How to Be a Great Co-Parent With an Ex (When You Still Have Feelings)

Co-parenting with someone you still love

Relationships aren’t built overnight. All lovers create a story filled with moments that once had so much meaning. But not all relationships last. 

And once they’re over, sometimes the thought of your ex makes you angry, but sometimes you mourn the loss of your lover. 

This powerplay of emotions is worse if you and your ex have a child together. As co-parents, the two of you are bound together—whether you like it or not.

The fall of a relationship is painful and sad. When there are children in the mix, the situation can become even more emotional, even volatile. 

So, how do you move on from heartbreak and effectively co-parent with an ex?

Keep reading for some tips on managing the conflict and pain associated with a break-up so you can be the best parent to your child.

Take Time to Heal

While some people break up amicably, no break-up is ever mutual. Someone will always be more hurt than the other, even if the decision to end the relationship was a logical one.

If you’re hurting from a breakup, it might feel impossible to raise a child with the one person in the world who loves your child as much as you do. 

It’s essential that you take time to heal.

Usually, a breakup requires space. Taking time away from each other, letting the metaphorical scrapes and cuts heal will slowly make your relationship better. 

You must be okay with lessened contact and communication—aside from the conversations regarding your child. The awkwardness will pass, even if there are negative feelings in the meantime.

You should be kind and supportive to your ex, but it’s acceptable to not be best friends. It doesn’t mean you won’t get there in the future.

What Does Effective Co-Parenting Look Like?

In a healthy co-parenting situation, both parents are involved in the child’s day-to-day life. Co-parents communicate effectively and share the responsibilities of parenting—including the financial, logistical, and emotional ones.

To be a good co-parent, you must communicate respectfully when hurdles come up and work together in the best interest of your child.

In most healthy co-parenting relationships, parents allow each other to express their own parenting style when they are with their child.

Co-parenting doesn’t have a definition—it’s more of a lifestyle. It’s communicating and collaborating with your ex in a way that is peaceful, respectful, fair, and with your child’s wellbeing in mind.

Boundaries Are Essential

It’s common for people to change after a separation. When you are forced to move on from a relationship, you have to unlearn your former partner.

Things that used to be your business aren’t anymore. You don’t have the right to ask personal questions, and you’re not entitled to the answers to the personal questions you do ask.

In the beginning, it’s best to limit any conversation to those about your child. As time goes on and you share endearing or funny stories about your child, you will naturally begin to feel like friends again. Just don’t expect this to come immediately.

Your former spouse doesn’t need to know if you’re going on a date or if you’ve got a new hair cut. They don’t need to know anything that doesn’t pertain to your child, and neither do you. 

Put simply, you’re entitled to your privacy. And so is your ex. Try hard not to blur the lines with your ex. Parenting alone is hard, especially when you’re hurting, but it’s essential to move on and be separate people

Remember That You’re Family

Maybe it doesn’t sound ideal right now, but like it or not, your former spouse will always be family. 

Because you have a child between the two of you, you need to embrace them as family, as well as any new partners that come into the picture. If you can, be friendly and respectful to their new partner. 

At the end of the day, you want your child to look around and be surrounded by people who only want to see them succeed. So, settle in. Do what you can to be together around your child. If the wounds aren’t too fresh, schedule family nights—play games, take walks, keep it light—and make it consistent.

Communicate as a Team

While it might be hard to have conversations with your ex after a difficult breakup, try to take the emotion out of the conversation. Disagreements will arise, and it’s vital to keep heated moments behind closed doors and away from your child. 

If you know you’re going to have a difficult conversation, schedule it in advance and meet at a neutral location. 

And if a conversation can’t wait, only communicate in front of your kids if you can do it wisely. If you’re capable of working things out amicably, it can be good for your child to see you working through a disagreement together. 

Above all, remember never to get personal and be respectful to one another. 

Be Flexible and Accessible

Again and again, you will hear that consistency is key. It’s true, you should strive to make your child feel stable during shaky times. However, you should also be flexible. 

When you request a change to the schedule, give your ex the benefit of the doubt when it comes to forgiveness and scheduling. This means you should switch days when necessary, welcome your ex to family events, and invite them to your child’s important events—even if it hurts to do so.

Always make an effort to stick to the schedule, but be open to change, especially if it’s easy to accommodate. Don’t deny your ex time just to be difficult because one day you might need their kindness in the same situation.

You should also try to be available to your ex, even if your instinct tells you to ignore their attempts at conversation. Don’t inconvenience yourself to take their call every time if you’re not available, but pick up the phone when you can. 

Your child will appreciate seeing the two of you communicating efficiently, respectfully, and kindly. 

Navigate Conversations With Your Child Carefully

It’s absolutely essential that parents don’t speak ill—or allow a third-party to speak negatively—about each other. It’s easy to get nasty and want to get even by insulting your ex behind their back, but the consequences to your child are potentially huge.

Each time you speak negatively around your child about someone else, you’re setting an example for them. You might also be making them feel insecure, as many children see themselves as a blend of their parents. If you and your ex openly hate each other, it drains your child’s self-worth.

When parenting alone, it can be tempting to talk to your children as if you’re friends—discussing adult topics such as parenting plans and money, and throwing ideas at the wall with them. While you should give your children room to make decisions, their freedom to choose should be limited. 

Let your child pick out their clothes, but don’t let them make big decisions such as where they will live and when. Giving a child too much power actually has a negative effect on them—they can begin to feel guilty or anxious

Find a Support Network

When tensions are running high while co-parenting, it’s vital to have a support network to help you navigate difficult times. 

Confide in a friend who can help you see both sides clearly, seek out the advice of a trusted religious leader, or join a supportive Facebook group. 

Whatever is happening in your life, you’re not alone, and you might find comfort in talking to others who are in the same situation.

Use Tech to Your Advantage

Co-parenting and technology go hand-in-hand. When raising kids in two households, technology keeps things easy and interesting. 

For example, you can set up a digital diary for your ex and you to share. Write notes about cute things your child does or funny things they say. Add photos and thoughts from two different perspectives—you can even add voice messages or videos. The possibilities are endless.

You can also take advantage of video-call apps such as Skype, Hangout, and FaceTime. These apps are useful in long-distance co-parenting situations. The long-distance parent can be a part of your child’s daily life. Call them during bedtime or during trips to school in the car.

As your child observes you having conversations about everyday life with your ex, this will ensure him or her that you’re on the same team. They don’t need to know how complicated it is to co-parent—just show them that you’re trying. 

Finally, try installing a co-parenting app that allows you and your ex to coordinate calendars, expenses, schedule switches, and more. By getting organized and staying on top of medical records, child-related finances, and more, you’ll always know what’s around the corner. You’ll be more confident in conversations with your ex if there is a disagreement. 

Get a Co-Parenting Agreement

If you find that you’re having trouble communicating with your ex, try asking an attorney to draft a co-parenting or custody plan. You can also draft one yourself if you feel comfortable doing so. 

Then, you can keep this document between the two of you or file it with the court system. It’s a plan that serves as a friendly reminder that you have promised each other to raise your child in a way that benefits them the most. 

A co-parenting agreement serves as a contract that addresses how both parents should behave toward each other and their children. This is in an effort to raise healthy, happy kids.

What’s Addressed in a Co-Parenting Plan?

If you’re filing for custody, the court may ask for a plan that includes an agreement upon the following issues:

  • Regular time-sharing schedule
  • Holiday and summer time-sharing schedules
  • Child support
  • Payment of child care and extracurricular activities
  • Payment of children’s health insurance and medical expenses
  • Restrictions on how far the parents can live from one another
  • Keeping each parent informed about important issues affecting the child
  • Sharing decisions about religious education

You can tweak a co-parenting plan to include other issues, such as:

  • Access to other relatives
  • Rights of first refusal
  • Use of a shared calendar or co-parenting app
  • Transportation costs
  • Meeting locations
  • Co-parenting communication (i.e. the number of hours each parent has to respond to communication)
  • Time-sharing for life events

If you’re wondering whether something is important to include, you should probably include it. Add anything else you and your ex typically argue about so that it’s clear and in writing to refer to when emotions run high.

Co-Parenting With Feelings Is Possible

At one point in time, you and your ex loved each other enough to have a child together. Sometimes things don’t work out between people, and while that’s unfortunate, it shouldn’t be the end of the world for your child. 

You must embrace the fact that you’re separated and have to maintain a relationship with your ex for the sake of your children. You are bound together forever through the child you made together.

Learn how to let go and be a responsible co-parent so that you can raise a happy child.

2houses is an app that can help you improve your family life by offering various tools and services related to co-parenting success. You can manage shared expenses, use a shared interface to send secure messages, log medical information, and more.

If you need help navigating your co-parenting relationship with your ex, consider downloading 2houses and using it as a hub for all things co-parenting.

Maintaining Mental Health as a Single Parent During COVID-19

Mental health sigle parent

Much of the focus when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been one of the defining factors of 2020, is physical health. We’ve heard a lot about possible symptoms, long-term effects, death rates and how to best protect yourself and those around you. But what about mental health? This pandemic has meant a huge shift in daily life, changing everything from how we grocery shop to how we do our jobs, and nothing has been left untouched. As a single parent, it can be even harder trying to deal with all of the changes, uncertainties and struggles alone. If you feel like your mental health has taken a hit in 2020, you’re not alone. Find out more about how the issues surrounding the pandemic are affecting mental health and what you can do to make sure you’re taking care of yourself.

How the Pandemic Has Affected Mental Health

Both the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control have noted that the pandemic and the measures people are being asked to do to combat its spread is having a serious mental health impact for many people. At the very forefront, there is the fear that comes from a new virus making its way through the human population. When the virus was first discovered, scientists didn’t yet know what its effect might be, how it spread or how long the incubation or recovery periods might be. Understandably, this led to many people experiencing fear and anxiety as they worried whether they would get infected or what would happen to the people they loved.

As scientists began to understand more about the virus, the world started to go into action to contain it and slow the spread. In the United States, this led to travel bans, mandatory business closings, K-12 schools being moved to remote learning and stay-at-home and quarantine orders. There were also areas that experienced widespread food and supply shortages. These major changes happening all at once only increased the anxiety and fear for many people, and for those who were now experiencing issues getting basic necessities, the mental health toll was even more severe. The closings also meant that many people were out of work, creating financial catastrophes — and even more stress — in the process.

Another key piece of the mental health aspect of COVID-19 is that quarantine measures and stay-at-home orders meant that many people were also suddenly extremely isolated from their support systems, such as friends, family members (who may have also acted as child care), churches and counselors. This isolation sparked an increase in anxiety and depression. For many, it was a double-edge sword, with less support but more expectations and pressure when it came to working from home and trying to take care of children and home responsibilities while also being available for video conferencing during business hours.

Even as many people have returned to work or started to adjust to life with the virus, there is still a large amount of uncertainty that looms ahead. How will this affect my co-parenting? What will school look like in the fall? What will happen when flu season comes around? Will there be a vaccine? Not knowing what’s coming down the road can be just as anxiety producing as dealing with something that is happening now, and all of this takes a huge toll on mental health.

Particular Struggles for Single Parents

While virtually no one has been left unchanged by the pandemic, single parents have been one of the hardest hit demographics when it comes to how much their lives have been disrupted. Single parents are usually the sole incomes for their households, which means if they were laid off or furloughed because of business closings, it had serious financial implications for their families. 

Single parents also rely on school and daycare for childcare, so even those whose employers stayed open may not have been able to continue working because of childcare issues. Those who were able to work at home remotely now faced the stress trifecta of taking care of children, working from home and trying to maintain the house — all alone as the only adult. 

Single parents have also faced outside pressure about taking children with them to grocery shops and not being able to juggle everything perfectly all the time. All of this can lead to chronic stress and anxiety as parents try to make sense of the information coming from the government and news media sources and try to make decisions that are in the best interests for the safety and well-being of their children. This has led many to put their own well-being, mentally, emotionally and physically, on the back burner — as single parents so often do.

Tips for Taking Care of Yourself

It’s clear from all sides that COVID-19 has had serious mental health implications for many people. However, it also looks like this virus is going to be around for at least the near future, so how can single parents continue to take steps to protect their mental health as we continue to see what the future will bring? These four tips can give you a starting place to start prioritizing your mental health on a daily basis.

1. Take an Inventory of Responsibilities

No matter what your children may think, you are not Superman or Wonder Woman. You cannot do it all — or at least not well — and realizing this is the first step toward less stress and better mental health. Carve out some time to have a meeting with the CEO of your family (that’s you), even if it has to be early in the morning before the kids wake up, late at night after they’re in bed or on your lunch hour. Make a list of everything (yes, everything!) that you have to do. Don’t forget things that may not be every day such as scheduling car maintenance or having a quarterly performance review with your boss. Consider organizing the list by home, work and child-related responsibilities, so you have a big-picture overview of everything that is on your plate right now. If this seems overwhelming, that’s because it probably is! But in the next steps, we’re going to discuss how to start trimming this list back into something more manageable.

2. Remove and Delegate Whatever You Can

Chances are, as a single parent, you already had a lot on your plate before a global pandemic arrived on the scene. If you feel like you’re running around trying to keep a million plates spinning, it might be time to let a few drop — even if that means that they shatter. Take that list you made from the above step and see if there is anything you can delegate to someone else or remove altogether. 

For example, if you have school-aged children, they are more than capable of helping with the household chores. Small children can dust baseboards and wipe down surfaces, while older kids can do dishes and laundry. This might seem small, but it could be enough to build some space into your life. You may also find some things on this list that you don’t actually need to be doing. Maybe you have a standing call with your sister on Friday mornings that is just a rehash of everything COVID that is doing more harm than help. 

3. Recognize That Your Self-Care May Not Look Like Someone Else’s

Self-care is a buzzword of the 21st century, but it is actually something that can make all the difference in your life. It’s easy as a single parent to always put your own needs and personhood on the back burner, but this isn’t healthy. It’s important to make time for yourself to help you recharge so you can better be there for the rest of your family. 

Social media and society would like to tell you that self-care should be hour-long bubble baths, expensive massages or a new painting hobby. However, this isn’t necessarily true. What you’re really trying to do with self-care is to come out of it feeling like you have a little more clarity and energy. Maybe this does mean a bath or massage for you, but it could just as easily mean watching your favorite TV show with snacks you don’t have to share or writing short stories for fun. 

4. Remember That These Are Extraordinary Times

No matter how hard you try, there will still be things that fall through the cracks or days where you feel like you can’t keep going. It’s important to remember that this is a major, once-every-hundred years event, and it’s OK — and totally normal even — to be struggling. As long as your children are healthy and reasonably happy, you’re doing a fantastic job, and that’s something that deserves to be recognized and celebrated.

The Top 5 Books for Explaining Divorce to Kids and How to Help Them Get the Most Out of Them

Divorce books for children

The primary focus of any divorce with children is to make things as easy for them as possible. There are lots of things to hash out, and it’s likely that you and the other parent will have some disagreements and growing pains as you navigate life as two families instead of one, but keeping the focus on what is in the best interests of the children can help everyone remember what is really the most important thing right now. 

Whether you’ve already told your kids that you’re getting a divorce or you’re still trying to figure out the best way to make the announcement, it can help to have something that shows your children that they aren’t alone in this experience and helps give them the tools to work through their emotions. Thankfully, people who have been through divorces have taken this task very seriously and written some great books that you can read with younger children or give to older teens to help them understand what’s happening and help them through it. We’ve included our favorites below.

1. The Invisible String by Patrice Karst

Divorce book for children

Age Group: Children ages 2 to 4

Number of Pages: 36

Written for younger children, The Invisible String is a book that acknowledges the fears your children may have about being separated from one parent when visiting the other or no longer living with both. It talks about an invisible string that always connects us with the people we love, so even when we aren’t around them physically, we can be sure that they are thinking about us and still love us just as much. 

The illustrations in the book are the main focus, which makes it a good choice for younger children who may aren’t able to read independently yet. Try reading it with your child at first, pointing out the pictures and how they connect to the words and the underlying message. You might encourage some further discussion by asking them what their favorite part about the book was or if there was anything that they didn’t understand or seemed troublesome. This can give you insight into how your child is feeling and what they may be thinking about the separation.

2. Shine: Why Don’t Moon Fairy & Sun Prince Live Together?: A story of unconditional love for the children of separated or divorced parents by Polona Kisovec

Divorce book for children

Age Group: Children ages 6 to 10

Pages: 42

In Shine: Why Don’t Moon Fairy & Sun Prince Live Together? Polona Kisovec takes the reality of divorce and turns it into a fairy tale that shows that sometimes the heroes can’t win all the battles but that their love for their children is something that never changes. The book presents the story of a couple who were in love and happy but then situations changed and they had to adapt, which meant living apart. The story includes some emotions for the main characters, which can be very helpful for children to understand that no one is happy about a divorce and that it’s difficult and emotional for everyone, including the parents.

While this book is also a great choice to read aloud to a younger child, it’s especially well-suited for children who are already independent readers and who many have an interest in fantasy worlds and adventure stories. The illustrations are just as beautiful as the written story and the message of “It’s going to be OK” is one that many children need the opportunity to hear — or read — over and over again during this time.

3. Two Homes by Claire Masurel

Age Group: Children ages 3 to 7

Pages: 40

Two Homes by Claire Masurel has much the same focus on reminding children that they are loved by both parents even if the family isn’t together all the time, but it hones in even more on the idea of having to go from one house to the next. It talks about the differences and similarities between Mommy’s house and Daddy’s house and can help children look for the positives and the good things that come from shared custody and having two homes instead of staying caught in the difficulties and resistance that comes with major change.

This book is a short read with lots of warm, child-friendly pictures and can be a good follow-up tool to address children’s questions about what life in two houses will look like after you’ve already told them the divorce is happening. It can even be helpful to have a hard copy at both houses so that you can both walk your child through the book and point out some of the ways their life is the same as the main character’s.

4. Now What Do I Do?: A Guide to Help Teenagers with Their Parents’ Separation or Divorce by Lynn Cassella-Kapusinski

Divorce book for children

Age Group: Children ages 10 and up

Pages: 174

Helping a tween or teenager through a divorce is very different from reassuring a younger child, but that’s where books like Now What Do I Do? come in. It focuses on presenting the issues that come with divorce and the feelings your teen may be dealing with in a way they can relate to and connect with. It’s centered around helping children identify and put words to the emotions they may be feeling and gives them tools and strategies for coping with those feelings as well as situations that may arise, such as doing holidays separately.

Divorce books for teens and tweens are usually more hands-off when it comes to parental involvement, but it’s still a good idea to let your child know that you realize this is a difficult time for them and that they may prefer to talk to friends or other trusted adults but that you’re still there if they have questions or need anything. You might also want to check back in after they’ve had a chance to read the book and see if anything’s come up that they want to discuss. Don’t be surprised if you get the “it was stupid” or an eye roll. It’s common at this age for children to not want to seem uncool or like they needed help and to downplay how much they might have related to the book and the message.

5. The Divorce Workbook for Teens: Activities to Help You Move Beyond the Break Up: Activities to Help Teens Move Beyond the Break Up by Lisa Schab

Divorce book for children

Reading about something is good, and getting advice on how to deal with divorce is great, but Lisa Schab takes it to the next level by giving teens an actual workbook to help them deal with the divorce and start moving toward a positive future. The book includes pen and paper activities and worksheets that give teens something to do to start working through their emotions and preparing for life post-divorce. It’s been a favorite of many school counselors and mental health professionals and receives rave reviews for being a practical tool to help teens get through divorce as smoothly as possible.

While this book is very well-rounded and covers all of the various aspects of divorce and how you’re teen may be feeling, the workbook style means your teen will only get out of it what they put in. This may mean that this book is best suited for teens who are actively interested in learning how to cope during this time or as a tool to be used alongside counseling appointments or group meetings for teens whose parents are divorcing.

Talking to Children About Divorce

When you’re talking to your children about divorce, remember that it’s important to present a united front if at all possible. They will likely handle the news better if it comes from both parents saying the same thing at the same time. This also shows that the decision was a joint one, so there’s no need to side with one parent over the other. Communicate what’s happening and how it’s going to affect practical things like living arrangements or school as clearly and concisely as possible, focusing on keeping the details age-appropriate. 

It’s also a good idea to be prepared to have to revisit the conversation. Children may have more questions or concerns as they process the news or may have periods where they are angry or sad. Being open to continued communication about the divorce and the changes it brings can help your children feel like they can talk to you and express their emotions, which will help them better deal with them in the long run.

*digitale version

What Is Parallel Parenting?

Parallel parenting

When two parents are working together to raise their children even after their romantic relationship has ended, we call this co-parenting. It’s a term you will hear quite a bit in family court, in divorce support groups and from mental health professionals. However, while co-parenting might be presented as the accepted default, it’s actually more of a gold standard, best case scenario situation. If you feel like you are having difficulties navigating co-parenting, it could be that this just doesn’t work for your specific set of circumstances, and you may need to consider other options, such as parallel parenting. In this article, we’ll explore what parallel parenting is, how it differs from co-parenting, what situations it can be helpful in and how to start implementing it in your life.

The Difference Between Co-Parenting and Parallel Parenting

While co-parenting and parallel parenting both refer to working with an ex to parent your children together, the two terms are not interchangeable. At its core, co-parenting refers to a partnership. Co-parents are able to talk to each other about issues that are coming up and collaborate on decision-making and what’s in the best interests of the children without it devolving. Co-parenting can be a challenge in the beginning for anyone, but it’s something that often comes more naturally with time and as the parents get more space from their relationship and redefine that relationship in terms of a business partnership or even as friends. 

Parallel parenting, on the other hand, refers to the two parents coming at the situation from a place of mutual respect but they don’t interact much beyond visitation transitions or when something absolutely must be decided jointly. Parallel parenting focuses mostly on the idea of “you do what works for you and I’ll do what works for me.” For example, in a co-parenting situation, the two parents may work together to decide on a bed time, curfew or other house rules that work for and are implemented at both houses. However, with parallel parenting, each parent is usually creating their own set of rules for their own home, and they stay out of any decisions made on the other parent’s time.

When Does the Situation Call for Parallel Parenting?

So, how do you know whether you just need to give co-parenting attempts a little more time or if it’s time to switch to parallel parenting? Here are just a few examples of situations and signs that parallel parenting may serve you better.

Communication Isn’t Good

Communication is key to any successful co-parenting relationship, and while there will always be bumps in the road or things that you don’t immediately agree on, co-parents are able to navigate these issues as a team. If you find that communication with the other parent often devolves into personal attacks or belittlement or if you’re seen as an adversary instead of a teammate, co-parenting may not be an option. Co-parenting is also extremely difficult if not impossible if there is no communication. If your attempts to involve the other parent are met with unanswered phone calls and no responses to emails or text messages, you may need to switch to parallel parenting. 

There Are Too Many People Involved

Sometimes, you may find that what was a positive co-parenting relationship starts to sour when other people get involved. This could be new friends, new spouses or family members, but if the other parent is suddenly being influenced by others, it can change the nature of co-parenting. While it’s definitely worth trying to talk to the other parent one-on-one if you think this may be the issue and see if you can get back on a good co-parenting track, it’s not always possible. This is common when one parent remarries and then has to consider the new spouse in parenting decisions for their household as well. 

The Relationship Was Toxic

While co-parenting is held as the goal, parallel parenting may be the better choice for your mental or even physical health if your relationship was toxic, was abusive or involved substance use issues. For co-parenting to work, both parties must be equally invested and responsible for the decisions and well-being of the children. This has to be the focus 100% of the time. However, those who are abusive or are suffering from the effects of an addiction may not be able to put the children’s needs first or empathize and work together with the other parent for mutually agreeable decisions. In these cases, it’s often the healthiest option to limit contact as possible with the other parent and focus on making sure the children are safe and well taken care of.

The Basics of Parallel Parenting

You’ve determined that co-parenting might not be the best for your situation and want to give parallel parenting a try. Great! But how do you start? Here are four key ways to start shifting to successful parallel parenting.

1. Keep Communication As Needed and Neutral

You won’t be able to just stop communicating with the other parent completely, but you can start focusing that communication in a different direction. Instead of trying to tackle issues as joint decisions, the focus becomes more on informing the other parent of things they absolutely must know about — think doctor’s appointments, sports schedules and illnesses — and sticking to neutral, fact-based information. You can make this even easier by using the messaging and calendar features in 2houses. Using the messaging feature in the app gives you a record of all communication sent and received and means you don’t have to worry about texting or emailing. You can add events, practices, games and even the visitation schedule to the calendar so that each parent has everything they need at a glance, eliminating the need for last-minute “what time is that thing again?” texts.

2. Shift Communication to the Impersonal

Communication should also be focused on the facts and be as objective and neutral as possible. Parallel parenting is often used in situations where one person refuses to communicate in a collaborative way, so this can be difficult if the other person is being combative, demeaning or threatening. Focusing on the gray rock or yellow rock method can help. This is when you make a point not to respond to any personal attacks or comments and focus the communication only on the kids.

For example, if after a drop off, the other parent texts you to question why the kids haven’t had a bath or says that they are dirty, you can choose to not respond at all — because this isn’t directly related to the children’s immediate care — which would be the gray rock option. Or you could say something like, “The children took showers this morning.” This would be the yellow rock option, which means that you’re responding but keeping things neutral and factual and not taking the bait.

3. Control What You Can

In parallel parenting, it’s very important to clearly define the scope of things that are within your control. This usually means the decisions that are taking place in your house or during your time, but if you have specific provisions in your custody agreement, such as you get to make education decisions, this would also be included. For the things that are in your control, set very specific boundaries and hold to them. When both parents aren’t on the same page, which is usually the reason for parallel parenting in the first place, children often try to play one parent against the other or try to bend the rules based on “well, Dad lets me at his house.” By clearly outlining what is and is not OK at your house and on your time and sticking to them, your children will better know what to expect and be aware that trying to play the other parent card doesn’t do any good.

4. Let Go of What You Can’t

On the flip side of the “control what you can” point, we have the things that are not within your control. And this is usually when we’re talking about the decisions that are made on the other parent’s time or at the other parent’s house. For example, maybe you have a strict 9 p.m. bedtime for the kids at your house, but when they spend the week at their mom’s, they can stay up as late as they want, even if it’s a school night. In a co-parenting situation, this would mean a conversation with both parents and a discussion that ended in an agreement on a bedtime that would work for and be enforced in both houses. However, with a parallel parenting situation, this would be something you would just have to let go — because you’re not likely to convince the other parent that the lack of bedtime isn’t reasonable and it would likely just lead to even more conflict. 

Parallel parenting and the gray/yellow rock methods can be very helpful in cases where positive co-parenting isn’t an option, but it does take practice to get comfortable with it. Remember that nothing is perfect from the beginning and that there will be some missteps, but how you move forward from those continues to set the tone.

6 Common Emotions After a Separation

Common emotions after separation

No matter the reason for it or how amicable it might be, the end of a relationship is a major life change. If you have children involved, you will also have to figure out how not to just end the relations but how to transform it into a different kind that allows you to co-parent. And none of this is easy or intuitive for most people. During this time, it’s normal to experience all kinds of feelings and to sometimes feel like you are being flung from one mood to the next, going through both peaks and valleys as you navigate what your new normal looks like. Here are just a few of the common emotions you might be feeling as you move toward this next chapter of your life. 

1. Grief

The end of a relationship is a loss, even if it was something that you wanted and initiated and that you knew would be a positive life change. And any loss brings grief. This is something that we accept when someone dies, but many people — usually those who haven’t been through a separation or divorce themselves — don’t understand what a loss the end of a relationship can be. 

It’s not always only about the relationship itself, either. In some cases, yes, the other person has asked for a separation when you thought everything was going well and it’s not something that you want. But even if you were the one who decided it was time to move on, there is still the loss for what you had hoped and dreamed and what might have been if things would have worked out differently. And, often, this grief for what might have been is even stronger than the grief over the relationship itself.

Giving yourself permission to grieve fully and actually feel the loss and recognize it for what it is may be difficult, but it is one of the most helpful things you can do for yourself as far as really moving forward without the baggage of the past coming along with you.

2. Uncertainty

Many people who go through a separation find that once the decision has been made, they’re left with a feeling of “well, what now?” Oftentimes, so much energy and time (physically and mentally) go into deciding whether to try to salvage the relationship or move on from it officially that once that particular hurdle has been conquered, it’s not quite clear where to go from there. 

If you’re feeling uncertain about what you want or where your life is going after a separation, you aren’t alone. When you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, your wants, needs, desires and preferences have all been intermingled with someone else’s, and it can take some time to start to sort out what’s yours at the end of it. 

However, this can also be a great opportunity to rediscover passions, dreams or goals that you set aside or weren’t able to pursue fully because of your relationship. Maybe you want to move out to the country, downsize to a tiny home, go back to school or switch careers. Viewing this feeling of uncertainty as an opportunity to recalibrate your life instead of a negative emotion to be avoided can bring many positive things to your future and help facilitate your personal growth.

3. Exhaustion

Emotional upheaval is tiring in and of itself, but a separation that involves becoming a new single parent and trying to navigate a new co-parenting relationship is downright exhausting. So, if you’re waking up feeling like you would just like to go back to bed or you stumble into bed at the end of the day thinking “this just isn’t possible,” you’re in good company. 

You might still be reeling from the emotional aspect of the separation, and chances are, you’re suddenly faced with working, taking care of children, keeping the house in livable condition and dealing with all of your children’s emotions and feelings all at the same time and pretty much all by yourself. The good news is that this phase will pass, and you will make it through. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t or shouldn’t do anything to ease the exhaustion while you’re in it.

Figure out what fills up your cup. Maybe it’s curling up with a new novel or a funny movie after the kids have gone to bed. Maybe it’s waking up early for a morning run in the peace and solitude of nature. Spend some time thinking about what makes you feel better and like you can handle the day, and then, purposefully carve out time for these activities — even if it means lowering your standards in other areas, such as keeping a perfectly clean house or cooking dinner from scratch every night.

4. Excitement

It may seem odd to say that someone might be excited about a separation, but the truth is that sometimes the end of a relationship is the best thing for everyone involved. It may have come after years of trying to make things work unsuccessfully, and finally being ready to move into that new chapter and accept that some things aren’t meant to be can bring a renewed energy with it. You’re able to better prioritize things in your life you may have put on the back burner, and it may feel like the whole world is fresh and new and full of possibilities.

This is healthy and a positive step forward, but you might encounter some people in your life who don’t feel the same way. For a long time, the end of a relationship was considered a failure and something to be ashamed for. However, we’ve come to realize the importance of mental health over meeting society’s expectations, and this stigma is slowly fading. If you encounter people who aren’t happy for you to be happy, respectfully remind them that you are in charge of your life and making the decisions that are best for you. If someone can’t be happy for you and supportive, you may have to put up some boundaries to maintain your mental health.

6. Relief

If you’ve been struggling in your relationship for a while or have felt like you weren’t moving in the direction for your life that you wanted, being free of it can be a welcome relief. It might feel like a huge weight has been taken off your shoulders. You no longer have to worry about meeting the expectations of your partner or dealing with the challenges of your relationship.

If you were in an abusive or toxic relationship, this feeling of relief may be even stronger. For many people, a separation means not having to walk on eggshells anymore, not having to deal with someone who has a substance abuse issue or just not having to worry anymore about what they’re doing wrong or why they aren’t enough to make the other person happy. 

If you are feeling relief post-separation, take that as a sign that you made the right choice and that the relationship was no longer serving you or your mental health. However, that doesn’t mean that if you don’t feel relief, that doesn’t mean that anything is wrong. Everyone experiences emotions and processes life change differently, and for some, it can take quite a while before they have decompressed enough from the relationship traumas to be able to move forward into this space.

The Takeaway

While many people find that there are common threads to the separation and co-parenting experience and that they experience similar emotions, it’s also important to remember that everyone is unique. You may spend longer in the grief process than your best friend did, or maybe were heavy on the relief and didn’t really experience the exhaustion. Or maybe you experienced other emotions not covered on this list. And that’s OK. Because the separation process — and the emotions that come with it — isn’t a linear journey. Even after you feel like you have finished a certain stage and have moved on to the next, something could happen that could trigger a short relapse back into grief or anger or uncertainty, and this is normal. Remember not to try to compare your journey with your friend’s, brother’s or anyone else’s. 

Whatever the case, the most important thing during this time is to be kind to yourself and to remember that you aren’t alone. Reaching out to friends, family members and other support persons when you start to feel overwhelmed with your emotions can be a healthy way to cope and can help you identify what you need to keep moving forward. There are many mental health professionals out there who specialize in helping those going through divorces or separations get through the process and move into the next stages as smoothly as possible.

Being Friends With Your Ex: How to Make It Work

Being Friends With Your Ex

If you’ve just made the decision to go your separate ways or are currently in the middle of a divorce, being friends with your ex might seem like an impossible task. But studies have shown that co-parents who are able to go beyond basic civility and have open, friendly relationships can make the entire process of divorce and everything that comes after easier on their children. However, this doesn’t mean that learning how to be friends with your ex is easy or something you just naturally know how to do. In this article, we give some tips and strategies on how to set up a friendly relationship from the beginning to help make your co-parenting journey more positive.

Remember Where You’ve Been

When you’re trying to move forward, it’s important to look toward the future, but that doesn’t mean forgetting all about the past as well. One thing that can help you create a more positive friendship with your ex is to consider all of the good things that came out of the relationship. Your children are the biggest thing, but there are likely also others, such as friends that your ex introduced you to or memories of trips or experiences that had a positive effect on your life. 

It can also be helpful to think about what you liked about the other person to begin with. Maybe you loved his sense of humor or you really appreciated the way she was able to look at situations objectively and problem-solve. Keeping these things front of mind when dealing with the other parent can help you remember that this person is more than just an ex and does have qualities that can be positive and helpful in the co-parenting relationship. 

Acknowledge the Grief

While the end of your relationship may have been the best thing for both of you and the children, it’s still a loss, and it’s important to acknowledge that. Nobody likes to feel the sadness, hurt and uncertainty that comes with the end of a relationship, but trying to gloss over it and pretend that everything is OK isn’t healthy and is likely to end up causing problems down the road when all of those pushed-aside feelings finally resurface. 

To truly be friends with your ex, you need to have grieved the end of your romantic relationship so that you can honestly wish them well — even when new significant others come into the picture. It’s important to understand that this takes time, and the longer you were in the relationship, the longer it usually takes to go through the full grieving process. This doesn’t mean that you have to sit and watch sappy movies for weeks on end, but you should focus on being honest with yourself about how you feel, what went wrong, what you’re learning from the experience and how it’s helping you grow moving forward. It can also be helpful to talk to a counselor or other trusted advisor to get an outside perspective. Also, remember that the grieving process isn’t linear. You may feel fine after a couple of months only to be hit by another round a few weeks later. And that’s OK. Just focus on being kind to yourself and open and honest about where you’re at with your feelings to ensure you aren’t ignoring issues or emotions that need to be dealt with.

Define the Boundaries

Boundaries are important in any relationship but especially so when you are trying to turn what was a romantic relationship into a friendship moving forward. Boundaries ensure everyone is on the same page with what your goals are as co-parents and what you want to be able to accomplish together during this season of life focused on your children. Defining these boundaries is the first step. It can also help you make sure that both parties are at a place where they are able to move forward as friends. If one party still has feelings for the other or is still harboring a lot of anger or bitterness over the breakup, it can make a friendship very difficult. 

Consider having a meeting with your ex over coffee so you can discuss your future as co-parents. You might use some of the following points to start off:

  • What decisions should we make together?
  • What issues are we OK with one person making an executive decision?
  • How will we communicate about schedules and issues relating to the children?
  • When do you think it’s appropriate to introduce the children to a new significant other?
  • If one of us remarries, how will that affect our co-parenting relationship?
  • How do you see us celebrating holidays, birthdays and other special events?

It’s important to be honest during these conversations and to leave the door open for future meetings as things progress and the children get older. You may find that something that worked for a while isn’t now and you need to reassess.

Remember that your friendship with your ex doesn’t have to look like someone else’s. Maybe your best friend only talks to her ex when necessary and just waves at pickups and drop-offs, but you would like to go on family vacations together or celebrate holidays as a family. Whatever works for both of you is all that matters. 

Keep Communicating

Once you have had a conversation and have a good idea of what you want things to look like moving forward, it’s important to continue to work on keeping those lines of communication open. You may find that things you thought were going to be OK — like having joint birthday parties — don’t actually work in practice, and it’s perfectly normal for some things to be re-evaluated. You may also find that your co-parenting relationship needs to adapt as the kids get older and start getting more involved in their own lives or have more input into decisions. 

Some families find that scheduling regular check-in style meetings works for them to ensure any issues that come up are dealt with early on instead of pushed to the side and allowed to fester into major problems. Others prefer to just communicate regularly through messages like the tools built in to the 2houses app and address things as they come up. It may take some trial and error to find a system that works for your specific situation.

Don’t Forget the Kids

While it’s always a positive thing for parents to work on their relationship as friends, you’ll need to be aware of how it may look to your children. Divorce is difficult for children no matter the circumstances, and many kids fantasize about the parents getting back together. It’s easy for children to mistake your efforts to get along as friends and put the past behind you as evidence that you are patching things up and might be able to rekindle the romantic relationship. 

While you may not be able to get your children to give up the fantasy of their parents together entirely, letting them know that the two of you are going to be working on your friendship and trying to be more positive in your relationship can help frame things better. For example, if you are planning a family vacation together, you might let your children know that you’ve decided to go on vacation together to save money, but that you’ll have separate rooms. 

Being honest with your children and ensuring that they feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns can also help. Consider the following example: You start dating and find someone where things are progressing enough to introduce them to the children. You do, but your child is instantly negative and starts yelling and crying and throwing a tantrum. It may be that this new person arriving on the scene seems like a threat to that fantasy of the parents getting back together. If your child is able to discuss this with you openly and honestly, you can deal with it head on and explain that while you understand why they would like that, it just isn’t going to happen and focusing on the future is the best course of action.

Creating a friendship with your ex can be a very positive and rewarding experience, but it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s important to be realistic in your expectations — and the timeline for them to happen — and remember that it’s going to be hard work at times. However, that work is almost always worth it when it comes to the positive effect it can have on your children and how they weather separation and divorce. 
To find out more about how you can make the co-parenting journey easy, check out all the features 2houses has to offer and our blog on topics specifically for divorced parents.

Extracurricular Activities and Shared Custody

Shared custody

Whether your child loves soccer or spends every spare minute learning guitar, nurturing their hobbies and interests is important. Extracurricular activities can help your children make friends, learn new skills, build character and give them a place to burn off all that extra energy. Participation in sports and activities can also open up scholarship opportunities for college and ensure that they grow up to be well-rounded individuals who understand that making time for play and fun is just as important as work and responsibility.

Even without a divorce, getting all of the children to all of the activities can be a challenge. Even two-parent families face the problem of not being able to be in two places at once or whose game to attend when practices or tournaments are being held at the same time for different sports in different places. But when you add in shared custody, alternating weekends and trying to determine who pays for what, it adds another level of difficulty. However, this doesn’t mean that your child won’t get to partake in extracurricular activities just because your logistics are a bit more difficult. Understanding the particular challenges that come with shared custody and learning how to navigate them can give you the tools you need to make it work.

How Shared Custody Can Impact Extracurricular Activities

Going from one family to two creates a lot of challenges. You expect to deal with holidays and summer vacation being a bit different or having to always have two copies of all the notices from school, but one area where parents are often surprised at how much shared custody can affect things is with extracurricular activities. Here are just a few of the factors to consider when your child wants to participate in extracurriculars.

Signing Up for Activities

One of the first hurdles that often comes up with shared custody and extracurricular activities is whether or not to even sign the children up for them. It’s not uncommon for parents to want the children to participate in different activities, which can lead to scheduling conflicts. If you want your child to be in the school musical but the other parent wants them to play hockey, and practices are at the same time, only one person can win. In other cases, one parent wants the child to participate in an activity, but the other doesn’t — often because it will mean spending some of their parenting time at practices and games or just because they don’t believe in children having a busy schedule.

This can be a difficult issue to navigate as it often leaves the children in the middle. If you’re finding that you’re having difficulty coming to an agreement, it can help to sit down and explain the reasons behind your requests to the other parent. Maybe this year, the child does the musical and next year, he plays hockey. Just make sure to keep the children out of the decisions, as they may have preferences that should be considered, but you don’t ever want them to feel like they are having to choose sides.

Drop-Offs and Pickups

Extracurricular schedules are known for being intense, especially if you have more than one child. It’s often a race from the end of one practice to the beginning of the other, and there may not be time for a switch from Mom to Dad’s house in between. If you have a good co-parenting relationship with the other parent, it may be a simple matter of adjusting the visitation schedule on the fly as you work out what’s best for the kids and most convenient for the parents. 

However, this can be much more challenging if you are parallel parenting or have difficulty communicating positively with your ex. In these cases, there may not be a lot you can do to make things easier, and you may have to prepare your child to skip a practice that’s being held during the other parent’s time or be willing to give up some of your own parenting time to accommodate the schedule.

Fees and Equipment

While there are many extracurricular programs offered through school and local community programs that are free or low cost, many others can come with hefty participation fees and require specialized expensive equipment. Still others may involve travelling expenses such as hotel rooms for weekend-long tournaments and competitions. This all adds up quickly, and it can be tricky to determine who pays for what. Most parenting agreements don’t detail this by default (although you can have it added), so a lot of it comes down to verbal agreements between the parents, which isn’t always as simple as it sounds.

Family Attendance

One of the best parts about your child participating in extracurricular activities is getting to watch them. However, this isn’t always a simple matter when it comes to two-household families. Maybe you’re fine with sitting with your ex, but you feel awkward around your ex-in-laws. What do you do when your ex brings her new boyfriend? These are all issues that can and do come up, and it can be tense for all the parties involved, including the children. 

If you’re still in the process of divorcing, you may want to consider these factors and see if there’s a way to work some of them into your parenting plan so that there is a clear course of action to follow. For example, you can have added into your parenting agreement that you will split all extracurricular fees 50/50 or that one parent will pay for the participation fees while the other will be responsible for equipment. You can also work into the visitation schedule how transportation to and from practices, games and events will be handled.

Keep in mind that while it can be helpful to have all of this spelled out in writing and able to be enforced by the courts if necessary, it’s not an absolute must. If you have a positive co-parenting relationship and are able to make joint decisions and agree to these things on your own, this can work just as well.

Tips for Making It Work

While the shared custody struggle is real when it comes to extracurricular activities, it’s not something that can be overcome with a few strategies, a joint effort and a positive mindset. Here are our three best practices for making it work. 

1. Prioritize Communication

Communication is key. This is a major theme when it comes to co-parenting, and for good reason. Open and positive communication can go a long way when it comes to working toward joint solutions and problem-solving, and oftentimes, just giving the other parent the heads up and making a civil request can be all you need. It’s important to respect that the other parent has a schedule, needs and wants to work around as well, and by focusing on what works for both of your houses, you’ll be able to stay united as a team and figure out what’s best.

2. Keep the Schedule Handy 

Once you’ve worked out a plan, make sure you put it in writing and where everyone can easily access it. While in a one-household family, this may be as simple as a big wall calendar in the kitchen, but when you’re managing two homes, you need something more adaptable. This is where 2houses comes in. 

The calendar feature on the app lets either parent add an event — along with the who, what, where and when details — so everyone knows exactly where the kids should be and who’s doing the pickup and drop-off without having to actually hold all those details in your mind. The messaging feature also lets you give the other parent a quick heads up if something changes or needs to be adjusted.

3. Focus on Civility

It’s easy to treat your ex as…well…an ex, but this won’t get you far. Instead, try focusing on communicating with and treating the other parent like you would a business client that you really want to keep. This will help you switch from frustration and blaming during a disagreement to a focus on being polite and problem solving. It’s also worth noting that some time there may not be a way to agree or a solution to be had, and if your child has to miss a game or can’t participate in an activity one semester, it won’t be the end of the world even if they may think so. 

What to do about extracurricular activities is just one of many issues that can come up when you have shared custody. Learn more about what to expect as you go from one family to two and how you can move toward positive co-parenting in the 2houses family blog.