10 Positive Co-Parenting Tips
Separating or going through a divorce is one of life’s most difficult passages. Working with your co-parent to raise healthy, loving and stable children despite your split is another difficult task. But it is doable, as many happy adult children of divorced parents can attest to.
To get you started, here are ten positive co-parenting tips. These will help you understand how to co-parent in order to provide your children with a balanced and happy upbringing. Even though you are no longer all living under the same roof, by employing these successful co-parenting strategies, you can keep everyone working as a team.
Co-Parenting Tip #1: Your Children's Needs Come First
Whatever your issues are with your co-parent, put your children’s well-being on the front burner, always.
Divorcing parents often say this is the hardest concept to remember, especially if the divorce is messy. But making your children’s security and sense of stability a priority is key to a “successful” divorce. So do whatever it takes to place them first, even if this means working with a family therapist to help you and your co-parent bring the conversation back to what is best for the children when your past marital issues start to heat up the discussion.
Co-Parenting Tip #2: Prioritize Communication for Effective Co-Parenting
One of the most basic co-parenting rules is finding an effective communication strategy that works for your family. That means being realistic about your own strengths and limitations.
If face-to-face discussions with your co-parent are not possible at this time (one or both of you are too angry or upset to talk in person reasonably), agree that speaking “live” just isn’t working for you right now. You may have to use other, less emotional means for sharing information about the children such as by way of an online co-parenting communication tool.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure your communication about your children’s welfare remains open. Do not shut these conversations down in a move to punish your co-parent. Not sharing information regarding the children only hurts the children, and it does not set a good example when they see adults using the “silent treatment” as a weapon against each other.
Once you've gotten into the groove of co-parenting, make sure to reevaluate your communication strategies periodically. See if you and your co-parent have reached the point where you can communicate in person without upsetting each other. The ultimate goal is to get back to speaking terms, as it sends a positive message to the children that you can communicate civilly as co-parents.
For some, their first co-parenting rule might be agreeing that co-parenting isn't actually the right strategy for them at the moment. There are alternatives to co-parenting for parents in this situation, and they can help transition them from a point of high-conflict to one where shared parenting is possible.
Parallel parenting is one such alternative co-parenting strategy. In parallel parenting, as opposed to co-parenting, parents disengage from each other as much as possible while still remaining active in their children's lives. It usually requires a much more highly detailed parenting plan, as the document will be a source of crystal-clear instructions for the many situations parents encounter after divorce.
Co-Parenting Tip #3: Stay on the Same Page for the Big Stuff
The best case scenario in co-parenting is for both parents to be consistent and in agreement with rules regarding behavior and discipline, bedtimes, screen time, playtime, personal hygiene, and household chores. But the reality is, if your parenting styles differed before you separated, you’re unlikely to magically be in agreement now.
Try not to get into big parenting debates over every decision. As long as you can reasonably trust that both of you are committed to raising your kids in a healthy and supportive environment, you should not try to micromanage each other’s day-to-day parenting decisions.
But for the big decisions, like your child’s schooling, medical care, and religious upbringing, it’s important to stay on the same page if you have joint legal custody. If you have trouble working together to address these major decisions, co-parenting counseling or mediation may be of help.
Co-Parenting Tip #4: Stick to Your Parenting Schedule
Once your parenting time arrangement is set, don’t fiddle with it. Treating the schedule as set in stone will help you organize your time, and it will help the children feel secure.
Parents who modify the parenting time schedule too often or cancel their parenting time are doing a disservice to their children, even if they think they are teaching them to be flexible.
Children need to feel that they can count on being with their parents on a regular basis, like every other weekend for example, and not have that changed at the last minute because one of their parents has to travel out of town suddenly.
That being said, when a modification is absolutely necessary, have a plan for communicating and negotiating these kinds of changes with your co-parent.
Co-Parenting Tip #5: Don't Badmouth Your Co-Parent
Don't speak negatively about your co-parent in front of your children. If you feel like you need to vent, reserve those conversations for when you are with adult friends. Or a therapist. Or your own parents. As hard as it may be, do not denigrate your co-parent in front of your children, and request the same respect from your co-parent.
Be aware that your children will eventually gain a realistic view of both of you as they become adults, so if your co-parent is truly a bad person, they will come to that realization on their own without you having to say anything.
Even so, experts agree that listening to one parent badmouth the other can be detrimental to children. Remember: wait until you are away from your children to talk badly about your co-parent if you need to. (This may even give you time to calm down and perhaps let it go completely.)
Co-Parenting Tip #6: Make an Effort to be Positive
Highlight your co-parent’s good points in your children’s presence. “Your mom is great at coaching your soccer team, isn’t she?” or “Your dad takes such beautiful photos of you guys!” are easy ways to show your children that despite your separation, you can still see the valuable things that your co-parent brings to the family. This makes the children feel safe, and feel like they too can freely speak well of the parent that isn’t present and not hurt your feelings.
Staying positive isn't just for your children's benefit, though. Training yourself to maintain a positive outlook can be great for your own health and well-being.
Co-Parenting Tip #7: Empathy First
In the early days of divorce, it will be hard to be empathetic towards your co-parent. So direct your empathy towards your children. Before you act, ask yourself how your children will perceive things.
Are you about to call up your co-parent to vent about the late child-support payment? Imagine you are your child, listening to that conversation. Imagining their reaction to being a witness to this type of disagreement will be enough to help stop you from making that call. Then you will be able to communicate what you need by using other means that shield your children from any conflict that may ensue.
Co-Parenting Tip #8: Self-Care is Required
As you move through this challenging time in your life, take a few minutes each day for self-care. This can be in the form of positive self-talk or something concrete, like exercising or a massage. Anything that reminds you that you are a valuable person and a good parent, even if the family dynamic is now changing. It is good for your children to see you doing a small thing for yourself, especially as self-care will allow you to continue to engage healthfully with them.
Co-Parenting Tip #9: Be Smart About New Partners
As you and your co-parent form new relationships, agree on the roles the new partners may have with your children.
Many family professionals recommend that until the new partners have a secure place in the family structure, they should not be involved in any of the mutual child-rearing decisions, nor should they communicate with the ex-partner on matters related to the children.
As time passes, you and your co-parent will want to both agree upon how the new partners can best contribute to the decisions made that affect the children, always keeping your children’s well-being at the forefront.
Co-Parenting Tip #10: In Time, Find Forgiveness
Forgiveness is powerful, and it takes a strong person to forgive. It is surely not at the top of your to-do list when you are in the midst of a divorce—nor might you be ready for it. But once you are further away from this life-impacting event, work on forgiving yourself and your former spouse or partner. It will help you in your healing and will show the children a powerful lesson in how resilient families can be.
Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support, and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy, happy marriages and also provide information for those who are ending one.
NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.
Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.