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How to Co-Parent Successfully

So your relationship with your ex didn't work out. And if you and your former partner created and brought a child into this world, you have some major work to do. Because now you are going to have to be involved in each other's lives at least until that child (or children) are 18 years old. Even if you hate each other. Even if can't stand the thought of being around each other. Why? Because that child needs you. And they are depending on you to get over your Stuff and step up and be a great parent.

So what do you need to know?

First and foremost, that child needs to come first. That child needs to be more important than your broken heart, more important than your anger, more important than your sadness, more important than your loss. CHILD. COMES. FIRST.

That is not to say that you, Mommy or Daddy, should not feel a certain way about your ex. It does not mean that you should not grieve. By all means, do what you need to do to heal yourself from the broken relationship. But please, don't do it in front of your children. It's not their fault that the relationship did not work out, and it is certainly not their place to "fix" you.

Here are more things that you shouldn't do. Don't let your child see you yell at your ex. Don't refer to your ex as "that lying, cheating piece of sh*t" in front of your child. Better yet, do not name call your ex in front of your child-EVER. Do not criticize your ex's living arrangements, or lifestyle choices, in front of your child. Do not let any future partners speak poorly of your child's parent in front of that child.

If your child has questions about the break up, or about why Daddy lives someplace else, or why he can't be with Mommy on Christmas, stick to the facts and keep it simple. Keep the emotions out of it (unless your child questions your emotions, as older children might do, and then give a straight-forward answer).

As ex-partners, you must learn to treat each other with respect in order to be successful co-parents. You don't have to like each other. You don't always need to agree on everything. But you better respect each other (at least in front of your child). If you can't do this, you will fail. Insist on having calm, rational discussions when it comes to the kids. If the discussion gets heated, call out your ex and refuse to continue the conversation until he or she calms down. Remind your ex that it is all about the kids.

And for crying out loud, stop worrying about being right! I have had so many parents in my office, arguing back and forth as to why their parenting strategies are better than their ex's. It's not a competition, it's about your child's life! Consistency is key when raising children. So try your best to find some common ground with your ex when it comes to parenting your child. Maybe Mom doesn't want Jack to have too many sweets, while Dad wants to take him out for ice-cream. COMPROMISE! Let Dad take Jack out for ice-cream once a week, if Dad promises to keep the Oreo's out of his house.

It's also extremely important to not compensate for a failed relationship by trying to be your child's friend. Don't buy your children toys because you feel guilty for only seeing them on the weekends. Don't let you child eat fast food for dinner simply because they ask for it. Your child will have many friends in his or her life, but they will only have two biological parents. You. Need. To. Act. Like. A. Parent.

The bottom line is this. If you and your ex keep the focus on your child and on their best interests, you are co-parenting in a healthful way. Here's the real, raw truth-this is very difficult to do. Because as adults, we get so caught up in our own Stuff.

As a parent, you need to stop being selfish and put your child first. If you put down your ex in front of your child-you are being selfish. If you criticize any aspect of your ex's life in front of your child-you are being selfish. If you would rather be right than be a good parent-you are being selfish. If you refuse to compromise parenting strategies with your ex-you are being selfish.

And if you just feel overwhelmed and don't know what to do, seek help! Talk to your child's pediatrician! Or a therapist. You. Can. Do. This! And there are plenty of people to help you on this journey.

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