Have you ever seen those couples who stay BFFs after they get divorced? They call each other to chat, invite each other over for family dinner, and sometimes even take the kids on vacation together. If your relationship with your ex is more of the “I hate my co-parent and wish I never had to see them again” variety, these couples aren’t just annoying; they seem like unicorns.
Hatred can be a natural result of the hurt, betrayal, anger, guilt, or sadness caused by a breakup, but hating your co-parent isn’t just hard on the two of you; it’s also tough on your kid. It can leave them caught in the middle or, worse, forced to take sides in your emotional (or custodial) war. In HelloJoey’s “Co-Parenting,” we explain exactly why kids needs healthy relationships with both of their parents – regardless of how healthy your relationship is with each other – and then offer strategies for how you can support that, even when you (really really) hate your ex.
Put the kids first
If just the thought of your former partner makes your blood boil, your first step may be to stop thinking about them and start thinking about your kid – and focusing on what they need. “The research is very clear,” emphasizes author of “The Co-parenting Handbook,” Karen Bonnell. “Kids need their parents.” A report sponsored by the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that looked at how children are affected by divorce and custody arrangements found that:
kids benefit from regular interactions that include enough time with each parent to maintain a high-quality relationship.
in order for nonresidential parents to play central roles in their lives, kids need both parents to be involved in their every day routines.
“Teens stay more out of trouble, do better, and have more successful adult lives when they have a strong and engaged relationship with both of their parents.” Karen also says that the structure of your family doesn’t define how well your kid will do as an adult – but conflict, the loss of a relationship with a parent, judgment, or toxicity can all be damaging.
To avoid that, you can recognize that your child may not share your feelings about your ex – and shouldn’t. “Children have a very different relationship with their parents than intimate partners have with each other,” says Karen. “Children don't care about your marriage. They care about being in a relationship with you and about you being good parents.” That means it’s important for your child that you can both to show up at the school play without sniping at each other or smile (even through grit teeth) when your ex arrives to take them for the weekend.
Make a parenting plan
Giving your kid the opportunity to have good relationships with both of you can be especially frustrating when you hate your ex, and it can be tempting to limit the time they spend with your child so you don’t have to deal with them – or to pit your kit against each other in games of tug-of-war. If that sounds familiar, a parenting agreement may be able to help. In fact, experts recommend parenting agreements for all co-parenting relationships, regardless of how amicable (or not amicable) they may be.
A parenting agreement is simply something you and your co-parent put in writing to guide your decisions. It’s not always legally-binding, but it does provide a road map for where you are and where you’re going. You can use it to spell out things like:
your child’s living arrangements
how to handle pick-ups and drop-offs
rules about moving or travelling
“It's kind of like a life insurance policy,” says co-author of the book “Partnership Parenting” Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett. “You can change it and deviate from it, but if you don't have a contract, you often don't have a leg to stand on when things don't look so great.” If you and your ex have trouble communicating – or don’t communicate at all – a parenting agreement can be your go-to when there’s a conflict. Rather than heading to court over every little issue, you can say “let’s stick with the terms of the parenting plan” and move on to do what’s best for your kid.
In many situations, you and your co-parent can create your parenting agreement on your own with a template from your local court district or a divorce self-help book. If you hate your co-parent enough that that’s out of the question, a third party mediator, a therapist, or a divorce coach can help you make a parenting plan that will protect you later.
Act like you’re actually supportive
Intense feelings are normal in the immediate aftermath of divorce, but those feelings often mellow out over time, and your hatred for your co-parent may too. In them meantime, you can improve how you co-parent for the sake of your kid by modeling a supportive co-parenting relationship, even if that’s not the kind that you have with your ex.
Supportive co-parenting relationships have specific hallmarks, which Karen defines in “The Co-parenting Handbook” as the 4Cs:
Consistency: Giving your kids regular and reasonable amounts of time in each home
Communication: Talking specifically about what’s important for the kids
Cooperation: Problem-solving so your kid’s academics and activities run smoothly
Compromise: Working together to focus on your child’s needs – not your own
These aren’t always easy, even in the best of relationships. Setting your own emotions to the side when you’re brokenhearted or feeling guilt-ridden takes a lot of effort, and you might not always be successful. Just keep coming back to the idea that you love your child more than you hate your ex, and let that guide your behavior.
Kids need the same thing after a break up or separation as they did before: parents who act as a secure emotional base and make them feel comforted. As Karen puts it, “It's not ending our intimate partnership that's the huge deal; it's everything we do from there as parents that matters.”
Co-parenting with someone you hate is challenging, but badmouthing them, undermining their authority, or interfering in their relationship with your kid does more harm than good. The same is true of using your child as a messenger, trying to get them on your side, or one-upmanship. All of those behaviors put your kid in no-win situations when all they really want to do is love and be loved by both of their parents, regardless of whether they happen to hate each other.
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