When people see my ex-partner and I out with our daughter, people assume we are a happy little family. She walks in between us with each one of us holding her hair, swinging her by the arms, and laughing. We go to family events together and have been making this newer relationship between us work because we do share a daughter. People often ask if we will rekindle our romance. We both answer, ‘no’. This relationship of co-parenting has been successful these past few years, even as we began to date others.
A friend of mine is in the opposite situation. She is the new wife of a man who has a similar co-parenting relationship with his ex-wife. Her emotions are all over the place as she sees her husband’s ex at family functions for their daughter and finds it hard that she still seems like a part of the family among in-laws.
Communication. Be sure to communicate how you each feel about this three-person relationship. Remember, the spouse and the ex are no longer in a romantic relationship. Their relationship is about the child so be sure to form the conversation around that. If there are any feelings of jealously by the new partner, talk to your spouse about that. As the ex who sees your child with a new person in their life, also communicate any concerns you have. It is important to get all feelings out there in a respectful way and for each person to listen and try to see where the other person is coming from. Everyone has a right to their feelings and it is important not to dismiss them but to take the time to understand their perspective and try to find a compromise.
Balance. This is not easy for any part involved. It is important to have communication with all parties involving what each is comfortable with and what cannot be changed at this time. For example, if there is a Fourth of July picnic each year that both the spouse and the ex have been attending with their daughter for years, it is hard just to un-invite. Talk about which events each person should attend and how the child will respond to any changes in how things have been.
Parent vs Step-Parent. Parents want to keep that role of parent; however, step-parents want to be involved too, especially if they look at the child as one of their own. Discuss ways that the step-parent can build a relationship with the other parent so actively present. Perhaps it is coming up with new things to do with the child, not things that the child already does with the parents. Since the separated parents have been having a successful co-parenting relationship with both parents getting along and attending functions together, sudden changes to that structure could make the child feel the same as if the divorce or separation is happening now.