with Therapist Abbey Williams
WHAT YOU’LL LEARN
- The Unique Challenges Single Moms Face
- The Role of Co-Parenting
- Helping A Child Navigate Co-Parenting
- Knowing When to Separate
- Considerations For Dating/ Blending A Family
There are many roads that lead to motherhood, and some moms even start their journey solo. But what happens when you’ve chosen a partner to start a family, and it doesn’t work out? What does ending the partnership mean for your parenting situation, and your child’s situation? When we’re thrust into single parenting unexpectedly, the custody agreements that mean time away from our child can be devastating, and co-parenting is its own can of worms. Therapist and founder of Mimosas with Moms Abbey Williams is here to unpack the challenges of co-parenting for us.
The Unique Challenges of Single Mothers
“When you’re in a partnership and something happens and it doesn’t work out, this is an extreme loss,” Abbey said. Ending the partnership itself can be hard, but you’re also only seeing your kid 50% of the time or whatever the custody agreement says.
If you chose to enter into motherhood with a partner, you may not have expected to have to deal with not getting to see your kid every day. If your custody agreement is 50/50, you may feel like you’re missing half of your kid’s life.
“It gets easier as time goes on, but I don’t think it ever gets easier at the same time,” Abbey said. She’s been co-parenting her oldest child for 10 years, and it’s still hard especially with other kids in the picture now.
She worries her oldest son will feel excluded if they do family outings while he is at his dad’s. “I think first just feel your feels,” she said.
The Role of Co-Parenting
There is a loss of control too. Parenting is not easy. My partner and I have different parenting styles, and even with a strong foundation can have disagreements about parenting decisions. Now imagine how much separation, divorce, and legal involvement can strain this dynamic. When your child goes somewhere else 50% of the time, as long as they’re safe, you have no control over how they spend their time or what boundaries they’re allowed.
If you’re having a hard time with this aspect, Abbey suggests maybe venting to a friend or seeking counseling. And co-parenting is on a spectrum from amicable, solid co-parenting relationships to co-parents who only communicate through an attorney.
If we find ourselves in a co-parenting situation where we can’t have a productive conversation with our co-parent, there are systems and tools that can be used to help facilitate co-parenting effectively.
When the relationship comes to a break because one person feels slighted, it’s really hard to encourage our child to prioritize their relationship with that other parent. But parental alienation can be harmful to the child.
“The child deserves a relationship with both parents,” Abbey said. “I also want to tack on there along with parent alienation is talking bad about the other parent.”
I can speak to this. My parents were divorced, and knowing how much my parents hated each other, when my dad would say, “You’re just like your mom,” it was hurtful. But I can appreciate that them staying together and fighting all the time would have been worse.
Prioritizing our own mental health is crucial when dealing with a co-parenting situation. Otherwise, we become so fused with our own thoughts and emotions, and this doesn’t leave room for considering our child’s thoughts and emotions.
If we don’t prioritize our mental health, when a child mentions they don’t like going back and forth between two houses, or they don’t like it at Dad’s, we may become overly anxious with thoughts like “What’s going on Dad’s that you don’t like it there? What’s the problem?”
Helping A Child Navigate Co-Parenting
Moving from house to house can be hard, and your child may miss you when they’re with the other parents, but miss your co parent when they’re with you. When your child is gone half the time, it might be hard to listen to them say they miss dad the whole time they’re home. But it’s okay.
You can’t really fix that for them, but you can be present for them. Just listen. Let the child know their feelings are valid and you will support them. The temptation may be to want to solve the problem somehow, but there will be other things in life you can’t fix for them either.
This can be an opportunity to help them process their emotions and navigate problems on their own.
Knowing When To Separate
People sometimes want to stay in a relationship for the kid, or because they don’t want to lose any kind of visitation. Those are real considerations, but if you’re going to stay in a situation you want to leave, you have to consider what staying is going to be like.
Is it a healthy situation for the child? Are you going to be able to grow and thrive in that situation? “Your kids deserve to see healthy relationships,” Abbey said.
Considerations For Dating/ Blending A Family
The temperament of everyone involved affects how this will work out, and probably how you will handle it. “For me, my co-parent was respectful, and finding someone who was respectful of my co-parenting relationship was important,” Abbey said.
Abbey’s partner and co-parent did things like donuts with dads together with her son from the beginning. From the very beginning, they agreed they would do things like birthdays and Christmas morning together, because neither of them wanted to miss that time with their son. This made for a smooth transition.
“Do you all have to be a big happy family like mine? No,” Abbey said. You can have a healthy co-parenting situation without hanging out together. But even if you don’t want to have get-togethers with everyone, it’s still important to find someone who isn’t going to ruffle the co-parenting relationship.
The most important thing is to find something that works for you and your family. “If you’re able to keep it child-focused and child-centered, that’s the most important piece,” Abbey said.
Abbey Williams, MSW, LSW is a behavioral health therapist, the producer and host of the Mimosas with Moms Podcast, content creator of the social media platforms @mimosaswithmoms, and mother of 4. She is committed to supporting, empowering, and connecting with mothers in all seasons of motherhood. She has been featured by PopSugar, Parents, SheKnows, and Romper. She navigates her blended family/co parenting life in Cincinnati, OH with her husband, four kids, and two sister labs.