The Value of Reframing in a Co-Parenting Relationship
Out of all of the things that helped my co-parenting relationship with my ex-husband the most, I think the skill of Reframing was the most helpful. It allowed for me to let go of the hurt and resentment and build a healthy friendship with him and anyone he dated.
What is Reframing?
Reframing is taking a situation and looking at it in a different, albeit still true way. It is not lying to yourself. Rather, it is looking at the situation through a different lens.
So how is that applicable in a co-parenting relationship? How can you go from heartbroken and hateful, to a real friendship? How can you stop fighting over the kids and trying to win every battle?
He’s not YOUR ex, he’s YOUR KIDS’ parent.
Well, first of all, you must stop thinking of your ex-husband (or ex-boyfriend if the case may be) as YOUR ex, the other party in a failed relationship. Instead, begin looking at him through another lens, the lens of father. YOUR CHILD’S father. Your parenting teammate. This will help you put things in perspective.
Keep him informed.
Instead of shutting him out of your child’s life, as some women are tempted to do, include him in your child’s life. Keep him informed of events and activities. It doesn’t matter if you think that he should be taking care of keeping up himself or that it isn’t “your job” because “you aren’t his wife”. Maybe you’re hoping he doesn’t show up to the play or soccer game so you don’t have to see him, but your child will probably be sad and hurt if he doesn’t. Quite frankly, it isn’t about you.
When he DOES (hopefully) show up, BE KIND. Make light conversation. Don’t get personal (no questions about dating, finances, lifestyle, etc.), but DO discuss your child together…his/her successes, struggles, the cute thing he/she said the other day…
Send pictures of your child doing life to the other parent when the child is with you, especially if you are the primary parent, but even if not. Especially if you are not friends on social media, this helps each parent be more of a complete parent and a part of their entire life. Plus, it is nice to have pictures when the kids come home and tell you about their time with the other parent. (This should not be something that is demanded from a parent, but it is a nice gesture to give).
Welcome the new girlfriend.
If your child’s dad begins dating, make sure to make the effort to speak to the new flame if she shows up at pick-up/drop off or at a school event or performance. Be friendly. She is someone who is in your child’s life, and the more people who love your child, the better! No matter how different you two may be, you can likely find something in common that you can talk about, and you may even make a new friend!
Get your friends and family on board.
Make sure to inform your friends and family that you plan to have a positive co-parenting relationship with your child’s father. They may not be on board, but if this is to work, you cannot let your family and friends sway you. Don’t let them put down your child’s dad in front of your child or around you. We’re being positive here, and negativity will only hold your child back. The past is in the past.
Keep your temper in check.
When your child’s father does something to make you angry (and he will…after all, you’re both only human), step away. Take some deep breaths. Write down what you want to say. Consider whether this is a battle worth fighting over. Re-read and re-write in a kinder way if needed before pressing send.
If your child’s father meets your kindness and positivity in a less than favorable light, be patient. He may think you’re playing games. He may feel like you’re trying to manipulate him. Stick to your guns. Be consistently kind. Respect his role in your child’s life. Hold your jealousy in check by re-framing him as your child’s father. Eventually your good attitude will probably rub off as he begins to trust that you are legitimately on his side.
When you begin dating, be sure to communicate your relationship with your child’s father to whomever you are dating. If he can’t handle it, no matter how amazing you think he is, that is not a relationship worth pursuing. Unless there is something going on between you and your child’s father that your new beau should be concerned about (which if there is, the co-parenting is NOT going to go well, so that is a bad idea), then you should only date men who are on board with your goals.
One caution: If your child’s father is one who takes advantage of your kindness or is abusive, this will not work and you may need to implement boundaries. This type of co-parenting relationship cannot work in certain instances, but if there is nothing dangerous about your child’s other parent, a little kindness and respect for him can go a long way.
After years of treating my girls’ father and his girlfriend with respect, I consider them both parenting partners and friends. It was worth letting go of any hurt and resentment that I carried after my divorce, and my kids and I am happy with where we are all at now.