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A Healthy Co-Parenting Plan: Hope for the Recently Divorced Parent

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Let’s start with hope.

Let’s say you’ve recently found yourself in the “single parent” category. I am sorry to hear about your new bifurcated parenting role, but I have some ideas of how to make things go easier. After 11-years of being a single dad, I’ve got some tidbits and some messages of hope. 

Hope for the Recently Divorced Parent

  • No matter how bad it feels right now, it’s going to get better, and you’re going to get through this
  • Focus initially on yourself, your kids will be okay, but they need YOU strong and healthy
  • Understand that the rest of your life is entangled with your ex, so plan for being “nice” for the long-haul
  • Let your love and support of your children drive your goals and interactions
  • Even if you want to co-parent, are available to take more kid-time, or are doing 100% of what you can to be a great single parent, your ex may still attack, demean, and weaponize the kids against you
  • Parental alienation is a real and devastating problem
  • Kids Kids Kids, nothing else matters about your ex (not who they are dating, not where they are spending the money, not how they are behaving)
  • Your ex cannot bully you or the kids, but you may have limited options to confront them
  • If you are the non-custodial parent, be prepared to be humbled by your lack of authority and options when it comes to conflicts between you and the other parent
  • If you are the custodial parent, give your ex-partner the same consideration you would for a friend, always stick to the 4 Agreements.
  • It does not matter who was the dumper and who was the dumpee, the fact is, now you are divorced, work on things together for your kids
  • Take 100% of the negativity out of the relationship with your ex
  • Own the responsibility to deal with your disappointment, depression, anger, frustration, OUTSIDE the parenting relationship
  • Own your life path and your role as an exemplary co-parent (you kids are watching how you behave, not what you say)

Start A New Life

Your married life is over. You may have moved to a new apartment, you may have severely limited time with your kids, and it’s still going to be okay. You have two options: 1. toughen up and make it; or 2. die. Let’s assume you’re planning on sticking around for your kids. Good choice. Let’s begin resetting some goals and actions as we move into our new lives.

One of the first steps along the path to recovering your whole parent, your best self, your excited and energetic soul, is to make sure you are clear on your plan. You need concrete goals: for today, for next week, next month, and next year.  This is the beginning of a new life that can be great and intentional, or it can be painful, frustrating, and sad. Let’s choose the positive and make a few choices right up front:

  • Never attack your co-parent
  • Never talk poorly of your kids’ other parent
  • Give your ex-partner the benefit of the doubt, everyone is dealing with stress, don’t add to it
  • Soothe your kids, don’t rile them up about the difficulties of the new arrangements or schedules
  • Schedules are hard, losing a percentage of your kid-time is hard, losing some of your authority and influence is hard
  • Always look for the positive outcome, even when your co-parent is going for blood
  • Never reciprocate angry texts, phone messages, or emails. Just don’t. Respond to the logistics only.
  • Allow angry and spiteful messages to fall silently and without a response
  • Get support for yourself and your kids if you need it

The Bright Future as a Single Parent

I can tell you, now, 11-years later, I am very happy with my relationship with my two kids. There are still issues to work out, but that would be the case if their mom and I had never gotten a divorce. Also, I am happy to report that both kids are thriving and finding a healthy balance in their own journey as college students. While my ex was uncooperative and even vengeful at times, my kids came out OKAY. My kids don’t have a terrible “divorce story” to tell their friends or their future kids. We did our best. And as my ex departed from the parenting plan and refused to co-parent with me, I never took up arms or legal support against her. I wish I could say she had the same integrity, but that’s not the case.

As you look at your lovely children, now in these early stages of divorce, please remember that everything you do from here on out has an impact on them. Of course, you want the best life for them and yourself. But, here’s the part you must remember: you also want the best life for their other parent.

The minute you forget that attacks on their other parent show up in their lives as attacks on them as well, you may be tempted to be an asshole. Don’t. It was a lesson that took me several years to learn: never fight back. Never fight or return shitty messages with more grief. Just let it go and think of the welfare of your kids. I wish my ex-wife had lived by some of these ideas, but that was nothing I had any control over.

Let go of your anger in any way you can, that does not involve your kids or your ex. And rebuild your best life by focusing on your actions and words. Move forward towards the hope that your kids will be healthy and undamaged by the divorce. Your kids and your ex may have an easier path forward during single parenting years, but it all balances out in the end.

Love you kids with all your heart. Try and love your ex with the same compassion that you did when you decided to have children with them. Even if the divorce was justified or mutual, give your co-parent a break every chance you get. Your kids will be healthier and stronger for it. And even your ex will benefit from the lack of conflict, even when (especially when) they are attempting to stir up discord.

Finding Compassion for Your Angry Ex

There is an interesting concept in Aikido that I learned after my divorce, as I started classes to get my mind and body in a better place. As your attacker is coming at you in Aikido you lovingly disable and disarm them. The goal is not to hurt or kill them, but to protect them from hurting themselves by attacking you. Compassion for the attacker.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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