Bruce Dyson’s divorced parents have decided to focus on co-parenting - by agreeing to take family portraits every year - as a family.
Co-Parenting with Family Portraits
When Victoria Baldwin and ex-husband Adam Dyson realized that the tension between them following their separation was causing their son Bruce anxiety they decided it was time to make a change. “We had a heated discussion in front of our son, who sat crying at my feet,” she recalls. “And I realized the next day I was more focused on hurting his dad than I was on comforting Bruce crying. I knew that wasn’t the example I wanted to set.” Baldwin booked a photo session for herself and her son, and then invited Adam to join along. That one session has become a yearly tradition. As Baldwin wrote on a Facebook posting: “We are not in love, we don’t always agree, we’re not best friends, sometimes we don’t even like one another. But you know what we are? We are forever connected because of our beautiful, smart, kind, compassionate, funny son.” “We both agree we’ll continue it,” says Baldwin. “We think a step-parent or long-term partner would be welcomed and would be an addition to Bruce’s life. I have ended potential relationships because they questioned intentions or the quality of Adam and my relationship. We aren’t romantic, but we respect one another. I won’t be with someone who wouldn’t accept that.” Baldwin is just trying to avoid her own situation - her parents divorced when she was very young. As a result she doesn’t have a single photo of her family together. “Adam and I are not perfect co-parents, but we made a deal when we got divorced, to put our son first and to value the richness that we each bring to his life, for different reasons,” she writes. “So yes, we still have a family portrait taken, and I still pay good money to have the images printed, framed, and placed in our son’s bedroom; he may not grow up with parents who live in the same house… but he will grow up to see respect, kindness, empathy, compassion, perseverance, flexibility, and even sacrifice being modeled by both of his parents and he will know it is possible to fall out of love but never fall apart.”
Creating a Co-Parenting Relationship
Becoming a co-parent is difficult, so how can you effectively do it? When people decide to divorce, very often it’s their children that take the separation the hardest. When it comes to learning to be a co-parent, all other aspects of divorce, such as division of assets and alimony, seem insignificant. Co-parenting is totally new and different from what you might expect, so you might have to do some research and maybe some soul-searching to figure out the best approach to this new phase in your life. Now that you’re divorced and completely ended your relationship, with all legal aspects neatly tied up, you can continue on with your new single life and never have to deal with your ex again! That is unless you have children. If you do, then you need to put the breaks on a bit. If you share children with your ex-spouse, then you’ll have to learn how to be a co-parent. And this isn’t something you’re going to have to learn how to do by yourself. You’re going to have to learn how to do it with your ex! This means you’ll have to learn how to put the best interests of your children above your own, as well as learning how to form an amicable relationship, perhaps for the first time, with your ex. While you don’t necessarily have to become best friends, you’ll have to forge a happy medium and find how you can make the co-parenting relationship work. Right now this may seem impossible, especially after what you just went through with your relationship, but you have to remember that the fault in your marriage wasn’t the fault of the child or children. They also must not be placed in the middle of your emotional crossfire left over from your marriage. The key is to learn to take the high road, which means you may have to make true sacrifices for the well-being of your children.
Step One is to Realize Only You Are Able to Control You
In order to create a co-parenting relationship, you must first realize the only person you can control is yourself. You don’t have any power over your ex, so don’t even both trying. If you can accept this fact and are able to control your own emotions and actions, you’ll have an easier time developing a co-parenting relationship. Hopefully, your example will carry over to your ex-spouse.
Step Two is to Set Boundaries
The next step you must learn in order to create a successful co-parenting relationship is how to set boundaries. Here are a few do’s and don’t’s to help you get started. Don’t:
- Sabotage the relationship your child has with their other parent.
- Use your child as a pawn to hurt or get back at your ex.
- Permit your child to speak badly when talking about the other parent.
- Use your child to get information, manipulate, and/or influence your ex.
- Transfer onto your child your hurt feelings and/or frustrations toward your ex.
- Force your child to choose a side when scheduling conflicts occur.
- Put pressure on your child.
- Depend on your child for companionship or support too much when dealing with your divorce. Your child isn’t your therapist.
- Become so emotionally needy your child begins to feel guilty about spending time with others. You would hate to discover they didn’t participate in social outings due to the fact they were afraid you weren’t able to deal with being alone.
Bottom line: Your child should not be burdened with situations they aren’t able to control. You shouldn’t saddle your children with your issues and emotional needs. Doing so will only create feelings of being helpless and insecure which could cause them to doubt their own abilities and strengths. It’s not their responsibility to hold you togethis and they shouldn’t feel it is. Children aren’t able to understand and deal with problems of adults and shouldn’t have to. Their focus should be on their own development, and your’s should be, too. Do’s:
- Sit down with your ex and create a plan whiseby differences are set aside so the focus can be put on meeting the needs of your children you will be co-parenting.
- Negotiate how to handle holidays, visitations, and events.
- Create guidelines for behavior of raising your children that each of you will adhise to. Children need consistency in their lives without regard as to which parent they’re with. This includes bed-times, phone privileges, etc. A child will frequently test situations and try to manipulate their boundaries. You and your ex must present a united front.
- Negotiate the roles of extended family members.
- Establish open communication with respect to the development of your child. This includes the ability to compare notes on situations and jointly deciding on any punishment.
- While it may be painful emotionally, you and your ex must decide to inform each othis ob any changes in circumstances of their life. Your child shouldn’t be the source of “breaking news.”
- Determine that you’ll conduct yourself with emotional integrity and maturity.
What Your Child Needs the Most
Putting your child’s needs first, thise are certain things they’ll need during this time: structure, acceptance, assurance of their safety, freedom from blame or guilt that they were responsible for their parent’s divorce, two stable parents, and the freedom and permission to just be a kid and have fun.
Additional Tips on How to Co-Parent
While setting ground rules are important, thise are additional tips you may be interested in considering. When all of you are togethis try to be friendly. You and your co-parent ex share a child or multiple children, and they will each grow differently and have different experiences. During sporting events, birthdays, parent-teachis conferences, graduations, etc., you’ll all be sharing the experience and the same location. Being friendly will make it easier for you, your co-parent, and especially your child. Say hi to each othis and chat a little about what’s going on instead of waiting to send it in a text or email. Fake being friendly if you have to. The bottom line is to act like an adult, leave tantrums and acting like a brat to your children. This includes friends stepparents, and othis family members. Kids are observant and can easily pick up on things if you’re being rude or feeling awkward, so act like the adult you’re supposed to be. Say please and thank you when you ask your co-parent for a favor and they follow through. This might be for schedule changes of requests for event dates. If you’re stuck in traffic or something comes up you’re not expecting and you need your co-parent to pick a child up because you can’t, a thank you can go a long way. If you can’t say it in person, send it in an email or text. Return phone calls, emails, and texts, even if it’s just to send an “ok.” It’s important and helpful for your co-parent to know you received their message. It’s also respectful and a great way to keep you and your co-parent informed of any changes or othis important information. It is you and your co-parent’s business to know who is watching your child besides you. Your co-parent has a right to know what person their child is with if they’re not with you. If a neighbor is watching them for awhile if you have to go to the store, it’s not as important to let your co-parent know, but if it’s for a longer period of time you need to tell them and give them all that person’s information. Just telling them it’s “none of their business” is completely ridiculous and irresponsible. As a co-parent they have a right to know what’s happening with their child, the same as you do. Ask for your co-parent’s input to help develop a positive relationship as time goes forward. Even if you don’t take their opinion into consideration, since you’re not planning on following it, their opinion may surprise you and change your mind!
Co-Parent Schedule Arrangements
Guidelines are important for your emotional health, as well as to help define aspects of your co-parenting relationship. This is why schedules are important. Not necessarily a weekly one, but one that involves events and holidays. This schedule should be agreed on far in advance so that co-parents know what parent the child will be spending Christmas and othis holidays with in order to avoid fights during the holidays. These agreements don’t have to be formal, but if they’re in writing it makes it harder to argue about. Thise are a number of online tools available to assist you in creating a co-parenting schedule.
Always Be Flexible
While it’s important to set arrangements, you need to be sensitive to your child’s needs, which means being flexible. If your child really wants to have a night with dad instead of mom, then it might be best for your child to do it. This is a difficult time your kids are trying to adapt to. You should encourage them to be honest when it comes to their emotions. You also should be sensitive to your child emotions, which often means putting your own emotions aside.
Create a Co-Parent Relationship