Horror stories abound when it comes to divorce and childhood. I remember growing up hearing about friends whose parents split and how Mom and Dad never got along or were always in competition with each other. As an adult, you hear the other side of the equation – the child of divorce. Kids being spoiled with everything they want – because if Mom won’t buy it, Dad certainly will. Or kids manipulating parents to do what they want because they know they won’t talk to each other about it.
Kids are quick. Even the sweetest child can use parents’ hatred for each other against them. Even the kindest child might go along with whatever spiteful words a parent tells them about the other. Kids aim to please and can get caught in lies when doing so – something I learned by watching a single father I dated. He talked so poorly about his son’s mother, and his son went along with everything he said. You could tell he really did love his mother, but seemed ashamed to admit it to his father. This type of situation is so common it’s almost expected when parents split.
To be honest, when my ex-husband and I called it quits, I was scared. About a lot of things, but mainly my daughter. Above all else, I didn’t want her or her childhood to suffer. It was our decision to get a divorce, not hers. It wasn’t her fault her parents wouldn’t be together anymore. Couldn’t we still raise her the way we wanted her to be raised? I was hopeful that her father and I could put our differences aside and continue to give her the childhood she deserved.
It took us several years to get to the good place we’re at now. Even though K’s father and I started out with the best intentions, navigating parenthood after divorce doesn’t come naturally. It took hard work and we often learned things the hard way, but we’re finally co-parenting, getting along, going on co-parent dates, and I’m best friends with his new wife!
Here’s how I’m trying to make sure my daughter’s childhood isn’t ruined by divorce.
I always put this one first because I know how important it is. Communicate with your child’s other parents! My ex, his wife, my husband, and I always talk about K, schedules, disciplinary actions – everything! If it’s not in a group text or open conversation when we all get together, Kristen and I talk and then communicate it to our husbands. It’s what works for us!
The more you communicate, the more united as a parenting front you’ll be. Plus, your child won’t have to remember who she told what and when because you’ll already be discussing it between each other. Your child will be better off for it!
Parenting as a team.
Teamwork makes the dream work! This stems directly out of communication. We know that when we work as a team of parents instead of competing against each other, K doesn’t have to choose sides. She doesn’t have to censor herself, or try to lie in order to please whomever she’s with.
It also helps with behavior problems. Whenever something serious comes up (like lying – our number one no-no) we work as a team to come up with a punishment that fits the crime. The last time this came up, we discussed it in a group text. When it came down to implementing the punishment, all 4 of us talked to K together at drop off time. This way, she knows we’re all on the same page.
Keeping rules consistent.
Although we may have slightly different schedules in our two homes, both my side of the family and K’s father’s side keep rules pretty much the same. We have the normal no lying, hitting, stealing, etc. Homework has to be done each night, folder marks mean punishment, eat dinner or you don’t get dessert – things like that. And although Dad’s house isn’t big on TV or electronics while Mom’s certainly is, we all agree our 7-year-old shouldn’t be watching anything too mature for her age. So although we don’t do things exactly the same way, rules are still consistent.
A shared parenting schedule.
Our shared parenting schedule has really helped us spend more time with our daughter. This is especially true in the summers. Since I work from home while K’s dad works at an office M-F, I keep her more during the week in the summer while he has more time on the weekends. During the school year, we have her 3 days each week, but 4 days on the weeks her dad is gone working for the National Guard. This shared parenting schedule helps us spend more quality time with our daughter when she is with us. She doesn’t have to go to a babysitter or after school program. When she’s with us, we know we have to be present and make the most of our time together.
Compromising on time.
Whenever a fun event comes up on the other parent’s scheduled time – like a family get-together, a friend’s birthday party, a baby shower, or something we think K would really enjoy attending – we always run it by the other parent to ask if we can swap days. Usually, if they don’t have other plans, the other parent is totally okay with it. And if it’s really important like a sibling’s birthday party or a parent’s wedding, there’s just no way we would want to say no! Keeping those lines of communication open and explaining the situation is really important for the success of compromise. At the end of the day, it’s about what’s best for our daughter; if she had to miss all of the fun events because she was tied to a schedule her parents dictated, that wouldn’t be fair to her!
Unusual holiday schedules.
In order to allow K to celebrate with and spend as much time with both sides of her family as possible on holidays, our families have kind of an unusual schedule. Although we do the usual swapping years for holidays like Halloween or July 4th (although we’ll be celebrating both all together this year!), Thanksgiving and Christmas are different.
For Thanksgiving, our families usually plan big celebrations on the Saturday following the holiday. So each year, K’s dad and I sway the day of and the Saturday after. If he has her the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I have her the day of – and vice versa.
Christmas is a bit more confusing. My parents traditionally celebrate by opening gifts on Christmas Eve; K joins us so we can all give each other gifts. That night she goes to her Gigi’s house (Grandma on her dad’s side) to spend the night. When they wake up super early in the morning, they do family and Santa gifts. That afternoon, I pick K up and we head over to my Mamaw’s (her Great-Grandmother) house. That’s when my entire extended family gets together for food, games, and presents. Christmas really is the most exhausting (but fun) holiday! And thanks to our unusual schedule, our daughter gets to spend time with all of her family – every year!
Sitting together at activities.
Before we started co-parenting, K’s dad and stepmom, and her stepdad and I, sat on opposite ends of the bleachers at softball games. We were forcing her to run between families to say hi. How ridiculous is that?? Now we all sit together and it’s made such a difference for our little girl! She no longer has to choose sides or run back and forth. We’re her family, and we’re all sitting together – no matter what the activity or school event.
Occasionally, usually every month, we set up co-parenting dates. This is where all of our co-parenting family gets together to do something fun. We’ve gone to dinner, been out to breakfast, had movie nights, and visited play places. In the past, K’s father and I would take her out to dinner sometimes. Now, more often than not Kristen and I take the girls out to have fun. Or we get together at their house for business meetings and play time! This tradition reinforces the fact we don’t expect K to pick sides; love everyone as fiercely as you can!
Never speaking ill of the other parents.
One of the number one tips I’ve learned with all my co-parenting experience and research is to never speak ill of your child’s other parents to your child. Your son or daughter loves both mom and dad. When you bad mouth one, it hurts your child. They’ll agree and chime right along with you because it’s what they think you want to hear, but that doesn’t mean they really feel that way. You can potentially alienate them from that parent, or from you if they can’t stand your negativity.
Fortunately, my co-parents and I all agree on this one. We encourage her love for all of us, and help her develop relationships with each of her parents. No matter what disagreements we might have, we refuse to involve K. As far as she’s concerned, we’re just one big happy family!
Being excited for them.
K’s stepmom Kristen told me that the turning point for her with the co-parenting business was one day when I dropped K off with her. It was her dad’s scheduled time, but he was gone for the day and Kristen was going to be spending the time with her alone. We met in the Wal-mart parking lot and I told K how much fun she was going to have with her stepmom, and that I was so excited for her. I was genuinely happy that she was going off to have a great time even though she wouldn’t be with me. It was a total game changer! Kristen became hopeful for our co-parenting relationship, and K was beyond excited to spend the quality time with her stepmom!
Now we always get excited for K when she’s going off to do fun things with her other side of the family. We know she’s going to have a blast, and it makes the transition from one home to the other much easier for her. Total win.
Making 4 parents seem normal.
We do our best to make having 4 parents seem natural for our little girl. One year she came home from school saying she was the only kid in class who had two houses instead of one and that the teacher didn’t allow her to make two drawings for home, only one. So we told her what we always tell her – she is lucky! Not only does she get twice the houses, but double the parents and twice the love! Now we make sure to be completely upfront with all of her new teachers. They know even before the school year starts that K has 4 parents that are all involved with her school work and activities.
Accepting stepparents as parental figures.
When I realized that Kristen was in it for the long haul, and knowing how much I wanted to make 4 parents seem normal to K, it was obvious both her dad and I needed to do our best at accepting her stepparents as parental figures. When you accept Stepmom or Stepdad in your child’s life, it gives your child an added incentive to do so as well. This can prevent added tension, prevents your child from having to choose sides, increases respect, and exponentially helps families blend. Once I accepted Kristen as Stepmom, K was beyond happy. She didn’t have to hide her affection for the other from either of us. K has fantastic stepparents who love her, and she knows it.
While our daughter is only 7 years old, if our family can keep up the good work as co-parents, I’m expecting K to end up with a much fuller and more well-rounded life. All of these small things add up to big possibilities for your little one. Even though my ex-husband and I made the decision to divorce, we refuse to let our daughter’s upbringing suffer because of it. We’ll continue to do whatever it takes to give her the best blended family life possible.
Until next time,
P.S. If you’re struggling with your child’s transitions, here is our advice on maintaining house rules when your child has two homes.