It’s no secret that I’m not in a relationship with the father of my children and it has been that way for over three and a half years. There are lots of reasons for why it didn’t work out but ultimately the decision for us to end our relationship was the best one, in my opinion.
Growing up I had an ideal of a perfect family and how it would feel, but the reality didn’t match the dream and I never imagined myself as a single parent.
Again, I don’t regret the decision made but it was never part of my bigger life plan to live alone with my two children. My plan had been to be part of a marriage but it just didn’t work out that way. Since that relationship came to an end, I’ve undergone a journey of lessons and growth and I believe I am a better mum now than I have ever been. I have had to work on my weaknesses, discover my strengths and learn to trust that I know what’s best for my little unit.
I brought two little girls into the world but I am not raising them alone and that’s because their dad has committed to having an active role in their lives, and he doesn’t need to live with us to make that happen. It hasn’t been easy, sometimes the communication between us has been lacking understanding and respect, but we have persevered and have put our daughters at the heart of everything we do. He loves them so much and they worship him, the bond they share is beautiful and strong, and I give so much thanks for that because it wasn’t something I had myself growing up.
My mum left my dad while she was pregnant with my brother. She got married to another man who was abusive towards us all and so even if my dad had even tried, I doubt he’d have been allowed to see us. I could go really deep into my ‘daddy issues’ but basically I have experienced the impact firsthand of not having a positive male role model in my life. And this isn’t something I wanted for my own children, so I give thanks that they have a dad who will never leave them, who loves them and is a big part of their childhood, regardless of whatever issues we have had with each other.
It hasn’t been easy and I’ll be the first to admit that three years ago we could barely talk to each other but now conversation about our children flows easily. I think mostly because we have gone beyond making personal digs and comments, gone beyond games and dragging up the past, instead arriving at a point where we both agree that what is best for the children is a united parenting team, whether we like each other or not.
How do I make co-parenting work?
1. Set boundaries. Does your ex-partner need to know all the ins and outs of your life? No. Do you need to be texting each other long after the children have gone to bed? Nope, unless it is important. My ex works night shifts and so it is not unusual for me to receive a message from him late at night, but I have had to learn to wait until morning to respond to it. That’s my time, I have to respect that and he won’t if I don’t. If it’s important, then of course I reply, but it’s also important for him to recognise that I’m not accessible to him at all times of the day like I used to be.
2. Show respect, even if you can only do it in front of the children. We understand that our children are watching, absorbing and imitating everything we say and do, especially when we are in the same room. We’ve had issues, one has been angry and dominating while the other urges them to lower their voice in front of the children. I’d rather not argue at all, but I definitely won’t be lured into it when my children are present because I don’t want them to feel afraid or like they have to pick sides. They are way too young to be involved in heated adult debates and so we are now mindful of that at all times. Some things can wait. The need to be “right” can wait until the children are out of earshot and sight.
3. Don’t get personal. Your relationship with the other parent should not impact the relationship they have with your children (unless there are concerns about safety). It’s separate and should be treated as such. There have been times when I would rather I never see him again but that’s my feelings and that’s nothing to do with my children’s relationship with their father. I recognise that while I love me, not everything is about me and the needs of my children come first.
4. Effective communication is key. This is something we’ve been historically rubbish at. I think it doesn’t help when there are bad feelings held onto from the past and this means that any text message can be interpreted so many different ways. My messages used to be created with care because I knew he would take things the wrong way no matter what I said. This meant we often argued, couldn’t speak at all and we both had assumptions of the other’s intentions. But more recently we spoke face-to-face and cleared the air, and have since made a conscious effort to be clear when we communicate because ultimately we are stuck knowing each other because we have children. My girls know when there is an off atmosphere so that alone is motivation enough to work on improving communication because I want them to be happy.
5. Move on. You’re not together anymore so why hold onto the past? I know some people find it difficult to emotionally and physically detach themselves from the father of their children, and this makes it harder for them to move on. This has never been the case for me and my ex. I made my decision and that was it for me, and I haven’t been tempted to go back since. I have supported his decision to move on, even when the first girlfriend he had was rude and stalked me online, I still supported his right to move on. I wanted him to be happy and to find someone who would love him in the way he deserved. I moved on and didn’t flaunt it, I suppose I was conscious that I didn’t want different people coming in and out of my children’s life. That was my decision and I stuck to it and eventually found happiness. Now, my ex is with an amazing woman who loves our girls and we get on really well, and that is so important for us all. There are no hard feelings, she has nothing that I want, she makes him happy and she is so good to our children. I think it is beautiful that he has found someone who compliments (what feels like) our dysfunctional set up and adds an element of calm that wasn’t previously there.
Co-parenting isn’t easy and I do think it takes time, so you have to be patient and work hard at it if you want your children to be happy and well-adjusted after a split. This also means that you have to rise above petty comments and behaviour, and be the better person (and that can be pretty challenging at times!)
It may not be what you planned but just because you aren’t together, it doesn’t mean you can’t be good parents and be a united parenting team. Our children benefit from happy parents, not parents who are at war with each other and dragging them into it. I know and understand that sometimes the nature of the behaviour of the other parent means that you have to prioritise the child’s safety over the right to have a relationship with that parent, and I know in those circumstances co-parenting wouldn’t work. But where it’s safe, where it can work, it’s worth a try. It can be the best thing that happens to you all.