Updated: Feb 16, 2021
I will start this post by saying this crucial thing - every co-parenting relationship is different. What works for me might not work for you. I don't share my personal stories to shame or convince that my way is the better way. I share in case there is something you need to hear, or something that may help you. So here goes...
I recently celebrated my birthday. I am single. It is a pandemic. There isn't a lot going on. But birthdays are important to me and I have celebrated mine in many different ways over the years. Some of the best have been with my former husband, as have some of the worst. When this one approached, he asked if I wanted him to take our child all day and if I would like to come to his house for dinner. I was hesitant. Did I want to spend my "special day" with him? Hmmm....unclear. Knowing I wasn't sure, instead of shooting him down, I asked for time to think about it. And I thanked him. Because to me an important rule of amicable co-parenting is to honor what the other person brings to the table and to acknowledge when we each make positive effort. Building positive rapport goes a long way!
As my birthday grew closer, I was in a space of total parental burnout. What I really wanted was some alone time. It's not something I get a ton of these days! But, my son badly wanted to spend the day with me. He wanted to make it special, and for him, time together is special. For me, being together right now is basically everyday life! What to do? He already struggles with transitioning to dad's and was very vocal about NOT doing this on my birthday. It seemed I was either going to spend my entire day with a five-year-old OR I was going to spend an enormous amount of energy extricating him in the morning and then comforting him and processing when he returned. Both of which sounded utterly exhausting.
When you work on yourself (which often happens after big changes like divorce!) you hear a lot of talk about setting strong, unwavering boundaries and things like "You do you, without compromise." When you are a parent, however, things get blurry. Two things are occurring at once. One is the absolute need to honor yourself and your own needs as you shift and grow. The other is acknowledging the needs of your children and making sure you are there for them. Generally, these are two COMPLETELY OPPOSITE paths. It can be a real struggle to follow your bliss when children need you!
To me, the rule of thumb on this is to get very specific on what you need and then brainstorm how to meet that need while still protecting the needs of your child. Meeting your own need might not look the same as it would if you were not a parent. And that's ok. But, the actions you take and the decisions you make MUST work for your own growth in addition to being a good parent, or else you will quickly lose yourself.
So, in my quandary I sat and took a breath. How to proceed without losing out on my self-care time or make my child feel unwanted? I came up with a few possibilities. And what I decided was this: I would go to his dad's for dinner. I told him that dad was making me a special party and asked if he could help dad out. Oh boy, did he jump all over that! So together we created a plan for him to go to dad's in the afternoon and help with preparations, and I would come over at 6. This made him feel like he was doing something special for me, and gave me time to have some silence, to connect with a friend, and even to shower by myself. (If you have a young child, you know how rare a solo shower is!)
When I showed up for dinner, I was rejuvenated by my child-free time. And my son was thrilled with the "party" they had prepared for me. It was an utterly warm and fuzzy night, after a day that worked for everyone. It was a win-win with total success all around!
Do you struggle with the balance of meeting your own needs and those of your children in your coparenting relationship? Consider where you can make compromises that DO NOT take away from your own needs and do that. It is a game changer!