Co-parenting and love: expert tips to help your blended family thrive
To that end we interviewed Huffington Post Canada contributor, best-selling author, and Co-parenting Coach Anna Giannone about how to help your blended family work towards harmony. Whether you are a mom, a dad, or a step-parent, these are tips that can lighten the load and help your family unit blossom.
Harmony starts within you
If you want to make things better, start with yourself
The end goal of any blended family is surely similar to that of any family – to find your way to a place of peace and productivity where every family member is heard and supported. Of course, when you’re dealing with emotional triggers such as dating after a messy divorce or co-parenting with someone whose ex is still part of their lives, it’s not always so simple: hurt feelings can block the path to peace.
Anna Giannone’s advice is that progression starts with step one: ‘’being cool to yourself.’’ As she puts it, ‘’you have to put your ego and your hurt aside; if you want to make things better, start with yourself. Because when you act in a toxic manner, you’re only making the environment toxic for yourself, so why would you do that to yourself – and to others?‘’
This isn’t easy – Anna admits that ‘’it’s a lot of work’’ to try and get past the hurt and to not engage with unhealthy behaviours with ex partners. ‘’But’’ she says, ‘’you have to keep the primary goal in mind – to keep your child safe and happy. Accept that you are what you are and they are what they are and that you are both here to love the child.’’
- Read more: acceptance is a big part of moving on from a previous marriage. Learn more about dating after divorce
Why are we doing this again?
Your kids are your kids. It doesn’t matter how old they are. Even if they’re teens; even if they’re adults, they still need to know that they matter in your life
For, after all, isn’t that the point of trying to make your blended family thrive? That your children grow up happy, healthy, and loved? Anna certainly thinks so: ‘’children like to know who loves them. They like to know that they can be loved, or liked, by other people outside of their immediate circle and that helps them thrive.’’
For single parents, then, this is extra impetus to set aside ego and hurt and embrace new relationship realities. Anna adds that this is important no matter the age of your children – ‘’your kids are your kids. It doesn’t matter how old they are. Even if they’re teenagers; even if they’re adults, they still need to know that they matter in your life’’
These are also words to remember for anyone dating a single parent, or taking on a role as a step-parent. You might not be biologically related to the child(ren) but you do still have a duty to be there for them. After all, as Anna reminds us ‘’if you marry or live with [someone] who comes with kids, then you make an agreement to take the whole package together.’’ How you work out the nuances of parenting aspects like discipline and organization is up to each individual blended family, but the constant that helps these families bloom is that everyone involved be willing to love.
- Read more: met someone who has kids? Try our tips on dating a single mom or dad
How to let go of lingering negativity
You don’t want to be friends? You don’t want to be civil? Fine. Treat it as a professional relationship. Because that changes things. It helps you to work together as parents, even if you can’t be partners
As Anna says ‘’the past is the past. You’ve got to leave it behind. Because when you’re always in the past, how can you move on?’’ Of course, this seems straightforward on paper, but in reality letting go is not so easy, especially when the high emotions of divorce, remarriage, and co-parenting are involved.
Anna suggests that those who are struggling take a deep breath and, rather than dwelling on the past, start thinking about how they want the future to be: ‘’it’s not about looking back at the person and saying 'you did this and I did that'. In order to move forward you’ve got to look at yourself and say ‘Ok, I’ve been treated unfairly, I’ve been treated wrongly and our marriage didn’t work. But let’s make our divorce work.’ ’’
If even that seems like too much to bear, Anna’s advice is to try and detach until you can process the situation without so much emotion. To do this, she suggests the unconventional step of treating your co-parenting relationship '‘like a business relationship. You don’t want to be friends? You don’t want to be civil? Fine. Treat it as a professional relationship. Because that changes things. It helps you to work together as parents, even if you can’t be partners.’’
She adds ‘’think about it, if you’re at work and you don’t like your colleagues or you don’t like your boss, what do you do? You use a professional tone because you have to have that professional relationship – and it works out fine. So if that can help you work things out in your professional life, it can help you in your personal life as well. Communicating successfully is the key. And eventually, after a couple of years, then you’ll be able to talk, and maintain a good relationship, and let go of that resentment.‘’
- Read more: letting go of the past is no easy journey: learn more about moving on here
You and me and the ex makes three
Respect is important. You don’t have to be friends with your ex, but even if you don’t have a friendship, respect each other
Letting go of resentment is a key step towards building a thriving blended family. Anna says that’s it vital to remember that ‘’you’re a team, even if you might not like it’’ – as the adults in the family you set examples for the children involved and thus you must ‘’be careful how you talk; to each other and about each other.’’
This means that you must make every effort to ‘’be respectful [to each other] in front of the child. Respect is important. You don’t have to be friends with your ex, but even if you don’t have a friendship, respect each other. Listen, be on time, answer your texts, call when you say you will.‘’
Equally important is to resist the temptation to bring up the foibles of your fellow co-parents in front of the children, whether you are talking about the ex of your new partner, or your own ex. As Anna asks on her Facebook site, children are ‘’50% you and 50% your ex. Therefore, if your emotions, actions, and demeanor are negative toward your ex, what is that telling your child who is a part of them?’’
- Read more: when children are involved, relationship boundaries must be redrawn. But can you ever really be friends with your ex?
The benefits of a blended family
As long as you are receptive, there can be many rewards [from a blended family]. When you’re receptive you can receive so much
Maintaining a successful, happy blended family is certainly a lot of work. So why would anyone do it? For Anna, it’s because the benefits far outweigh the work you put in: ‘’as long as you are receptive, there can be many rewards [from a blended family]. When you’re receptive you can receive so much’’
To start with, it can be enormously beneficial for the child[ren] involved, who will find themselves surrounded by extra love. ‘’The child doesn’t make a distinction between who loves her’’ Anna says. ‘’All she knows is that there are people that do.’’ Not only that, the diversity of that love has its own richness. ‘’There are so many personalities involved [in a blended family], which means everyone has something different to bring to this child.’’
Adults can get benefits from this situation too. Anna reminds us that ‘’it takes a village to raise a child, you know. It really does take a village,’’ and that your blended family can be your village. ‘’I find that it eases the load from a biological perspective. We can share our responsibilities. Whether you’re a parent or a step-parent, we are all there with the same goal, to help the child thrive.’’
- Read more: an EliteSingles survey about dating for parents showed that 91% of Canadians think that's important to do activities together in a blended family.
There’s one final benefit that perhaps isn’t mentioned as often as it should be, and that’s finding friendship in unexpected places. Anna says that, no matter your role in the blended family – mom, dad, new partner, ex-partner, step-parent ‘’you all love the child, so you do have something in common.’ If you stop seeing the other adults involved as people to battle with and start treating them like ‘’your in-laws!,’’ you can find that you actually like each other.
Anna herself is an example of this. She’s been on vacation before with her partner, his ex, and the kids, and had amazing time. And she tells a story of visiting her (now adult) stepson one Sunday afternoon, to find him, his father, his own step-child, and that child’s father all fixing cars together. They’re one big, blended family and proof that, as Anna puts it, ‘’parenting in harmony is possible.’’
- Read more: are you a Canadian parent looking for a partner? Learn about single parent dating with EliteSingles
EliteSingles editorial, April 2017
All Anna Giannone quotes from an exclusive EliteSingles interview, April 2017.