by Brette Sember
Once you're divorced or separated, it seems as if you should be free of your ex and able to live your life without his or her influence. However, if you are parents together, this is not a realistic expectation. You will be parents together for the rest of your lives and although you don't have to live together or see each other often, you do have to find a way to function together as parents.
Your child has two parents and although you are not in love with each other anymore, and in fact, may not even like each other, it's best for your child if you work together as parents. No matter what kind of parenting arrangement you may have -- shared custody, sole custody, or residential custody with visitation -- you must still find a way to work together as a team.
As you've already learned, you cannot change who the other parent is, nor how he or she does things. This was true in your marriage and it remains true as you parent together. Part of parenting together is accepting who the other person is and learning to live with it. It may not be easy to put up with the things about the other parent that drive you crazy -- lateness, neatness, snide comments, lack of attention to details, pickiness -- whatever it is. But learning to do this is part of your job as a divorced parent.
As you and the other parent work through your journey as parenting partners, it's likely that you will have clashes. Even if you had the most amicable divorce in the world, as you parent it is almost certain that resentments, jealousy, outrage, and other negative feelings will plague you at some point. It's difficult to parent together when you rarely are together. You're each growing into different people than you were when you were married. As the years pass you may become more and more unfamiliar to each other.
One of the most important skills you will need to work effectively with the other parent is communication. Because you are not parenting in the same home, it is essential that you learn to communicate with each other about your child. Learning how and when to talk to each other is an important skill, but perhaps the most important skill is learning how to say nothing at all.
If you constantly criticize or complain to the other parent, your relationship will evolve into a negative one. Always pointing out what he or she is doing wrong just feeds the fire of resentment and anger. It is not your job to point out everything the other parent is doing wrong. That's not your responsibility anymore.
One of the best things you can do to create a supportive co-parenting environment is to try not to say anything negative. Instead focus on sharing information about your child, making plans that will benefit your child, and saying something nice once in a while.
If you are in a very difficult parenting relationship where every communication you have with each other seems to end in an argument, you need to cut back on your face to face communication. Try email, instant messenger, texting, or even sending notes back and forth.
You and the other parent are part of a parenting team, but you're each on the field at different times. Trying to set up some common boundaries and rules is helpful to everyone, but you can't and shouldn't try to control what is happening when the other parent is in charge. You have to let go and let the other parent do things his or her way -- without commenting on it, criticizing or offering a better way to do it.
Brette McWhorter Sember is a retired family attorney and mediator and nationally known expert about divorce and parenting after divorce. She is the author of: