On Co-Parenting With Your Ex: What to Do When There Aren’t One-Size-Fits-All Instructions

By Holly Goodman

Early one morning during the first weeks of my first pregnancy, I woke up with blood spots in my undies and a weird feeling in my belly. There weren’t many spots and they weren’t big or dark, not the kind of bleeding my borrowed copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting said I should worry about. Obviously, the authors had no idea what kind of hypochondriac I am. I freaked. All day, I scrutinized my underwear for traces of red.

By late afternoon, I’d made my then husband take me to the emergency room of a local hospital to make sure I wasn’t having a miscarriage, and then to a second larger, busier, more modern hospital because I didn’t like the looks of the first. I’d say our trip was a complete waste of the hours and hours we spent in the waiting room, exam room and ultrasound room, but it wasn’t.

This day that started as panic ended with a tiny blip beating fast and regular on an ultrasound monitor — our first sight of a baby who was nothing more than her heartbeat.

She was ours. And we were her parents. For the first time and forever.

I had visions of future photo books filled page by page with pictures of us with her and maybe a brother or sister in Mexico and Morocco and Madrid. Smiles all around the world.

She’s 12 now and her sister is 9. Not many pictures made it into the books. We never even got passports. Their dad is no longer my husband, the ink on our divorce decree is barely dry, but here we still are with two kids who split time equally between our two houses. Co-parents together. Forever.

Forever forced to keep trying at this partnership, emotions and baggage and all.

The challenge of co-parenting with your ex isn’t the new set of problems you have to navigate (though there are those, too), it’s the reality that your broken relationship has changed, but it hasn’t ended. You still have to deal.

I wish there was an easy how-to, or that I had one-size-fits-all instructions for co-parenting. But all I have is this: put the kids first.

Put differences aside. Let go of every small thing that stops you. Stop fighting about things you will not change. Work your butt off to figure out every way you don’t even realize your differences are stopping you. Because all your crap and all the fighting does nothing but damage your kids.

That’s it.

In some ways, parenting apart isn’t much different than parenting together. Either way, we have our own parenting styles, philosophies and sometimes conflicting ideas of what’s best for our kids.

Sometimes when we disagree, he doesn’t change the thing that makes me unhappy. Sometimes when we disagree, I don’t change the thing that makes him unhappy.

I’d like to tell you more, but it’s tricky to talk specifics in this space. My kids are old enough to Google, so I’m cautious. Talking here is talking in front of them. Plus, this is only my take. It seems unfair that their dad doesn’t get a say.

If he did, he could tell you all the things about my parenting that make him crazy.

He’d say that I don’t update our shared calendar, so he sometimes doesn’t know what the kids are doing. He’d say that I’m a lousy disciplinarian, which to him means “bad parent” — and that when I give my kids a consequence, my follow through is 50 percent at best. He’d also say that I coddle them too much and they do too few chores at my house. All pretty much true.

I could tell you how I’d want to respond: deep and cutting. But what’s the point? It’s all he said, she said. I do some right, I do some wrong. Him, too. You, too. All of us, too.

Instead, I’m working on saying nothing, or saying “I’m sorry” when I need to. I’m focusing on the places we get it right. We still spend parts of the big holidays together so they can be with both parents. We are quick to shift the parenting schedule for each other and we ferry the kids around no matter whose parenting day it is. When we fight, we bounce back fast. We can have a blow out one day and sit in the stands talking small talk at our kid’s softball game the next.

A few weeks before my first daughter was born, my midwife told us she thinks one of the best things about a kid being raised by two (or more) parents is that the kid learns there is more than one way to be. Different people do things differently and that’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s good.

Turns out that co-parenting, like all parenting, like all of life, has a lot to do with letting go.

I try to remind myself: his parenting is different than mine. As long as my kids are safe and loved with him, it’s OK. As long as we’re not fighting battles that no one can win, it’s good.

More from Holly Goodman

How to Connect with Your Older Kids Through Books

Summer is Long, Pace Yourself: How to Survive Your Tween’s Summer Vacation

On Kids’ and Independence: Are We Parenting to Our Kids’ Past Instead of Our Present?

About the Author

Based in Portland, Ore., Holly Goodman began writing professionally in 1991. Her articles have appeared in "The Oregonian," "Dog Fancy," "High Times," First Wives World and on YouTango.com, among other publications. Her fiction has appeared in "The Journal" and at Literary Mama. Goodman has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from The Ohio State University.