When I first went viral worldwide by writing about doing things for my ex, there was an explosion of reactions across the globe. More positive than negative, thankfully, and it seemed to kick off a number of positive co-parenting trends. Good stuff, right? Sure! Well, mostly.
One of the issues with a simple post going viral is that you don’t often get to clarify things or answer the questions that come with it. In my case, there were boundary questions—I had helped my kids to make my ex breakfast, and people got hung up on that pretty consistently in different ways, especially because I was engaged at the time. Was I prioritizing an old relationship over an established current one? Was I overstepping a line?
In my case the breakfast issue was a simple one. When we were married, myself and my sons used to make Mum breakfast on Saturday mornings. It became a habit, and my eldest son picked up on it as a way to show love. After our split, when it was time to celebrate Mum he would want to make her food as part of that.
For her birthday in that particular instance, I ran out to get breakfast ingredients at his request and set my son up with ingredients and then left. I was not playing house in the home–I was simply facilitating my sons desire to care for Mum in that way, and ensuring Mum is appreciated and valued on her day. It sacrificed nothing from my existing relationship, it benefitted the children and my coparent, and helped provide yet another life lesson and example for them. Win-win.
When you split from the parent of your child, your original family unit becomes sub-units within a whole. I like to think of a family tree, with two bird nests in it. The tree provides support for both nests. Within the tree is your own unit—your nest—you, your children, and any partner you may have. While it is important to be on the same page as your ex and to be supportive of each other to benefit the overall whole, those are parts of the tree. Your new unit, the nest, is your first responsibility.
With co-parenting it is important to focus on the things you can control, and that starts at home. Maintaining a happy and stable environment comes first, and that includes prioritizing your romantic relationships sometimes, as selfish as that may sound. If Mom and Dad are happy, the kids are going to be happy. Trickle-down economics may not work, but trickle-down happiness does. Prioritizing the nest is ultimately the basis of good coparenting.
Now, there’s an important caveat here: I’m not saying you can snag a new parter and jam them into the unit as a top priority after a month. Use your head, seriously. I typically advocate for 6 months of dating and full discussion of long term intent before introductions and handing the person a place and rank in the family.
Once you’ve established the importance of the nest and its members, then we come to the most essential part of making boundaries—balancing priorities.
If your ex wants to maintain a very close relationship with your family after the split, is that okay? After all, it wasn’t their divorce, and they still love him/her.
If your ex needs something and it cuts into plans you have with your new person, is that okay? After all you don’t want the parent of your child stranded somewhere.
You’d think these situations require a different thought process, but they don’t. Prioritize your nest, every time. You don’t have to be unreasonable or rigid with it. Its simply calculating a balance with a priority in mind. If the issue will negatively impact the people in your nest in a valid way, the answer is no. If the impact is neutral or the pros outweigh the cons or if it is outright positive for the kids or the coparenting relationship and everyone is comfortable with it, then sure, do it up.
We can get caught up in making accommodations for our exes in co-parenting when we operate from a place of shame, guilt, or fear. It sucks that things ended. It sucks that they’re still mad or hurt. It’s done though, and you have to quit chasing the past. You aren’t going to earn absolution for old sins by making sacrifices now, and you don’t have to punish the growth of your nest and future by trying to make amends for old wounds. Give yourself a fresh start, a clean slate. It will benefit everyone involved.
Respect your coparent—but demand respect for yourself and your nest too. Coparenting is not polyamory, its teamwork. Prioritize the nest and the boundaries will fall in place. You are both equally worthy and capable of raising your kids.
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