When a marriage or intimate relationship ends, does the relationship really end?
During the mediation process, I sometimes hear people remark that they are glad the relationship is over. What if your paths still cross? Or you share responsibilities?
Particularly when couples or former couples share children or live in the same community, the relationship continues. The nature of relationship simply changes.
When parents share the same home, one may take responsibility for the child’s care without discussion, or even awareness.
No longer living under the same roof may require even more communication. Schedules, medical and educational concerns, and social events and activities necessitate discussion.
As you navigate this new relationship, remember this new co-parenting relationship profoundly impacts more than you. Your child, friends, teachers, and many other folks who interact with you may be affected. You may respect, support, and appreciate the important role you each play in your child’s development and long-term success. Of course, you may choose to create a less than peaceful experience for yourself and everyone around you.
When the relationship changes, it may help to consider these communication tips:
- Consider your requests and responses.
You get to ask anything you want, and so does your co-parent. Think about your reason for asking and your reason for your response. Your question-and-answer impact both of you, your child(ren), and depending on the request, other individuals. Changing a parenting schedule due to an activity or event impacts your child and their friends and teammates too. What would happen if you all were still in the same household? Of course, depending on where you each live, the child’s ability to attend events may change, yet you determine how much. Whatever the request or response, you may always to choose to converse with kindness.
- Clarify your boundaries and remain flexible.
This may sound contradictory; however, it helps to know your own limitations and be open to adjusting from time to time. Create a plan and an understanding around who will take responsibility for what and when. Know that the unpredictable and spontaneous happen and a little grace goes a long way in creating an enjoyable experience for everyone. Remember, your child learns how to communicate by watching and listening to you. You may set a boundary with compassion, or anger, or demonstrate flexibility with resentment or grace. What will you choose?
- Communicate about the child’s needs.
From infant to toddlerhood to elementary and high school years, the child’s basic needs continue and expand. How the child wishes to connect or receive attention or express their own independence and belonging change as they grow. You may each observe or notice various things, or the child may share different things with each of you (which happens when folks live under the same roof too). Parents who communicate regularly about the child’s needs typically offer more clear and consistent support. The child may also face fewer issues parents remain on the same page. Be respectful about how and when you communicate and build trust by following through on any agreements.
Remember, the co-parenting relationship is exclusively about the child. You may choose to also, but are not required, to have a friendship. Even parents in a happy household often play very different roles in a child’s nurture and care, and disagree. At a minimum your child benefits from two collaborating working partners looking out for the child’s interests.
Whether you forgive each other over the past relationship issues is a completely separate matter. Forgiving yourselves and each other certainly helps you enjoy the present and future moments. Being grateful for the relationship that gave you this child creates focus on what matters most.
There is only one today. What memory will you create for your child and yourself today? Who are you willing to be as a co-parent to create the best possible?