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The Cadence of Co-Parenting: Staying Close Even After Divorce

07/28/2014 04:38 pm ET | Updated Sep 27, 2014

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There are not fewer things to coordinate when you become a single parent, in fact there are more. The things you once traded equitably, now fall 100 percent in your lap when it is your parenting time. This new cadence can be jarring, frustrating and make for some upset campers on all sides, unless you plan ahead and go 100 percent positive.

Here's an example:

When you were married and one of your children woke up sick it could make for a challenging morning, as you juggled timing and sick-kid duty with your spouse. As a co-parent, when then this happens, things can get a little more tense. The goal is the same, get your child a chaperone for the day and a chauffeur to the doctor, if necessary, but the negotiations about who can "afford" to stay home, and who's got the most important meeting, can foul up the good will.

The trick is to remind yourself, the drill is the same, the requirements are the same, but the cooperation with your ex-spouse needs to be even more careful.

In general, if the kids are with me and one of them is sick in the morning I figure out how to reset my "in-person" obligations so I can provide the care my child needs. I'm lucky to have a virtual-type job in digital marketing.

When my co-parent wakes up with a sick kid, and no babysitter until school lets out, she occasionally has to rely on me. If I thought she was dumping the responsibility on me I might get mad. And I suppose, if it happened all the time, for some reason, I might also begin to suspect foul play. But when I know that she is cooperating as a parent, in the other areas of our kids lives, I extend that faith to these events as well.

By keeping the lines of communication open with my co-parent, I can defuse my own misperceptions and remain focused on the solution.

Our sick kid needs a parent, what can I do to help? It's the same issue, with a different relationship and balance of trust. As co-parents, we rely on each other, we still talk about our kids and we hope to continue growing our trust in this cooperative parenting after divorce.

The routines around school always seem to be the most challenging. Who's taking who to the next cross-country meet? Will both parents be going? And asking questions like, "Are you okay with me signing our daughter up for volleyball?" are all part of the balance of parenting with another person, now no longer your primary partner. And I will admit, the occasional emails, "Just checking to make sure you've got this" from the ex-wife have proven to be, as they were when we were married, a lifesaver.

I still smile at her, "Just being a mom," tag she throws in when she knows she's sent three or four reminders. And I go above and beyond to let her know I really appreciate her efforts too. She was the more calendar-oriented partner, and when I can give her thanks for alerting me to a looming deadline, I do it.

It doesn't take much to keep the goodwill flowing between you when you remember the needs of your kids and leave any emotional content out of the negotiations. In a divorce recovery class, someone said, "Deal with your ex like you do the convenience store clerk. You go in, get what you need and take care of business. You don't really need to know about the rest of their lives."

When your kids come first you can find the flexibility to work with your co-parent at solving the complications that arise. And sharing that appreciation with your kids serves to let them know you still value their other parent, and you are working together with them to be the best mom and dad you can be, even in this different configuration.

It wasn't always easy. And we are certain to hit a few bumps from time to time, but if we can focus on the kids and what the requirement is, we can save ourselves, our kids, and our former spouse a ton of heartache and frustration. This is my fourth year as a co-parent, and while I still have disagreements with the mother of my kids, I never resent her efforts nor take them for granted. And I try to give her support and appreciation as often as I can. Our happy and healthy kids are the result.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: beginner's luck, susan sermoneta, creative commons usage