The topic of co-parenting could fill the pages of multiple books. It often takes just as much work as parenting under the same roof. Sharing parenting duties from different homes can be all the more challenging when you’re attempting to heal from the person you’re co-parenting with. What exactly does this mean? Abuse, infidelity and assault are examples of things a person could be healing from, says Ebunoluwa Orimoloye, therapist and owner of Agape Love Counseling. Having said experiences with someone you need to share parenting responsibilities with can make the trust and communication–which co-parenting often requires–difficult.
“In this dynamic, trust and safety is a huge factor,” says Orimoloye. “How does one co-parent with someone they don’t trust or that they don’t feel safe around?”
One solution may be to sit down and brainstorm boundaries that will make the process easier for you. These boundaries should help you separate the former romantic relationship from the co-parenting relationship. An example of a boundary could be making pickups and drop-offs in public places or avoiding small talk that could lead to inappropriate comments.
Another way to heal and co-parent is to become more aware of your triggers.
“The best way to deal with triggers is knowing what they are,” says Orimoloye. “What are some of the things happening within the co-parenting dynamic that are eliciting strong emotional responses?”
Once you know what your triggers are you may want to revisit that boundary list we mentioned earlier. Add boundaries that minimize the likelihood of those triggers arising, if possible. Having strategies in place to help you respond to those triggers can help when boundaries aren’t enough. An example is being prepared to end a conversation when your co-parenting partner raises their voice if that’s a trigger, says Orimoloye. It could also be having self-soothing tactics in place like meditation, music, or journaling if you find yourself feeling afraid or angry during and after an interaction. Depending on the other co-parent’s temperament and your discretion, you could consider communicating your boundaries to them so everyone is on the same page.
Acknowledgment and Acceptance
No matter how many triggers you identify and boundaries you put in place, if you don’t come to a level of acceptance about what happened in the relationship, both co-parenting and healing can be more challenging. Acceptance starts with acknowledging the lingering feelings about how you were treated in the relationship instead of avoiding them.
“This can look like, ‘I am extremely hurt, angry and disappointed about how I was treated in the relationship. I will allow myself to feel and make space for it. I will learn ways to cope with these difficult emotions and work towards healing, so I can be a present and active participant in my co-parenting relationship,’” says Orimoloye. “It is important to practice this emotional acceptance so you can fully engage in co-parenting vs constantly engaging with your triggers.”
This practice of acceptance may also help you separate your feelings about the other parent as an ex-partner versus the feelings you have about them as a parent. Conflating the two can result in a toxic dynamic that affects the children and stunts your healing.
Involving Third Parties
In an ideal situation, you would be able to cut communication from an ex so you can heal in peace. Unfortunately, that’s harder to do when you have kids to raise with them.
There are scenarios where co-parenting may not be an option, like if the abuse continues despite the relationship ending. Another scenario where you may need to reconsider co-parenting is when your child is at risk.
“One parent might feel concerned about their child’s well-being with the other parent, or may even be concerned about their own well-being as they attempt to create a co-parenting relationship,” says Orimoloye. “Many abusers may even use the child as a way to further perpetuate the abuse that was present in the relationship. This can look like harassment, threats, bullying, blackmailing, keeping the child away from one of the parents, being combative or oppositional,” she says.
If this is something you’re living through, having a middleman facilitate or getting the courts involved may be the next best step. A middleman can be a family member or friend. Anyone who is neutral, can diffuse conflict, and has all of your best interest at heart. There are also co-parenting apps such as Parentship, Custody Connection, Cozi, WeParent, and FamCal. These apps all have different functions but the overarching themes include helping with coordinated calendars, reminders, communication and integrating third parties.
Therapy is another option if both parents are open to the idea. Having a neutral professional help you talk through the issues may help both of you achieve closure and healing faster. If you can’t do therapy together, doing it individually may be just as valuable.
The Bigger Picture
You have probably already heard the saying, “Your healing is your responsibility.” The more you heal from the relationship, the easier it may be to focus on the bigger picture, which is the well-being of the kids. However, this isn’t an easy feat.
“Dealing with the residue of emotions from the failed relationship while also facing the reality of having to work as a team to co-parent is not an easy task. Co-parents start to see vast differences in values, beliefs about parenting amongst other things that make it seem impossible to get on the same page,” says Orimoloye.
“The biggest challenge is working together, having common goals and finding some sort of harmony to be the best support system for the children,” she says.
While it may seem impossible at times, effective co-parenting can happen. It’s important to give yourself grace and time while you’re on the way to that destination. It could take years to get to a point where you’re cordial or even friends if that’s a possibility. We must also admit that sometimes, you don’t end up with a healthy co-parenting relationship and it may be beyond your control. The main goal should be to focus on what you can control, which is your reactions to co-parenting challenges and your healing.