I am still in the early stages of parenting, so please know that this is not a "learn from my many many years of experience" blog post haha. I am however, in the thick of it and just wanted to provide my two-cents while it is a fresh and sensitive topic in my mind.
TL;DR: Co-parenting is hard, but with anything, overtime you adjust and find success:
Allow yourself space to experience your emotions, so you can handle your child's
Set boundaries and own them
Have a 'return home' ritual
Co-parenting is tough. On you, your child, and it just comes with a lot of stresses and things to navigate. I truly just hurt most for my daughter.
After our daughter turned one and I stopped breastfeeding, we had an every-other-weekend schedule.
I was not prepared for how emotional the adjustment would be, but also, how much my body would shut down and turn into a hermit for the first 24 hours, especially in the beginning. Here are some strategies I found that helped me successfully adjust to co-parenting:
First strategy for success: Allow yourself space to experience your emotions
I quickly learned how hard, but enjoyable a few days alone would be to my mental health and peace of mind.
However, I needed to decompress from being two weeks 'on' and 'alone'. I needed to cry, lay on the floor and do nothing, binge a show, whatever I was feeling so I could move through them and enjoy the rest of my time alone. I didn't judge myself for what I needed. I didn't force myself to socialize or 'be productive', unless I felt that would serve me best. Learning to listen to my body and mind was so important, because I knew that when my daughter came back, she would need a day or two to also adjust.
If I didn't give myself the space to feel, ooh man, it made the next two weeks even more exhausting. I did also try to exercise, get outside (I used to live in SoCal, usually sunny weather), and see one friend so I filled my cup in a variety of ways. To find peace and balance, I needed to allow myself space to do what I needed, not to over-stuff my kid-free weekend with being overly busy.
This leads to my second point
Set boundaries, especially with the co-parent, and stick to them
Boundaries either in parenting styles, what you will or won't allow your child to watch, self boundaries for how you will spend your time alone or with your child, how and when you will communicate with your ex, grandparents...doesn't matter what the boundary area is...set them and you need to respect yourself enough to own them.
I say this with love and empathy: if people don't respect your boundaries it is because you didn't care enough about yourself to stand firm in it.
Co-parenting is hard, usually it is happening because of a divorce or an end of a relationship. That means, a lot of dynamic shifts, emotions, hurt feelings, and people to juggle.
THE most important thing you can do is understand what healthy boundaries will be for you, establish them, and only adjust if it means they will better serve you and your children if you do.
You cannot control everything that goes on outside of your home, so create the best environment for you, express to your ex your preferences and requests, but at the end of the day, you can only control you.
If you have co-parented for even one weekend, you know that there is an adjustment period for everyone when your child returns and it is 'back to usual'.
Create a 'return home ritual' to adjust faster
Try to create something fun, repeatable, and special for when your child returns. It helps to reestablish a connection, ease them into the transition (and you), and gives everyone something to look forward too. This is especially important if you are a blended family and one child is leaving and others are staying.
It could be that you have a pizza and movie night, or make their favorite meal, or have a picnic in the living room, or go out for ice cream...whatever your family enjoys and loves, make that the thing you all do when your child returns.
Over time, what your child or children will remember is that fun thing you did, the memories made because of it, and establish security and depth to your bond.
Co-parenting is not my favorite. I hate how it can be hard for my daughter to process and as she gets older it will get harder and easier depending on the age and stage, but these are a few things I have found to make it all easier and less of an emotional burden on me.
Are you co-parenting? What strategies have you implemented to make the adjustment more successful for your family?