But there is a fine line between being nice, flexible, supportive, cooperative, etc., - and being a pushover. There are some rules that you should try to keep in place for yourself to protect you from being hurt or taken advantage of. It's a truly great thing to be dedicated to co-parenting – it's a lifelong commitment to making things more manageable with your ex – but make sure that you're not doing it at your own expense.
1. Flexibility is great, but make sure you're not the only one shelling out the favors. If you find yourself constantly being the one that is changing your life around to help out your coparent, things need to shift. It's great to support each other, but if the favors are only going one way then this will eventually lead to resentment. We all need help from time to time, so it's nice to feel that if you do your ex a favor, that it will be reciprocated at some point. The next time your coparent asks you to accommodate them, think about something you can ask for in return, so that you're not left feeling like you're doing all of the giving.
2. It doesn't matter what your plans are, they're still yours. So your ex has a dinner meeting and wants to switch days, but you had an appointment to get your hair cut, that you made three months ago. You might say "no big deal, I can reschedule (in another three months)", while you're actually feeling really bummed out that you need to cancel.
Being a flexible coparent has many advantages, but if this is happening quite often, then it can make you feel like you're being taken advantage of. If you have something scheduled at a time that your ex wants to move things around, it's ok to say no, whether it is a manicure or your own dinner meeting. They're your plans that you made for your time off, regardless of what they are. You are not at your coparents beck and call, so be flexible, but also know that it's ok to say "sorry, I have plans". I'll say it again - it's ok to say no!
3. Don't feel guilty! Of course you love your kids and want to be there for them as much as possible, but if your coparent wants you to take the kids early and you were planning to have lunch with your BFF, then if you say no it doesn't mean that you're choosing your lunch date over your kids! You're not being selfish, so don't feel guilty! It doesn't mean that you don't love them just as much if you don't bend to your coparent's every whim. This is where coparents have a tendency to collapse, we all want to make sure we are putting our kids first. Remember the airplane rules? Oxygen for parents first – if you can't take care of yourself then you're not helping your kids.
4. Your ex doesn't get to tell you how it's going to be. Ever. You're both parents, and you both have input into how your co-parenting relationship, finances, schedules, etc., will go. Don't let your coparent tell you what's going to happen and when, and make sure that your input is always on the table. This is where I like to say "you teach people how to treat you". This is a big step for some people, but if you start to put your foot down with small issues, you'll realize that being empowered and taking control of your own life is very gratifying, and can lead to a more relaxed, happier you.
5. Know when to take action. If you're reading this list like it's your diary, then it may be time to seek professional help. Your coparent needs to know that you're taking this seriously, and you need to stand up for your own rights. If your coparent would be willing to go to counseling together then that may be all you need to solve some underlying issues, otherwise it may be time to seek the help of a mediator. With mediation you don't need to go the court route right off the bat, you can get into mediation talks with your coparent and try to work things out in a safe, neutral environment. Of course, a sit down with your ex might do the trick just as well.
Don't forget that it's ok to take care of your own needs, as well as those of your children. Your kids need consistency, and when you and your ex are getting along and treating each other fairly that will translate to them in a positive way.
Realize that they are also looking at you as one of their biggest role models - so emulate the way that you would want them to take care of themselves, and you'll be doing your kids a world of good for their future.
Traci Whitney is the Founder of TwoHappyHomes.com, a website that's designed to help divorced or separated parents communicate and organize life as co-parents. Parents can create a shared family calendar, track expenses, store contacts and medical information, message each other online, and more. Basic membership is free! Co-parents can also get Expert Advice and support from our Community.