Whether you were never married or married a long time, whether divorce was your choice or not yours at all, communicating with your ex for the sake of your children isn’t always easy. Sometimes it can take years to even begin to start to get it right.
Today, you’ll find 10 tips that I’ve come to rely on in my 9 years as a single parent, and co-parenting long distance for 3 years now.
The key is to do your part to communicate effectively and never give up!
Whether it’s joint birthday parties or separate, just remember to do whatever you feel comfortable with. There are lots of fun activities, such as outdoor 5k runs, that you can do together with your child.
2. Set up Healthy Boundaries: Call vs. Text
Have you ever gotten the urge to say something you regret? Well text messaging is the easiest way to make that mistake. To take away the temptation, my son’s dad and I don’t text each other, we call. Decide what works best for you, but over the years, this has worked great for us in re-establishing healthy boundaries. Anytime we need to reach each other, we call or use an online messaging system, which I talk about next…
3. Create a co-parenting plan and consider using OurFamilyWizard.com
We registered right away and the purpose of it is to provide a record of everything that happens, so the other parent can’t say “I didn’t get your message or I didn’t know about such and such.” It costs about $90.00 a year, but it’s very worth it. In OurFamilyWizard.com you can actually see when a message is “read” or left “unread” and it also allows the child to write messages as well, with limited permissions. It’s like email, only better. The only problem we have is with the software, is that photos are harder to attach (since you can’t just upload it from your phone) but it works. (I found linking to Dropbox to share photo files is much easier). With the built-in calendar you can plan visitations, children’s activities, or suggest swaps. It also includes a central repository for doctor and immunization info, religious activities, sports, expenses and reimbursements, and there’s even a journal which you can set privacy permissions. Plus, it’s all easily downloadable and kept in one place for both parents to reference.
4. Facilitate thoughtfulness from your child to the other parent!
Everyone loves to be included. At Easter, my son and I made bookmarks for our friends and family and he mailed two to his dad. One for dad, and one for step-mom. Whether you exchange gifts for Father’s Day or Mother’s Day, Christmas or just because, try to brainstorm some ways to show thoughtfulness from your child to their other parent.
5. Figure out what to do when All Hell Breaks Loose and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.
Usually this happens because of certain things: you don’t get your child support for the week, the other parent says “no” to something for your child because it falls on their weekend, or you get ignored. But remember, just because the other parent doesn’t respond the way you hoped they would, don’t sweat it. There’s a great book called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: And it’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson. Read it and be inspired!
6. For every withdraw, be sure you’ve made at least 4 “deposits”
This goes for any relationship. I learned this in passing from various speakers on relationship-building, and you can also find it here. “Be aware that withdraws are more impacting that deposits. Make sure to have 3-5 deposits for every emotional withdraw. This 5:1 ration will ensure you keep your account at a healthy and stable level.” But the basic premise is this: If you are constantly nagging, asking, being upset at a “no” or arguing with your ex, then you are continually making emotional “withdraws” from that person’s emotional “bank.” The best thing you can do for yourself and your child is to pick your battles wisely and make emotional “deposits” as often as possible.
7. Be okay with “not knowing” when they are away, but be willing to listen.
Often as moms, we are curious about what’s happening when they are away. But one of the worst things you can do to your child is question them when they come back from the other parent’s home. Not only is it against the Child’s Bill of Rights, but it puts the child in the middle of an exhausting situation. Remember to let your child share what they want to share on their time frame 😉
8. When discipline issues arise, communicate. Even if your discipline methods are different, communicate.
Discipline means different things for different parents, especially if you are re-married and the step-parent has some responsibility in discipline as well. But the most important thing is that your child knows that both parents will discuss the discipline, even if they discipline differently. Otherwise, as the child grows, they can learn to manipulate one parent over the other in an effort to “get away” from consequences.
9. Have a sense of humor
This is my most important suggestion. One of the things I’ll say whenever my son’s feeling grumpy in a response to chores or something else, is “oooh, that’s so snappy snappy” and he bursts out laughing. Things happen during co-parenting too that make a situation tense and one of the best things you can do is just laugh about it. Like tip #5 says, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and remember, it’s All Small Stuff! Making small talk during drop offs and pickups and keeping the conversation centered around your child, is a great way to keep the mood light during exchanges.
10. Keep the future in mind.
It takes 18 years to raise a child to adulthood. That may seem like a long time, but as a parent of a 9 year old, I can honestly say that the time flies by (my son is now halfway there and I’m saying noooo, slow down!!!) I hope single parents, step-parents, and re-married parents all find these 10 tips helpful! One day you’ll wake up and your child will be an adult, so be sure everything you do and say now, makes a positive impact and not a negative one. I love this quote that is always at the bottom email signature of my child’s 3rd grade teacher:
“Be the best You you can be. No one else is better qualified!”