What is co-parenting and how can you do it effectively? When two people decide it’s time to end their marriage, it’s often the child or the children they share that take it the hardest. When it comes to learning how to co-parent, division of assets, and determining alimony can seem like cake. Co-parenting is completely new terrain, and you might need to do a little research and soul-searching to determine how to approach this new life.
Creating a Co-Parenting Relationship
You’re divorced. You’ve completely ended your relationship. Legal matters are all tied up, and you’re ready to move on with your new life. Finally, you never have to see your ex-spouse again! But wait… do you have children? If so, then, you might need to pump the brakes.
If you and your ex-spouse share children, you’re going to need to learn how to co-parent. And you’re going to need to learn how to co-parent WITH your ex. This means putting your child’s best interests above your own and forging an amicable relationship with your ex. You two don’t need to be best friends, you just need to find a way to make this relationship work.
This might seem impossible, especially considering what your relationship went through, but it’s not the child’s fault. Nor should they be placed in the middle of emotional crossfire because the marriage did not work. The key is to take the high road. And that means you’re going to have to truly make sacrifices for your children.
First Step: Realize You Can Only Control You
The first step to creating a co-parenting relationship is to realize you can only control yourself. You have no power over your ex-spouse, so don’t even try. If you are able to accept this, and thus control your own actions and emotions, you will be able to take the high road. You can only hope this method of leading by example will catch on.
The next thing you’ll need to do to create a successful co-parenting relationship is to set boundaries. Here are some do’s and don’t’s.
- Sabotage your child’s relationship with the other parent.
- Use your child as a pawn to get back at or hurt your ex.
- Allow your child to speak badly about the other parent.
- Use your child to gain information or to manipulate and/or influence your ex.
- Transfer hurt feelings and/or frustrations toward your ex onto your child.
- Force your child to choose a side when there is a conflict with scheduling.
- Turn the pressure on your child.
- Depend too much on your child for companionship or support because you are dealing with your divorce. Your child is not your therapist.
- Become so emotionally needy that your child starts to feel guilty if they spend time with others. You would hate to find out they turned down social outings because they were afraid you wouldn’t be able to handle alone time.
Bottom line: Do not burden your children with situations they are not able
to control. Your emotional needs and issues should not be something they
need to bear. This will only promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity
which will, in turn, cause them to question their own strengths and abilities.
They should not feel as if it’s their responsibility to hold you
together. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems, nor
should they have to. They should be allowed to focus on their own developmental stages.
- Sit down with your ex to create an an affirmative plan that sets aside differences you may have. The focus should be on meeting the needs of the children you are co-parenting.
- Negotiate how you will handle visitation, holidays, and events.
- Create behavioral guidelines for raising your children that you will each adhere to. There should be some form of consistency in their lives, regardless of which parent they’re with. This means bed-times, phone privileges, etc… Know that a child will often test a situation and manipulate boundaries. Be prepared to stay strong.
- Negotiate the roles of extended family members.
- Establish lines of open communication regarding all aspects of your child’s development. This includes being able to compare notes on a situation before deciding on punishment.
- While it can be emotionally painful, you and your co-parent need to decide that you will keep each other informed about changes in your life circumstances. The child should never be your primary source of information.
- Commit to conducting yourself with emotional integrity.
What a Child Needs Most
These are the things your child needs most during this time: acceptance, assurance of safety, structure, freedom from guilt or blame for their parents’ break up, two stable parents, and the ability to just have fun and be a kid.
Some Additional Tips to Co-Parenting
Setting up ground rules is important. There are some other additional tips that you might want to consider.
Communication is Key. Effective co-parenting requires you communicate regularly. And it doesn’t have to be face-to-face – it can be via text or email. This way also provides a record of communication in case an issue arises over what was said or not said. It might be difficult, but try and see things from your ex-spouse’s perspective. This will allow you to understand where he or she is coming from when they are trying to communicate with you. Choose your battles carefully and learn to be okay letting certain things go.
Be friendly when you are all together. You and your co-parent share a child, or multiple children. These children will grow and experience different things: sporting events, graduations, birthdays, parent-teacher conferences, etc… at some point, during one of these occasions, you’re all going to have to be in the same location. So be friendly! This will make it easier for everyone – you, the co-parent, and your child. Say hello to each other. Maybe chat about what you were going to say in the next email or text. If you have to fake it to make it, then so be it. Bottom line: be an adult. This includes stepparents, friends and other family members. Kids are observant, which means they will pick up on if you’re being rude or awkward. They’ll also pick up on you acting like the adult you’re supposed to be.
Say thank you. Say thank you when you ask for a favor and your co-parent follows through. This could mean a schedule change or event date request. If you’re stuck in traffic and need the other parent to pick up your child at the last minute. Regardless of the situation, a thank you goes a long way. It doesn’t have to be big. A verbal “thank you” works. And if you can’t do that, then send it in a text.
Return phone calls, texts, emails. Even if these communications don’t require an answer, just text back “ok.” Email back “ok.” Call back and say “ok.” It’s helpful and important that you acknowledge that you received their message. It’s respectful, but also a great way to make sure that both parties know the information was received.
It actually is the other parent’s business to know that someone besides yourself is watching your child. Your co-parent has every right to know who their child is with, if he or she is not with you. This doesn’t need to be anything intense. If you’re having a neighbor watch your son while you run to the grocery store, chances are you don’t need to tell your co-parent. But don’t deny their question if they ask. Saying it’s “not their business” is actually completely ridiculous. As their co-parent, they have a right to know everything about their child, just as you do.
Ask their opinion. Asking for the other parent’s input can help foster a positive (or at least a sometimes positive) co-parenting relationship over the course of time. As a co-parent, they have a right to provide their opinion, even if it’s something you, for sure, will not be following. You never know, they also might surprise you!
Seek Professional Assistance. It might be a good idea to see out assistance from a professional. Family counseling, as well as individual counseling, can help you work through difficulties of your divorce, as well as what it will mean for your children. Co-parenting classes exist to help teach you and your spouse to co-parent.
Emotional guidelines are important, but so are the defined aspects of a co-parenting partnership. This means a schedule – not just a weekly schedule, but also one that outlines holidays and events. These things should be agreed to far in advance. For example: which parent has the child for Christmas should be decided months in advance to avoid fighting on Christmas Eve. These agreements can be informal, but just remember that something set in stone is harder to argue against. There are numerous online tools you can use to help create a co-parenting schedule.
Set arrangements are important, but remember to be sensitive to your child. If he or she is having a night where they just really want to be with dad, instead of mom, then maybe it’s okay for dad to take the night. This is a hard time for kids to adapt. Encourage your kids to be honest with their emotions. You’ll want to be sensitive to their emotions, which can often mean putting your emotions aside.
Creating a Co-Parenting Relationship
Creating a co-parenting relationship can be difficult. You might decide that working with a mediator is the best way to find an agreement. Over time, and once you have set up some ground rules for yourself, and for how the relationship will be maintained, it should become easier. A set schedule, but also being flexible will help you get to the “easier” moments. And just as there will be easy moments, there will also be times when it feels almost impossible. Finding a co-parenting balance will help you to become a better person, while also providing a good example to your children. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future. The number one thing you both need to do is ensure that the child’s best interests are number one priority.