children are not with you. Contact West Coast Family Mediation Center to schedule your free consultation!