Coparents, please don’t pack your child’s suitcase.

 

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A little girl stuffs the next few days worth of clothes into a small backpack and waits for her mom to pick her up.
Her mom adores her and she adores her mom. She looks forward to this day each and every week and can’t wait to spend then next few days with her mom.

When she gets to her mom’s house she sets aside her backpack, careful to make sure whatever comes out of it is washed, neatly folded, and returns with her to her other house. She’s silently taking inventory so neither parent is upset if clothes that might be accidentally taken to the other house don’t make it back. Over and over she’s heard her items refereed to as “mom’s stuff” or dad’s stuff”, even though she’s the one who wears them.

The older she gets the more she feels the divide between her homes. The older she gets the line becomes thicker and darker.

Unintentionally her parent have made her feel like visitor in her own home.

Unintentionally her parents have divided her into two different people.

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Coparenting can be tricky and because we are busy struggling with the big details, we often overlook the small ones.

It’s a balancing act.
It’s hard work.
It’s extremely sensitive.

One thing we can do for our kids who glide between two parents in two different homes is to not make them pack a bag. It tends to make them feel like a visitor, like when we arrive at a hotel pulling our luggage behind us. It never feels permanent.

Don’t pack a bag.

Whether it’s their own room or their own drawer, give them the security to know that, even when they aren’t there, there is still a place for them. Have everything they need for their time at your home. Don’t make them pack a bag. Don’t fight over whose clothes they are. No matter who purchased them, they’re her clothes. Give her the freedom.

Coparenting can be brutal  but one simple and easy act can minimize some of the stress for the child. A drawer full of clothes, a tooth-brush, her own hair brush, and an extra pair of shoes can give her a sense of security.

It can also eliminate some pointless arguments when an article of clothing doesn’t make it back to its original home. It’s one less thing that stands in the way of finding a way to healthy coparenting. There are already enough things to navigate through, remove this one.

 

A little girl gets dressed, brushes her hair,  and waits for her mom to pick her up.
Her mom adores her and she adores her mom. She looks forward to this day each and every week and can’t wait to spend then next few days with her mom.

When she gets to her mom’s house she grabs her pajamas out of her special drawer and cuddles up on the couch with her mom, settled in for movie night. She’s thankful to freely spend time with her mom.  Over and over she’s heard her parents remind her that both homes are hers and she is safe and wanted in each. She doesn’t even think about what clothes belong at which home, they’re her clothes and she knows her parents allow her to have her space and her things.

Intentionally her parents have made sure that both of their homes are hers and a place she belongs.

Intentionally her parents have found a way to be one united front so their little girl doesn’t have to stress over little details of two different homes.

Intentionally her parents are working their way towards healthy coparenting for the sake of their daughter.

Your Blended Family Is Going To Fail.

Your Blended Family Is Going To Fail.

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Being a spouse can be difficult.
Being a parent can be hard.
Finding balance in family life and doing your best to get it right is rough and takes mountains of patience.

Even trickier than all of that is trying to pull it off in a blended family.

I tried to look up statistics on blended families and it became overwhelming. What it boils down to is that about 50% of American families are blended, meaning the adults in the family have children from previous relationships.

My family is blended. Well, my family is chopped, minced, and then blended. Even though we don’t use the terms step or half, the reality is that we have step parents, step kids, step siblings, half siblings and we even have my sister who we’re raising as our daughter.

We’re the poster family for blended families.

Being a blended family is tough work. You don’t just have to figure out how to make life inside your home work, you also have to figure out a way to make life between two or more homes work. Navigating co-parenting with another family is not for the faint of heart and is another post all together.

I’d like to say we get it right all the time and that love always trumps the hard times but I’d be lying.
I’d like to say grace is always given when we tread on bumpy terrain but I’d be lying.
I’d like to say that we never doubt the choices we’ve made but sometimes none of our choice make any sense at all and I wonder how the heck we got here in the first place.

Blending families takes more than most of us are equipped with and because of that the failure rate is through the roof.

The brutal reality of it all is that your blended family is going to fail and over and over again you’ll fail at trying to make it work.

You’ll fail at never having feelings of resentment.
You’ll fail at swallowing your pride.
You’ll fail at relinquishing some control and allowing another person discipline your child.
You’ll fail at showing compassion and grace.
You’ll fail at keeping jealousy under wraps.

You’re family will fail at not being territorial inside your own home.
You’re family will fail at making love completely equal between all its members.
You’re family will fail at pretending it’s easy.
You’re family will fail at wanting to make it work.

But through all the rough spots you’ll find immense beauty.

There will be the moments where the light shines through the cracks.
There will be the moments when the broken pieces will come together to make a stained glass window where others will look through and see nothing but beauty. They’ll see all the different colors, shapes and sizes and stare in awe at how it all came together so perfectly.

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There will be the times when you watch your spouse love on and parent your child as their own and it will bring up a love so deep you can’t even imagine how it contains itself inside your heart.

There will be a time when your spouse’s child kisses you and tells you that they love you and you’ll wonder how you ever lived your life without them.

There will be times when your children walk hand in hand with your spouse’s children and you’ll know that you are teaching them to love far beyond any boundaries.

Your blending family is going to fail.
They’re going to fail over and over but they’re also going to prove that love and grace can outshine any darkness.
They’re going to show others how broken things can be mended, maybe not back to the way they were but to a way that lets the light shine through the cracks and heal the hurts.

What happened after my ex husband and I threw away our custody agreement.

Every other weekend.
Wednesdays from 6pm to 8pm.
Christmas on even years.
Thanksgiving on odd years.
30 day extended visitation in the summer.
Spring break every other year.
No moving out-of-state.
30 days notice with a job change or move.
Child support.
Child support review every 4 years.
Insurance provision.
Split copays.

We were exhausted after the first year of trying to follow along with each detail. Details that were somewhat standard and very general to accommodate a broad span of families. Details that were permanent and signed by a judge. Details that never changed, even when our lives did.

Following these instructions laid out for us made us tired, angry and confused.
We were tired of times and dates and who has her when and what time she needed to be where and on and on. We were angry because of expectations that seemed impossible. We couldn’t always get her by 6pm or drop her off by 8pm, life just doesn’t work like that and occasionally you’re late or early or can’t do it at all. We were confused because it’s a mess.

Have you seen a custody agreement? There’s such a division of time and dates that your calendar is so marker up it looks like a two-year old got a hold of it with box of markers.

Our custody agreement was stressing us out, making us miserable and was causing us to argue. It was crippling the need for us to figure out how to work together as a team.

So we threw it out.
Chunked it.
Shredded it into a million pieces.
Burned it at the stake.
WE GOT RID OF IT!

We’ve never looked back, not once.

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Instead of being controlling jerks, we decided to give each other some slack and truly stop to think about what was best for our little girl.

Our entire relationship changed after that. The dynamics of co-parenting made a positive switch and we became better parents and better friends. Our daughter became happier and we were all less stressed.

When we threw out the papers we communicated better and developed compassion and understanding towards each other.

We took the time to listen to each other and find out what worked in each of our families. We stepped outside the box and created our own custody agreement that basically say that she’s equally both of our daughter. If she’s with him or me, she’s with family and that’s what matters.

We decided to simply share in the joy of raising our little girl together and to see each others relationship with her as equally important as our own.

We decided to respect each other and each other’s spouses.

When it comes to holidays we just share our time with a huge dose of understanding and grace. We made a choice to not be married and with that we knew that neither of us would have our daughter full-time. For that reason we know that she won’t be with us for every holiday and we’ve learned to not only accept it but to be grateful that she is with the other part of her family getting loved on.

As for child support and insurance, I have no idea what the original papers say. We settled on a child support amount 14 years ago and neither of us have mentioned it since. The person who provides insurance is the person who has the option for the best insurance, that might be him or that might be me. We just do it. We just insure her because she needs insurance. There’s no battle over who carries it or who’s paying more, we just do it. It’s for her and we need to provide, PERIOD. If he thinks about it he’ll he puts money in her school lunch account, if I think about it then I’ll do it. As long as she has lunch money I couldn’t care less which one of us put it in there. When she needs clothes, which ever one of us is in a position to take her shopping does it. They’re her clothes and as long as she has what she needs then I couldn’t care less who bought the clothes, him or me, who cares. My husband and I provide in every way that we can and he and his wife provide in every way they can. She benefits and she is taken care of. Bottom line, it’s all about her.

It’s far more complicated for us to constantly refer to papers drawn up by lawyers (lawyers who don’t know the heart of our family or our ever-changing needs) than it is to meet up or call each other and talk about the changes like adults. It feels good to have my ex husband call up on any given day, not an assigned day by a judge, and let me know he’s picking up our daughter for a dad night.  I can’t tell you what that does to our daughter’s self-esteem and self-confidence. I will say yes to that phone call every single time.

Our daughter isn’t a possession or a puppet. She’s not a pawn or weapon. She’s a little girl who never asked for divorced parents and she needs to feel equally important and cherished at both homes. She needs to see her parents love each other and work together as a team. She needs to see us give each other grace and mercy. She needs to know that broken things can be fixed, maybe not back to the way they were before but in a way that works and is healthy.

I’m not going to lie, it take a great deal of self-respect and respect for the other parent. It takes releasing the need to be in control of everyone and everything and it means that you won’t always have your way. It takes accepting your ex’s decisions in dating and/or marriage and realizing the importance of co-parenting in a healthy way with them as well.

Co-parenting this way means you’ll need to stock pile huge amounts of grace, forgiveness and mercy because you’re going to need a ton of each.

Throwing out the papers made us better people. It made us like each other again and took an unnecessary pressure off both of our shoulders. It made us better parents.

It might be easier said than done, I honestly don’t know because it was the best decision ,as parents of a broken home, that we could have ever made.  We love our daughter far more than any ill feeling we ever had towards each other and because of that we were able to rise above. Because of it our daughter has two stable homes with four parents that adore her and work together in her best interest at all times. Because of our decision to parent this way, our daughter has one big family full of love and abundant grace.

*Side note: I’m well aware that  this can’t always be the case and that sometimes the “other parent” is not healthy for the child. I’m talking about co-parenting situations that can be healthy and productive but have things standing in their way that don’t need to be. Just throwing that out there before the comments start coming in.

7 daily steps to healthy co-parenting.

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A few months back I had some friends ask if I would write about the birds and the bees. It was uncomfortable for some but I did it.  Now I’ve had a few friends ask that I write about co-parenting. It could be because I have a not so common co-parenting situation. It will be uncomfortable for some but I did it. I’ve been co-parenting with my ex-husband for 14 years and while we’ve had a few speed bumps along the way, we’ve had an oddly easy road. I honestly can’t remember the last time we had a disagreement and have no idea when the last time we actually verbally argued . I can say with certainty that it takes maturity on both sides to make it work and it has to be ALL about the child. I’d say when it comes to co-parenting ,on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best, we’re a solid 11. I’ve learned a few lessons over these 14 years that I think are pretty vital to assure that co-parenting works. I’m aware that there are unique situations that might not fit into these 7 suggestions but I also know that the majority of co-parenting situations can be so much easier than we make them. This is simply what I think are vital qualities to a healthy child in a co-parenting situation.

1. Brush your teeth and don’t forget to scrub your tongue.
Rule number one is to keep your mouth clean and to never let nasty words about your co-parent leave your mouth and enter the ears of your child. Bad mouthing your child’s other parent is toxic to the child and you are essentially bad mouthing half of who they are. You’re also making yourself look mean and bitter while slowly grating away at who your child is. My ex and I have always made it a point to hug each other when we are in front of our daughter even if we wanted to wring each others necks. She has never heard a single negative thing out of either of our mouths about her other parents, never and that includes step parents. No matter how solid you think your relationship is with your child, no matter how right you think you are in your feelings towards your co-parent, if you bad mouth them your child will resent you for it at some point in their lives. It might not be tomorrow or even 5 years from now but I promise it will happen.  Bad mouthing your child’s other parents falls in the category of Parent Alienation Syndrome and you don’t want to be that crazy parent do you?

2. Do this  math problem everyday. 1+1= 1
Your child should have one family. Co-parents need to be strong enough to accept each other as family and not make the child feel like they are living two separate lives.  A child should never have to pack an over night bag to go stay at their parents house. A child should have everything they need at both houses and shouldn’t feel like a guest or overnight visitor in either home. All extended family members are equally family members, even if you think your side of the family is better than theirs. Our daughter has 4 half sisters, a half-brother and a step sister but our family doesn’t use those words. In our one big family she has 5 sisters and a brother. Step parents are just as responsible and respected as bio parents. We do not have separate birthday parties and we all sit together if our child has an event we need to attend. We are her family, one family.

3. Do yoga every morning                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Stretch it out, you’re going to need to be flexible. My co-parent and I threw out custody papers a long time ago and decided to simply be adults about it all. We don’t believe in “my time” and “your time”. She’s our daughter, not a possession. In or eyes it doesn’t matter if she’s with me or him, as long as she’s with family. We do every other weekend but in the summers and holidays we kind of just do whatever. This year she spent Mother’s Day at his house, not because I didn’t want her with me but because she was staying that weekend with him and he wanted to cook dinner for his mom and have her there too. She was with family and that’s what matters.  We simply share in the joy of raising her with out the stress of a schedule drawn out by lawyers who don’t really know our family dynamics. If you are all about sticking strictly to the papers then I hope you never have anything come up where you might need your co-parent to work with you bending them a little. You can’t have it both ways.

4.Wash your laundry everyday, empty the dirty laundry hamper.                                                                                                                                  Let it go. Stop airing dirty laundry.  If you’re still bringing up what your co-parent did wrong 2, 5, 10 years ago then you are carrying a weight that is crippling you and the healthy growth of your child. Let it go.  And really, how clean is your closet? Be honest. There is no perfect parent so if you want to point out your co-parents flaws, you might want to get a mirror.  Life is much better for all involved if you learn to encourage each other as parents instead of bash each other or try to win as the better parent.  The parent who’s keeping score will always end up to be the loser.

5.Take off your tiara  and pack it away                                                                                                                                                                                          It’s no longer about you. Your days of reining over your world are over. It’s now only about the child and what’s best for them.  What is truly in the best interest of your child might not match what you feel is in your best interest. Sorry for your luck. If you are currently arranging things to ease your feelings then you’re doing it wrong.  Your job is to nurture the relationship between your child and your co-parent without letting yourself get in the way. What!?  Yes, they aren’t puppets, they’re people and trying to control their relationship is a hopeless battle. Instead try encouraging them to have their own unique relationship and not one you designed for them.  If one of your parents bad mouthed your other parent or tried to control your relationship with them, break the cycle instead of continuing a toxic tradition.

6.Upgrade your cell phone plan                                                                                                                                                                                                          Communicate with each other, respectfully. Talk about things, talk about everything. Talk to each other, not through your child. Don’t bottle issues up only to explode later or pull them out as a weapon when needed. Just communicate and work things out like adults.  You are not always going to see eye to eye and that’s okay, it’s normal but it doesn’t have to be World War 3. This is when the yoga things comes in handy again. You’ll have to bend and compromise. You can’t always have your way. Have enough respect for yourself, your co-parent and most important your child to sit down and work out issues before they cause friction in your family.  NEVER EVER EVER involve your child in adult situations, they are children and need to stay that way. They should not shoulder the burden of adult problems.  Involving them in adult situations is extremely selfish and immature.

 

7. Take a daily trip.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     So remember that one time when you really really liked your co-parent, maybe even loved them.  There had to be a time at some point when you thought enough of them to lay down with them if you know what if you know what I’m saying.  Remember that daily.  Gross right? Not really. Remembering why our child’s here in the first place can take away negative thoughts about your co-parent. I mean really, look at your child and remember that they wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for your co-parent. Try thanking them for it today.

 

I think my most rewarding moment as a co-parent was when I got a call from the school counselor when my daughter was in second grade. She told me that she had my daughter and another little girl in her office just chit chatting about different things. The other little girl said that her parents were getting a divorce and she was mad. My daughter chimed in and said “So what, my parents are divorced and they love each other”. The counselor was calling to tell me congrats on whatever it was that my ex and I were doing because our little girl was clueless that divorce can cause major issues. She was just completely confident that no matter what her mommy and daddy loved her and each other and that’s all that counts. That’s not to glorify divorce or say that we want our daughter to think divorce is easy or good. It says that we have done everything possible to not let our choice for divorce to negatively affect her. It was our choice, not our daughter’s.