Four things that help my ex and I happily co-parent

Guest post by Cassie Rose
Our amazing kiddo -- photo by me!
Our amazing kiddo — photo by me!

Deciding to split up was the hardest decision my ex and I have ever been faced with. That devolves into a much longer story, but we both agreed that we have different needs in a relationship, and neither of us are compatible with meeting the other’s needs, so we split. We are both kids from divorced families, and we both realized that we should both be equally and amiably involved in our daughter’s life to raise a happy and secure child as best we could with the circumstances. We take her to dinner together a few times a month, spend holidays together, and try to make sure she knows that even though we are in two separate houses, we are still a family and still her mommy and daddy.

I’d say that we are closer friends now than we were when we were married. I think it takes a lot to look at something and say okay, this isn’t working, but what WILL work? How do we create a normal, awesome life for her even though it’s not the societal norm? I think we’ve done an awesome job at that.

Here are some of the main things that we have learned:

Flexibility is everything

We do a four day (me) and three day (him) split every week with her, the same days for consistency. But some weeks things come up — I want to spend more time with her, or he has a basketball game, or one of us has a date, and we let the other one know what’s going on and we’re both always happy to switch our days around if needed. There’s some sacrifice involved — sometimes he doesn’t get to go to a football game because I’m shooting a wedding, but we both get that that’s just part of it.

Be Reliable

We both know that we can count on each other for anything when it comes to our daughter — if one of us is sick, the other one is going to need to pick up the slack and help out.

Communicate

We talk at least once a day, and I don’t think it’s really necessary to even talk that much. We do like to stay in close contact to feel like we’re co-parenting effectively. I make sure that if he picks her up from school, I call to tell her hi and ask her (and him) about how her day went, if there are any new things at school, anything we need to be aware of. The same is true in reverse — he calls me when she’s with me. We chat openly and honestly about what we’ve both got going on in our lives that could affect her in any way and come to a mutual understanding on how to approach everything with her.

Put your kid first

The key thing is that she is our priority. Any issues we have between us are just that — between us. We both have the same goal of raising a healthy, happy, well-adjusted child, and we worked together to establish routines and guidelines that work well for us to help us achieve that. She’s more important than ANY differences we have between us. Her happiness and well-being are behind our every thought and decision.

Comments on Four things that help my ex and I happily co-parent

  1. thanks for this! I’ve personally never experienced split parents, but because of where I am at in my life and relationship right now, this is amazingly reassuring.

  2. It’s awesome you guys are in this place. I’m pretty sure if my parents had tried to do this after their divorce, they would have killed each other. Congrats on staying cordial!

  3. I wish my parents had followed rules like this. I have a theory that co-parenting like this is “easier” if the parents aren’t trying to make it work for long periods of time. Would you say that is true of you and your ex?

    • Definitely agree – we split when she was really young and we tried very hard to boil it down to: is there ANY chance that this can work, in any way? The answer at that time was no. We went to therapy for quite a while and explored pretty much every option, and then started looking at how to effectively co-parent from separate houses.

      And thank you to everyone for the support. 🙂

  4. This is really the blueprint for healthy kids. At first, you may have to fake it ’til you make it… but as time passes and you each process what happened to the relationship, letting go of the hurt/anger/sadness/etc does happen and clears the way for a friendship of sorts. Or at least a different relationship.

    If both parents are able to put the kiddos first and focus on that, the rest comes with time. This can also ease the way for everyone when a new partner enters the picture. Most of the same principles apply, plus ‘go slower than you think you need to’.

    Divorce doesn’t have to be the death of a family… thanks for writing this.

  5. One of the best ideas my ex and I came up with, after the split, was what we call “The Ruby Report”.

    At the end of each custody stretch (1 to 3 days) we send an email describing what happened. It fills the other parent in on the mundanities: when she went to bed, what she ate, how she spent her time. Initially these were short but as we’ve been doing them they’ve become longer and longer, more like diary entries. It only takes five minutes, but it’s actually quite amazing to see what other color pops into the email when we’re describing the mundane parts of life.

    We specifically keep questions and things that need conversation out of the Ruby Report — those can be addressed separately. This is just an FYI.

    The emails keep us accountable — if you’re feeding her pizza every day, or she spends all her time with you watching TV, I’m going to find out (note: this is just a hypothetical). If she’s spending a bunch of time hanging around my drunk artsy friends, you’re going to find out (note: not so hypothetical, but my drunk artsy friends love kids).

    It also brings out little bits and pieces of what her time away from me is like: how and when she does her homework, how she feels when she cleans up her room and how long it takes. Oh, hey, you’re teaching her how to play chess. Hmmm, she helped with chopping the vegetables and she was safe with the sharp knife.

    The Ruby Report initially came about because we were trying to train our daughter off of night-time diapers, and one day while she was getting ready for bed, Ruby said to me, “oh, I haven’t been wearing diapers at Mama’s house for weeks.” It’s the kind of thing we should have been on the same page about, but it fell through the cracks. Now, with this regular email which is focused on the *mundane*, we can keep our households better aligned.

  6. Cassie, I’m really glad that this method worked for you. I’m a stepmom, and I’m wondering how you and your ex plan to coparent when other partners come into play (either your your ex gain a long-term partner). Do you ever wonder if one day your daughter will be confused (ie, if mom and dad get along so well, why aren’t they together)?

    I think it is wonderful that you both are able to coparent effectively. I wish it were possible for my stepson. Although I would not be comfortable with spending holidays with my husband’s ex or referring to her as family (she certainly is my stepson’s family, and we encourage those ties, but we are clear that she is not family to my husband or I). But I know other families who do these things and have much success.

    That being said, I really am glad this is working so well for you three, and am interested in your response. I think any time all parties are interesting in the well being and care of the child, the outcome is usually pretty good.

    • Hi Ginger! All great questions.

      I do have a boyfriend who has been in our daughter’s life for about a year and a half. She loves him and vice versa, and he doesn’t try to be a “parent” to her. She’s too young yet to have a concept of what a traditional marriage looks like, so I know we’ll have some explaining to do for her as she gets older. She’s already started asking a few questions about families. I explained to her about all the different kinds of families there are, and that just because we don’t live together doesn’t mean we’re not a family.

      She might have more questions about why we aren’t together, and that’s okay, she should and I’ll be as honest and positive as I can about it. I’m sure we could not do holidays together (we don’t for every holiday without fail, but we do for when it’s convenient) and it would still be fine for her, but we all like each other and get along, so it works well for us. It sounds like you are doing the best for your situation as well. 🙂

      • That must make things a bit easier for all the adults, and I’m 100% sure that it will make it better for your daughter also. Good for you guys keeping the drama out of co-parenting! 🙂

  7. My parents split up when I was really young and my stepmom came into the picture about a year after the split. The divorce obviously involved anger and frustration, but my parents made a point to let some stuff go (like differences about what we should eat and if TV was ok) and never talk negatively about each other to us. My parents became close friends again, so Mom goes to their family’s Christmas etc. Getting to some sort of comfortable place where you can converse, in my opinion, is key. You cannot erase that person out of your lives (as much as you want to), so gritting your teeth and pushing through weirdness and frustration is for the best in the long term.

    One thing that I really appreciated about my stepmom is her approach as one. We were only with my Dad on weekends, but that was still a good amount of time. She consciously never tried to “parent” us and Dad never “parented” my stepsister who was with them full-time. If we needed disciplining in any way, she stepped aside and allowed my Dad to do whatever felt right to him. She was there for love, fun trips, attending plays, helping with homework, clothes shopping etc, but big parenting decisions were made by the parents, period.

    This worked out really well for us because we were never able to say the really hurtful things you hear (“You’re not my mom!”) because we were never angry with her for trying to be a parent-figure. This also prevented any possible weirdness with momma-confusion with our own mom. It meant that if Mom disagreed with something someone did, she could only go to Dad, which lead to a great relationship between my mom and stepmom. We love her absolutely and she is a huge part of our lives, but she is not our mother and will never be. Luckily, none of us ever wanted her to be. It creates a really fun almost aunt-like place for all of us. We have a long history, a strong support/love, and a common bond.

    • LOVE reading this, Lilli! This is the way my family has chosen to define our roles and it has been great for everyone. I’m the stepmom… and love it. I get to do all these wonderful fun things and have a different relationship with the kids than their parents have. Not everyone outside gets it, but having my own role has helped to create an opportunity for their mom and I to have a positive and drama-free relationship… it really feels like we’re in it together and not in opposition.

      Your description really captures what we’re trying to do…. I’m thrilled to hear a positive report from someone on the other side of it.

  8. I would step in and say that it’s also good to have open communication about alternate child-care (like babysitters, or which friends/family it’s OK to leave your child with in an emergency when neither parent can be there) before those situations come up. That way the babysitter/nanny/friend can also be on the same page with you when it comes to how you are raising your child/children as co-parents. It also reduces the likelihood of ever having a, “You left her with WHO?!” conversation afterwards.

    Also, don’t take it personally if your ex prefers you not use a particular friend as a babysitter. We all have friends that maybe shouldn’t be in charge of small children, so I’m sure your ex has friends you wouldn’t want your child left with either. Discuss it openly and without judgement, but do set clear expectations when choosing anyone who might end up providing childcare.

    • My ex and I are friends and have been able to work a lot of things out together. The alternate caregiver issue is one that hasn’t come up yet, but that needs to be addressed. I’m sure we have differing opinions on who is acceptable. I’m glad you brought this up- it helps.

  9. This makes me happy. I’m a child of divorce and I was ALWAYS grateful to have two parents that were amicable. I definitely liked them a lot more divorced than married! 😉 Mostly my gratitude came into play when my friends would come to school talking about how their divorced parents were fighting constantly or being nasty in general. I’m confident your daughter will love you endlessly for this.

    I also have two step parents and five brothers and sisters that I didn’t have before my parents divorced. Very rarely, all four of my parents get together and have a great time. My dad and stepdad smoke joints together “secretly” in the backyard, and my mom and stepmom switch kids since my stepmom has all my brothers and my mom has all my sisters (and they’re all way younger than I am). It is unconventional, but it works.

  10. OMG! It sounds like you’re doing a great job; it isn’t easy AT ALL. My wife and I split up 5 months ago, and now she lives 2 doors down (in an apartment building) with her new girlfriend, so our 8 year old son can be with each of us as much as possible. We’ve made up a calendar for him of the schedule, where even though I have him 4 nights, and she has him 3, he gets to spend 28 of his waking hours every week with each of us (when he’s not in school). We also just had Thanksgiving all together. (Ex-wife’s girlfriend too!)It’s inspiring and hopeful to hear other co-parenting stories! Thanks for sharing!!

  11. I could have written this post!

    It took us a few years post-divorce but my son’s dad and I finally realized we needed to start getting along better. We don’t have any other family in town so we try really hard to support each other. O lives with me and stays at his dad’s every other weekend when I work and some Fridays so I get a night off 🙂 During the week most days his dad picks him up and brings him home. Sometimes he’ll stay for dinner, we do holidays together, some day trips and events as well. School things like meet the teacher night we do together. I love how well it works for all of us, but especially the change in O. He is happy and secure. He sometimes says he wishes dad lived with us, but he isn’t that upset that he doesn’t. We are both dating, but nothing very serious at this point, and agree that we will work on keeping things relatively the same in the event that either of us is serious with another person. We have even discussed buying a duplex together. No matter what we are a family.

  12. Sometimes I get so mired down in our drama that I forget that other people are able to be kind, mature adults in situations like this. Thanks for giving me a bit of hope back.

  13. I once had a small girl in mykindergarten class with divorced parents that said “my mummy and daddy are best friends”.

    They did not live together, but went on holidays together with the girl and both sets of grandparents used to pick her up after school. It is nice when people make it work like that.

  14. I like a lot of this, except for the part about calling during the other person’s time. I have full legal custody, but my kids go see their dad approximately 3 nights out of every 10 days. Occasionally we’ll do longer stretches of time, usually in the summer. I would not like it at all if he was calling them or me during my time to have them, and I don’t make any contact with them when they are with him. That’s hard, especially those times when he gets them for a week, but with our kids being preschoolers phone calls often confuse or upset them, and it causes more problems than it’s worth. I see how for older kids it could work though.

    • I don’t see how it can possibly be confusing or upsetting for kids to talk to their parents unless the parents behave as if it’s an imposition. But then it’s the parents’ fault for confusing the issue. Just calling to check in, say how was your day, goodnight, I love you, is really only going to tell the kids that mommy and daddy love them even when they’re in a different place.

      I can just see your kids moving away and never speaking to you again because they’ve learned that you only talk to them when they’re home with you.

  15. Excellent post! This is totally my parents. They split the week like that and when people see my folks talking (I’m 25 now, they divorced when I was 7) they can’t believe they ever divorced, “They get along so well, my parents STILL won’t talk to each other!”.

    It’s definitely benefited my life and my brothers’ lives. They worked together to make our lives work. Eventually we lived with my mom full time after my dad moved for a year, but I never heard the words “full custody”, it’s just what happened naturally. When my dad came back he worked long hours, but we saw him EVERY week, no fail. I’m getting a little teared up thinking about it, but I am so happy for you two and your child because I am that child all grown up, happy to have my parents working together and getting along.

  16. THIS IS SO CRITICAL!!! I am so in love with this post i can barely contain myself. THANK YOU!!!! My ex and I have been doing this exact same thing now for 14 years. Our daughter is amazing and we are better parents for it. She doesnt totally realize the gift we’ve worked hard at giving her now, but she will later. One of the struggles that has come up for her is she sees my husband and I argue, and her Dad and his girlfriend argue, but her Dad and I almost never argue…so her logic is: since we dont argue we should be together. She doesnt realize we are rarely involved in each others actual personal lives. That said: I know if I ever needed him for anything…anything in the world, he’d do it for me in a second. And I’d do it for him. It’s one of the best relationships I have ever had. And better yet…My own Mom is now practicing Collaborative Law (vs litigated divorce) partially because she has living proof that this can work. She is constantly striving to help families in transition and has used examples from our situation several times. Im very proud of her, but more so, I love so much that my ex and I stepped up to make this very active decision and that as a result, my Mom is proud of me.

  17. I am so glad you posted this. My ex-husband and I have been co-parenting now for about 7 years. We weren’t sure whether or not it was going to work and in fact, sometimes throughout the years… we’ve had our struggles.

    It’s funny though, your “4 items” are true to a Tee. ESPECIALLY # 4. As long as your children come first for both of you, it’s really hard to screw it up. The most that we have ever disagreed about has to do with our different approaches sometimes. Which is true for parents that remain married. The key is to hash it out away from the kids, come to a decision and present a “UNIFIED FRONT” with your children.

    We are both remarried now. The comment theme I tend to disagree with however, is that step-parents should stay out of it. My husband and his wife participate in the rearing, support, and love of our children. Therefore, they are also regarded and respected as disciplinarians as well. Our unified front is 4 people strong.

    When people see our situation for the first time, we are usually met with quizzical brows and “hmmmms”. After folks get to know us, we are usually met with compliments and have even been told “You guys should write a book about how to parent as a divorced family”.

    Thanks for posting. It’s wonderful to know that there are others out there!

    • Thanks for showing the other approach to step-parenting — I’m a stepmom & my husband and I, his ex-wife and her partner, don’t go along with the “stepparents don’t discipline” idea that seems to be so common either. We tried it at first, but the steps not disciplining translated into the steps not being respected by the kids. Since we do “parent” in the sense of helping with homework, transportation, keeping the kids’ schedule and all the other parent things, fun and not-so-fun, we also discipline, with complete backup from my husband and his ex-wife. You’re right — the unified front of four adults is much more powerful than excluding the steps from parenting.

  18. But what happens if the parents live seperately, or when a parent wants to move away… how can this kind of arrangement even work, how can you work around where the child ends up living – I’m in a situation now where the ex wants to move away for a full time job and take our one year old daughter with him – but I’ve been her full time carer for over a year and can’t imagine life without her. I don’t think it’s fair for him to want to take her away, especially since he will be working and in another country altogether 🙁

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