Divorce sucks. Not only are you forced to split all the money and assets you’ve accumulated over the life of your marriage, but you’re also ordered to split time with your children with that no-good sorry piece of you know what who put you through the divorce in the first place. Look, I get it. I’ve been there. But you should find peace knowing that even though your precious babies had to endure their parent’s divorce and separation, they will survive and surely thrive if you can master the art of co-parenting.

To give you some background, my oldest daughter is ten years old and her daddy and I divorced when she was two. So, I have eight years of experience to offer 😊

We share joint legal and joint physical custody. What does this mean? It means our rights are completely equal. First, we share in the decision making process, i.e., we have to discuss and agree on anything that goes on in her world, including: school (which one she attends), all medical issues (dentist and doctor appts., electives, braces, etc.), any extra-curriculars (dance, soccer, chess, etc.), and things she will need in the near future, like a cell phone and vehicle. Also, we rotate what’s called a week on/week off visitation schedule. It was not easy for me to say, right off the bat, “hey, sure let’s share my kid.” BUT I knew he was a good daddy, and my baby loves him. While he may not have been the best husband (trust me I wasn’t the best wife either), we both loved and adored our little girl and I KNEW she needed BOTH of us.

In my line of work, we deal with custody issues in divorce literally every single day. Nothing is worse than a parent using a child as a pawn during the divorce process; but unfortunately, it happens far too often. So, I just want to lay out some basic tips coming from someone who not only has been through a divorce and successfully shares custody and parenting responsibilities of a child, but from someone who also deals with the drama of divorce and child custody litigation every day.

TIP #1: IF BOTH PARENTS ARE PUTTING THEIR CHILD’S BEST INTEREST FIRST – THERE REALLY WON’T BE MUCH TO ARGUE ABOUT – For example, if your spouse is a good person or was a good parent before your divorce started, then they deserve to be in their child’s life. PERIOD. It doesn’t matter if they cheated on you or whatever they did that is hurting you right now – you cannot put that on your child. Children need BOTH of their parents (assuming of course that your ex does not pose a legitimate threat to your child’s well-being). God designed the nuclear family this way. Don’t punish your child to hurt your ex or deprive them of love and affection from their other parent because you are hurt or angry. Put your child’s needs above your own and the answer to these questions will usually be clear.

TIP #2: DON’T TALK UGLY ABOUT YOUR EX AROUND YOUR CHILD/CHILDREN – I came from a very broken and dysfunctional household; my parents got divorced when I was in 2nd grade and all I remember about them being around each other was screaming and fussing. Even as an adult my mom told me awful things about my dad that I really didn’t need to hear. No child wants to hear bad things about their mom or dad. I try my best to make sure my daughter knows that mommy and daddy are on the same team – that we both love her so dearly and respect each other.

TIP #3: DON’T BE SELFISH—YOUR CHILD IS NOT AN OBJECT – It is NO fun not having my baby every second of everyday of every week. BUT I know her dad and his family also deserve time with her just as much as I do. I’m sure my heart was shattered on the very first Christmas morning I wasn’t with her, but that doesn’t mean that her daddy shouldn’t get to experience her opening presents on Christmas morning too. You know what that translates to? She gets 2 Christmas mornings which means she gets DOUBLE the presents! (silver lining people). Do whatever you can to make your child’s life magical! Don’t let divorce and separation steal their joy, or your joy for that matter.

TIP #4: COMMUNICATE: OPEN, FAIR, AND WILLINGLY (i.e., MAKE IT WORK) – Sharing your child should force you to communicate better for THEIR sake. Lots of families have different traditions and holiday schedules. It can be challenging, but just make it work. I’m pretty sure I haven’t even looked at my divorce papers since they were filed because we find a way to MAKE IT WORK. If her daddy has something going on with his family, then he just calls me and I let her go. If I have something going on that I need her for on his week then I just call him and he lets me take her. Don’t make your child choose between families. Try your best to communicate and make it work. Make sure they get to soak up all the family traditions from both sides.

TIP #5: IF/WHEN YOUR CHILD GETS A STEP-PARENT – TRY TO BE THANKFUL – I totally understand that sharing your baby with your ex is hard and then here comes some new “Mom” or “Dad” wanna be trying to take your spot (“oh heck no!”) that’s what my initial thought was too. BUT again, give them grace. This is only going to be good for you and your baby in the long run. I know you are going to want to mark your territory, and I guess you can, but the sooner you and step-mama get on the same page the better your AND your child’s life will be. This is only another person to love your child; another family to pour into your child; more arms to protect and adore them. How can that be a bad thing? My daughter’s step-mom picks her up from school everyday (even on my weeks) See: helpful. Just be nice. You should all be looking out for what is in the best interests of the child anyway, and now you went from only 2, to now having 4 people being able to help when needed. Kids are needy and busy—the more help you have the better. You know what they say: It takes a village!

So, in conclusion, your child’s experience with your divorce will inevitably shape the rest of their life. In order for that experience to be healthy, you and your ex must carefully and intentionally navigate your child’s new “normal.” I know all situations are different – and some may not be as ideal as mine BUT you would be doing your child a disservice if you don’t give co-parenting with your ex a good 100% effort. They deserve 100% from both their parents. Give them a childhood they don’t have to recover from.

Cassie Dedmon is originally from Rankin County, Cassie is a proficient family law paralegal. Her character strengths are humor, kindness, zest, honesty and gratitude. She has a huge heart and will grieve with you when you feel low and celebrate with you when you reach the light at the end of the tunnel. Mississippi through and through, she loves spending time with her husband and daughters Mylee and Peyton, who are as bossy, feisty, fun and outspoken as their mommy. The honest truth is you will probably love talking to Cassie more than one of our boring attorneys. She is a big part of the complete service package delivered to you by R+E.