By Kate Cartia
Breakups suck. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it.
Ideally, immediately moving on from a craptastic relationship as quickly as possible, “Somebody That I Used to Know”-style, is your best bet, right? Drink some wine, wash the sheets, covertly change that Relationship Status on Facebook so that the girl you did a project on the economy of Western Europe with in the 9th grade doesn’t comment with an inspirational quote from Pinterest, and dust your hands off.
Done and done.
Oh, unless you have kids with your ex. If that’s the case, allow me to be the first to tell you: CONGRATULATIONS! That person is in your life forever. For. Ev. Er.
Uh-oh. You thought it was only until the little ones turn 18? Except…College graduations. Weddings. Grandchildren’s births. You’re stuck.
With the exception of extremely toxic or abusive ex-partners (which, to be abundantly clear, are enormously serious circumstances and do not in any way fall under the “Merely Bad Breakups” umbrella), you’re going to be dealing with the other half of your children’s DNA for the foreseeable future.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that yours truly has a bit of experience in the area of Co-Parenting With Your Not-So-Bad-But-Sometimes-Stupid Ex (that’s just what I like to call it; feel free to adjust to fit your particular situation) and can offer you a little realistic advice to help you navigate the bullshit that inevitably comes along with it.
1. Stop referring to your ex as “my ex.” I know, I know. It’s much easier to call them “that idiot who thinks he knows everything and I’m pretty sure took the good pillows” because, after all, a spade is a spade. I get it.
The problem, though, is that it keeps you in a very “breakup-y” headspace. Our brains aren’t actually as complicated as they seem; they’ll believe anything you repeatedly tell them. Consistently thinking of a previous partner as exclusively a person you used to be in love with prevents your mind from processing that, more than only your ex, they’re your partner in the parenting arena.
“The kids’ mom,” “my son’s dad” – it’s a little mental change that seems unimportant, but rewires your thoughts to be more open and receptive.
(And yes, I realize this one sounds a little “Kumbaya,” but I also recommended popping a bottle of wine, so stick with me.)
2. Hey, you want to talk trash about your previous partner? So do I! Go for it.
Except, not around your kids.
It’s insanely tempting to. Sometimes in the heat of post-breakup rage (I’ve had it. No judgement.), the idea that the little people you love more than the air you breathe think their other parent can do no wrong is fucking infuriating.
Here’s the thing: your kids will figure it out. The same way we all eventually figured out our parents aren’t perfect, our kids will, too. And they honestly don’t need our help to do it. It can be easy to justify it by believing you’re protecting them, but I promise it’ll do so much more harm than good.
As pissed as you may be, it’s likely your children will still have time with their other parent. And if you’ve made them believe that person is the Jackass of All Trades, think how freaked out they’ll be when it’s their weekend at Mom’s. Not to mention, you don’t want the other parent doing that to you (we’ll get to that in a sec).
Call them every name in the book. Make up some new ones (I like “douchecanoe”). You’re hurt, and you’re allowed to be. But those are discussions you can save for, y’know, other adults.
3. I’ll try to break this to you as gently as possible: your in-laws are also still a thing.
As long as your previous partner is involved, it’s highly likely their family will be, too. And that’s a good thing. As crazy as your in-laws may or may not make you, they ultimately love your kids.
Maintaining at least some form of politeness is not only going to go a long way at birthdays and graduation, but it’s also going to help tremendously when you need help with school pick-ups and emergency babysitting.
You don’t have to adore these people, but, with the exception (again) of toxic and/or abusive dynamics, keeping a cordial relationship is going to keep you sane(ish).
4. In co-parenting with a previous partner, the Golden Rule applies hardcore. Ugh. Barf. So gross.
If you want him to be flexible, you’ve got to be flexible. If you don’t want them saying nasty things about you to your kids, don’t do it yourself. You get the picture.
5. Communicate. Not just because it’s the “right” thing to do in any dynamic, but because you actually have to.
No one is asking you to have a five-course meal with your kids’ other parent here. Find what works for your situation.
If you can’t call without yelling, text. If you can’t avoid the middle finger emoji, email. Send smoke signals for all I care, but you have to try to be on the same page, and if same-pagery is impossible? You at least need to know what chapter they’re on.
None of the above, and no book, podcast, or article will make this simple. It’s not simple. I know there are a million working parts surrounding your personal situation. But it can be complex without being so damn hard.
Know that the only reason I have for all these suggestions is the fact that I spent a long time doing the literal opposite.
It boils down to this: you both love your kids.
We get to show them that even if Mom and Dad weren’t a good fit for each other, they’re still able to team up as far as parenting goes.
And you can always just steal the good pillows back.
About the Author
Kate Cartia lives in Dallas, TX, with her son and dog. She’s a Work-at-Home Mom, is always the first to sign up to bring paper plates to school functions, and openly has no real idea how to do this parenting thing. She can be found on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AsKateWouldHaveIt/, Instagram @askatewouldhaveit, and Twitter @katewouldhaveit.