Top 7 Mistakes from the Co-parenting trenches
I believe one of the most valuable things to do in life is to learn from the mistakes of others. I'd like to share some painful lessons I've learned on my high-conflict co-parenting journey so that you can avoid some pitfalls.
Mistake #1) Keeping all lines of communication open:
If you're in a high-conflict co-parenting situation, block your ex from all communication except for Peaceful Parent. Use only a co-parenting communication tool that is court admissible and tamper-proof. That being said, also realize that the courts will only be interested in recent (last 3-6 months or so) of communication and the entire communication record will probably not be read (what judge would have time for that?).
Mistake #2) Going off the rails when my ex pushes my buttons:
I regret lashing out in spoken and written form when I couldn't take the attacks anymore. I'm human and not a robot and therefore struggle with maintaining control sometimes. Really though, there's no excuse for losing it and acting like an idiot. Have some strategies you can turn to when you feel yourself leaning towards lashing out. The most important one for me was never to respond immediately but take time to breathe, calm down and then craft your message. Sometimes, it's the next day.
Mistake #3) Reading messages from my ex late at night:
Set a curfew on co-parenting discussions so that they don't keep you awake ruminating all night long. I don't know about you, but sleep is critical to being my best self. With quality sleep, I'm a better mother and a better person. Upsetting messages can derail my sleep if I read them too late in the day. Just because you received a message doesn't mean you need to read it right away. Love yourself enough to prioritize yourself and your sleep.
Mistake #4) Not getting a therapist:
I didn't even realize that a "co-parenting counselor" was a thing. Had I known, I might have been able to arrange for my ex and I to attend together when we were on a little better terms. I'd like to think it may have helped us. I am proud to say that I was seeing a therapist independently for the first year after divorce and that helped tremendously to not only get my head straight about what I was doing but also gain some insight on my actions, my part in the mess and how to move forward making better choices. That being said, I still find myself in "dysfunction junction" with my ex; more on a parallel parenting path rather than on the preferred co-parenting path.
Mistake #5) Not taking a High-Conflict Co-Parenting Class sooner:
There's co-parenting and then there's high-conflict co-parenting. They are very different in the sense that I think high-conflict co-parents need firmer boundaries and more skills around navigating the dangerous waters of manipulation and abuse. Educate and equip yourself with the tools necessary to work with your ex, face-to-face and in written form. Never mind if he/she takes the class too. Keep your side of the street clean and model good behavior.
Mistake #6) Not having a more detailed Parenting Plan:
I think my attorney and mediator pulled up their standard Parenting Plan for co-parents who can actually work together. Needless to say, this basic plan did not address our issues and left so much unsaid that we were set up for failure. I never thought I needed to put in the parenting plan: "The children must attend school." I never imagined I would need to state since the children are allergic to cats (diagnosed by an allergy specialist after a thorough allergy test) the parenting plan should say they should not live with cats. I assumed too much that my ex and I were on the same page. I would advise you to think about the worst case scenario and then put it in the parenting plan. Another idea is to ask your attorney to find a parenting plan for high-conflict co-parents and use that instead of the basic plan.
Mistake #7) Focusing on the wrong person:
Sometimes, even now, I find myself spiraling down into a vent session about my ex, only to feel terrible like I have a raging emotional hang-over afterwards. Ranting about my ex doesn't help and it actually keeps the focus on him and his dysfunction rather than on myself and my healing process. Move the focus to self-care, good times with your kids and harness your energy into something positive in your life rather than on the negativity of your ex.