Coordinating schedules, grappling with different parenting styles, communicating effectively, co-parenting can be challenging. Want some tips for effective co-parenting?
First off, what exactly is co-parenting? Co-parenting refers to the act of two parents raising a child even though they are no longer romantically involved.
Both parents work with each other to ensure their child has a safe and loving environment to grow up in and—in an ideal situation—communication lines between parents are kept as open as possible. Above all, when co-parenting, it’s important to place the needs of your child or children first.
Unless your family has faced serious issues such as domestic violence or substance abuse, co-parenting—having both parents play an active role in their children’s daily lives—is the best way to ensure that all your kids’ needs are met and enable them to retain close relationships with both parents.
Making shared decisions, interacting with each other at drop-offs, or just speaking to a person you’d rather forget all about can seem like impossible tasks. For the sake of your kids’ well-being, though, it is possible for you to overcome co-parenting challenges and develop a cordial working relationship with your ex.
The key to successful co-parenting is to separate the personal relationship with your ex from the co-parenting relationship. It may be helpful to start thinking of your relationship with your ex as a completely new one—one that is entirely about the well-being of your children, and not about either of you.
Throughout my years as a play therapist, I have helped children to cope with many divorce situations. I have discovered kids whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship feel secure. When confident of the love of both parents, kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and new living situations.
Children benefit from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what’s expected of them. This helps kids to better understand problem solving. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.
By giving them a healthy example to follow, cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future to build and maintain stronger relationships. Helping your children to become mentally and emotionally healthier. Children exposed to conflict between co-parents are more likely to develop issues such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD.
1. Set hurt and anger aside.
- As I teach my play therapy clients, all feelings are ok. It’s how we respond to the feelings that can cause problems. It’s okay to be hurt and angry, but your feelings don’t have to dictate your behavior. Instead, let what’s best for your kids—you working cooperatively with the other parent—motivate your actions.
- Get your feelings out somewhere else. Talk to your mom, best friend, or even a therapist to work through the negative, complex emotions concerning your former partner. This will allow you to stay kid-focused when you interact with your ex in the future. Drop me a comment and let me know who that special person is that you can confide in.
- Love your child more than you hate the other parent. If you don’t have the greatest dynamic with ex and harbor negative feelings towards them, let this phrase be your mantra. And keep repeating it to yourself whenever you feel like lashing out. You must be able to identify what your child’s needs are and help support the other parent in getting those needs met.
- The parental breakup is not what the child should be focusing on. Shining that spotlight on your child or children’s needs extends beyond their emotional life. It’s also pivotal that both parties work to understand and promote their kids’ educational, social, and activity needs.
2. Be consistent, respectful, and kind.
- Establish your ground rules for co-parenting. When co-parents create a joint agreement as to items such as bedtimes, social rules, or phone and computer use, the kids know their parents have a united front. This gives children a great deal of safety and stability because they know that, no matter which parent they are with, the rules will be the same.
- The rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments.
- Speaking of discipline, try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction. Use a similar system for rewarding positive behaviors as well.
- In addition, where you can, strive for consistency in your children’s schedules. Making meals, homework, and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to having two homes.
3. Use a website or app to communicate more effectively.
- To ensure positive results as co-parents, keep a shared family calendar online—that can be accessed by both parents and your kids, if appropriate. This type of calendar allows everyone involved to keep abreast of school and social events, medical appointments, and sports schedules. Comment below with some of your favorite calendar apps.
- It all begins with your mindset. Think about communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your child’s well-being.
- Make requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing as much as you can as a request.
- Listen. Communicating with maturity starts with listening.
- Keep talking. If you disagree about something important, you will need to continue communicating. Never discuss your differences of opinions with or in front of your child.
4. Have a brief, monthly “parental team meeting.”
- Regular check-ins foster solid communication skills and can also help you nip any budding issues from the outset. Keep the meeting focused on your youngster or youngsters’ wellbeing and set a time limit of under 30 minutes.
- During these meetings, focus on “the business” of parenting. Be prepared to approach all interactions as a ‘business transaction.’ Schedule a time to meet or discuss co-parenting concerns. It may also be helpful to find a neutral meeting place in public for difficult discussions. During the conversation, only focus on the decision at hand.
- Remember you don’t have to agree on everything. It is not important for the child to experience parents that agree on everything, but rather parents that are able to communicate their opinions in a healthy manner.
5. Accept that the co-parent is still your child’s parent.
- Remember that your child or children can still—and ideally will—have a loving, healthy relationship with their other parent post-separation. Their relationship should be allowed to develop in a new way and not merely be a reflection of your feelings.
- One way to go about doing this is to avoid making your child the intermediary. Do not expect the children to be the messenger or go-between. This is true for logistics and also for making comments about the other parent. Never use kids as messengers.
- Keep your issues to yourself. Never say negative things about your ex to your children or make them feel like they have to choose.
6. Make transitions and visitation easier on the kids.
- The actual move from one household to another, whether it happens every few days or just certain weekends, can be a very hard time for children. Every reunion with one parent is also a separation with the other, each “hello” also a “goodbye.” While transitions are unavoidable, there are many things you can do to help make them easier on your children.
- As kids prepare to leave your house for your ex’s, try to stay positive and deliver them on time.
- Help children anticipate change. Remind kids they’ll be leaving for the other parent’s house a day or two before the visit.
- Pack in advance. Depending on their age, help children pack their bags well before they leave so that they don’t forget anything they’ll miss. Encourage packing familiar reminders like a special stuffed toy or photograph.
- Always drop off—never pick up the child. It’s a good idea to avoid “taking” your child from the other parent so that you don’t risk interrupting a special moment. Drop off your child at the other parent’s house instead.
- The beginning of your child’s return to your home can be awkward or even rocky. To help your child adjust, keep things low-key. When children first enter your home, try to have some down time together—read a book or do some other quiet activity. Becky Bailey’s book, I Love You Rituals, has some fantastic ideas.
- Double up. To make packing simpler and make kids feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent’s house, have kids keep certain basics—toothbrush, hairbrush, pajamas—at both houses.
- Allow your child space. Children often need a little time to adjust to the transition. If they seem to need some space, do something else nearby. In time, things will get back to normal.
- Establish a special routine. Play a game or serve the same special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine—if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it can help the transition.
Separation, divorce, transitions are challenging for everyone involved. Utilizing the 6 tips in this post will help to decrease the struggles for the children involved.
If your child needs some extra support during a separation or divorce, contact us to discuss ways we can help.