I have served single mothers in formal ministry for more than fifteen years and perhaps one of the most frequently asked topics our ministry broaches is how to navigate the tricky waters of parenting with an ex. There is no special manual on how to make things run smoothly with someone that you couldn’t navigate a successful relationship with. Can we just establish upfront that it is indeed hard?! One hundred percent of the time – at least initially. Yes, there are some co-parenting relationships that are easier than others, and some do find their rhythm more quickly than others. But all are hard.
There are times when an ex does not do what they are supposed to do, and sometimes they are not easy to communicate and co-parent with. Honestly, there may be times when you do not do what you are supposed to do, as you navigate your own complex healing journey! Now that we have acknowledged that truth, where do you go from here? Do you determine it’s too complicated and throw in the towel? No. In order to ensure your child flourishes, it is vital that you learn to co-parent, theoretically, for the next twenty years. The way you handle this relationship, like all other relationships, is important. It is an example to your child.
Here are some things you need to consider as your proceed with co-parenting:
You only control your actions, not theirs. There is absolutely nothing you can do about their language, their demeanor towards you, their choice in a romantic partner, or basically anything else that they does. However, you can control what you do and say. Make your actions count. Be kind. Treat them the way you want to be treated, as the Bible implores. Watch your tone. Watch your demeanor. Do not reciprocate poor behavior. Your child is watching.
Do not speak negatively about your child’s father (or mother). Ever. Now, some will say, “I don’t speak negatively about them when little Johnny is around!” I want to take it a step further and encourage you not to speak negatively about them– ever! Do not speak negatively about them, when your child can hear or when your child is not around. This one is hard, I know. However, there are a couple of reasons why this is important. First, even with careful practice, there are times when our children overhear us saying things, we did not intend for them to hear, so resolving not to speak negatively regarding their mother or father will prevent this from happening and causing additional wounds for your child. Beyond that, your willingness to constantly speak negatively about them to others establishes a habit in your heart that is not fruitful nor God-honoring. How can you be soft-hearted and kind to someone you constantly speak negatively about, when they aren’t present?
Forgive. Just do it. Yes, it hurt. Yes, they may have been wrong in their actions. Yes, the wound may still be raw and exposed. Maybe the wounds were multiple and long-standing and the offenses egregious. Let it go. It will be hard, and you may have to do it kicking and screaming, but your freedom hangs in the balance. Jesus’ instructions are clear in Matthew 18:21-22 when Jesus tells us to forgive a person seven times seventy in just one day. We have to be intentional about choosing to forgive. When tempted to pick up the offense again, or when the wound reopens because a new offense exists, forgive. I don’t take lightly, what I’m instructing you to do. As a victim of multiple childhood sexual assaults, I know the wounds left by unspeakable acts. However, the forgiving is for your healing, and there is not greater joy than its freedom.
Choose to resolve the conflict. I realize it takes some participation from the other party to navigate conflict well. Therefore, I am specifically speaking to your willingness to choose to resolve the conflict, as it pertains to your child. Position your heart to forgive the hurt and resolve the conflict. Position your heart to let go of the past wound from the relationship and establish a healthy co-parenting relationship going forward. Whether the conflict arises due to insecurities, misunderstandings, exhaustion, immaturity, malice, or simply Satan’s plan of division, no one benefits from the constant strife, least of all – your children. You do whatever you can to resolve issues that pertain to your children. Be flexible and malleable.
Issue grace. Most of us would rather receive grace than give it. It is much easier for us to see all the reasons why God should give us grace, e.g. because our heart is good, we are a good person, and we did not mean to fail Him, etc. It is much harder for us to see the good in others and just give them a break. Maybe they are completely unreasonable. Maybe you are completely right. Is it more important for us to find ways we can avoid strife rather than concentrating on being right? Ephesians 4:3 –Make every effort to keep yourselves united in Spirit, binding yourselves together in peace.
Take your offense directly to them rather than everyone else. (See Matthew 18:15.) It is unfair to assume that they know what they are doing wrong if we have never taken the time to bring it to their attention. This does not mean you have a license to be rude, condescending, or accusatory. This means you take it to them with the hopes of resolution. It is even more unfair to discuss an offense with others when you have not discussed it with them. Do not gossip about it or let it fester. Take it to them with a desire to make it right and move on. When you take it to them, take it with a pure heart – not in hopes that you can convince them how right you are. This is not about rekindling an old relationship or rehashing the disappointments of the relationship. This is about taking an offense that would be necessary to move forward in co-parenting.
Speak life over the situation. The power of life and death are in the tongue. Proverbs 18:21. We understand that we are supposed to keep our tongue in line with the Word of God. Yet, we struggle to do so. When we want to resolve conflict, we must speak life, encouragement, and hope over the situation. If you think you can speak negatively about your ex, and not grow division in your heart, you are wrong. It is amazing how much better our lives could if we just watched our mouths.
Battle your thoughts. Philippians 4:8 says to fix our thoughts on whatever is true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, and admirable. You cannot keep playing in your mind over and over and over what they said, what they did, and how you felt, and then expect a successful co-parenting relationship. You cannot keep negative thoughts from coming into your mind. It is your choice what you do with them when they get there.
Parents, your resolve to co-parent in harmony is far more important than your need to convince the world how wrong your ex was or how bad they treated you. I realize that even in writing this, there will be some who will be angered or hurt in reading it. You don’t know what they did or how they continue to hurt us! I’m so very sorry for your pain. I’m sorry this journey has been the one you and your children are left to walk out. But my prayer for you today is that God restores, heals, and redeems, that He gives you “eyes to see and ears to hear.” Co-parenting is important. Your peace is important. Your children’s peace is important. Determine in your hearts that you will co-parent well with God’s help.
Jennifer Maggio is a mom to three, wife to Jeff, and founder of the national nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is author to four books, including The Church and the Single Mom. She was named one of the Top 10 Most Influential People in America by Dr. John Maxwell in 2017 and 2015 and has appeared in hundreds of media venues, including The New York Times, Family Talk Radio with Dr. James Dobson, Joni and Friends, and many others.
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