Co-parenting after the end of your marriage can be really hard, but your kids are worth it.
Regardless of why your marriage ended or is ending and the angst you feel about it, if you have children, your ex will always be in your life. That’s why learning all you can about co-parenting for divorced parents will help ease the parenting relationship you’ll need to maintain with your ex and help your kids not only move forward but thrive.
What Exactly Is Co-Parenting?
Most people assume that co-parenting simply means shared parenting post-divorce. However, this isn’t accurate.
Co-parenting is shared parenting where parents work together and communicate regularly to continue parenting together despite no longer being married. Co-parenting is hard. Co-parenting requires that two people who couldn’t stay married cooperate and compromise for the sake of their child or children.
Co-parenting requires that you and your ex are consistent and unified in your parenting. Although this doesn’t mean that you and your ex need to be perfectly in synch. Just closely enough aligned that your kid/kids understand that both their parents know what’s going on and are working together for their sakes.
More than anything else healthy co-parenting is focused on the kids. It is part of the continuing commitment you and your ex made when you became parents. And healthy co-parenting requires empathy, patience, honesty and open communication.
This may sound daunting, but remember co-parenting is about your kids – not you and not your ex.
Recommended Reading: 13 Reasons Why Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work For Everyone
How Do You Have A Good Co-Parenting Relationship?
Some (if not all) of the following basic tenets of co-parenting for divorced parents may sound nearly impossible, but with work and commitment by both parents they are very possible.
- Clear boundaries and basic agreement on the most important things
You only have control over yourself. And your ex only has control over his/herself. Having any type of expectation that you can control anything else is just inappropriate.
So, no matter how right you may think you are about something, the only person you can control is yourself, and the only thing you can control is the example you set.
And if you and your kids’ other parent already agree on the most important things – healthcare, education, discipline and spiritual upbringing – you won’t have as many urges to want to control your ex’s behavior and/or decisions.
- Open dialogue between you and your children’s other parent
An open dialogue doesn’t mean that you’re constantly conversing together about everything going on in your lives. What it does mean is that you’re in regular communication with each other about your children and all the things that impact their well-being.
These conversations don’t have to be face-to-face or on the phone, use whatever means of communication work for you – email, text, and/or websites specifically designed to aid co-parenting for divorced parents.
The keys here are to communicate openly, consistently and with integrity and to communicate with your ex without the help of your children.
- Consistency with rules in both homes
This doesn’t mean that the rules need to be identical. The goal here is to provide your kids with a sense of structure and routine because it will make them feel a sense of security and predictability.
- A predictable schedule
When children know what to expect and when they’ll be seeing each parent, it removes confusion and allows them to settle into a routine.
- A willingness to be flexible
Life happens, plans change, opportunities appear. When things happen, allowing your children to participate in adventures that benefit them is important. And sometimes these adventures will necessitate a change in the schedule.
However, requests for changes need to me made in advance of the event and prior to discussing with the children – unless it is a true emergency.
Mutual respect between co-parents extends beyond the communication you have with each other. It also encompasses to what you say about your kids’ other parent when your kids are around.
You can always find something wonderful or positive to say about their other parent in front of your children – something that reinforces for them that they have inherited laudable qualities from both of their parents.
How Do You Communicate When Co-Parenting?
Learning how to communicate with your ex for successful co-parenting can feel like learning a foreign language. You need to let go of all the poor communication habits you had in your marriage and speak to each other differently.
The following tips will help you communicate with your ex without the power struggles.
- Keep the marriage out of parenting.
You’re not married to each other anymore, so don’t drag your unresolved issues into what remains – parenting your children.
This doesn’t mean that you just ignore your unresolved issues. By all means talk with a counselor or friends to reach a level of acceptance of your marital issues that you can live with. Just don’t talk to your children about them and don’t bring them up with your co-parent.
- Never fight in front of your children.
- Keep it brief and informative.
There’s no reason to belabor a point or give too much non-related information to your co-parent. When you keep your communication brief and to the point, there’s less chance of misinterpretation.
- Choose your battles.
No matter how carefully you work together with your ex to build a good co-parenting relationship, you will still have disagreements.
Remember that good parenting, like anything else, exists on a continuum. Just because you and your ex see things differently doesn’t mean that one is “right” and one is “wrong.”
Embrace those differences that broaden your children’s perspective and life experiences, and learn to let little things go if they aren’t detrimental and habitual. And be aware of whether you are involved in a power struggle, and do your part to bring the focus back to your children.
- Have a back-up
It takes a village – it really does – so always be building one. Don’t rely solely on your ex. You each should have a support system that cares about you and your children and that you can rely on.
Co-parenting is tough – tougher than parenting in an intact family. However, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.
By you and your ex firmly committing to making your new life-long relationship about raising terrific kids together, you’ll know that despite any difficulties you run into along the way, your children will have the benefit of two loving parents who put them first.
I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and life coach. I help individuals figure out how they can best co-parent post-divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly advice. If you’re ready to take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach, you can schedule a private first session.