Co-Parenting Tips When You’re No Longer Together
Co-parenting describes how parents work together to raise children. Sometimes, your co-parent is the child’s other parent. A grandparent or another family member can also be in the co-parent role. The end of a relationship often means a big change in the co-parenting process.
By Rebecca Parlakian, MA, Ed.
A strong, respectful co-parenting relationship helps children feel safe and secure. Building this relationship is not always easy when you’re no longer married or romantically involved with your co-parent. Learning to work together on child-rearing is a process that takes time. Here are some tips to keep the focus on your child:
1. Remember your new roles (and new boundaries).
You and your co-parent may have a history of making decisions together—from deciding what to have for dinner to figuring out where to live. Learning to operate separately can be challenging. Part of building your new co-parenting relationship involves recognizing what issues you do—or don’t—have a say in. For example, you may no longer have a say in your co-parent’s spending, but you do have a say in how the two of you approach disciplining your children. Recognizing these new roles and boundaries is hard and at times painful. But it’s a necessary part of establishing a healthy co-parenting relationship. Talking through these issues with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor may help.
2. Keep your child at the center of your co-parenting work.
You still share a child and all the child-rearing tasks that will help that child grow and thrive. When a couple is no longer in a romantic relationship, they usually don’t have to work together closely anymore. That’s not the case with co-parents. You still have to cooperate, communicate, and connect regularly. Keeping your interactions focused on your children and their needs, schedules, and activities helps to reduce the possibility of conflict and upset.
3. Let go to grow.
Anger, blame, and resentment toward your former partner can damage your co-parenting relationship before it begins. It’s essential to let go of disappointments and frustrations so that you can move forward to share the care of your child. Again, talking to a trusted friend or counselor can help you to process your (valid!) feelings about the end of the relationship.
4. Let your children love your co-parent.
One of the most important predictors of how children will do after a divorce? The level of conflict between their parents. (The more conflict, the more difficulty children have.) One thing you can do? Avoid blaming or talking negatively about your co-parent in front of your child, even if the child is very young. Children understand more than they can say, and hearing bad things about their other parent (whom they also love) is confusing, distressing, and scary. Sometimes, parents wonder how to handle it when a co-parent doesn’t meet a child’s expectations—for example, forgetting to pick the child up for a visit. Rather than blaming, the parent can say something like, “[Co-parent] didn’t come this morning. I’m not sure what happened. Let’s call and see if we can figure it out. I know you really wanted to see them.” Handling these moments can be even harder if your co-parent frequently lets your child down. Help children work through their feelings and reassure them that this is not their fault.
5. Text carefully.
Text message interactions can escalate quickly, so avoid using texts to work through disagreements. (Let your co-parent know, “I’m switching to email.”) Email can be especially useful because you can type and save your message before sending. Let it sit for a few hours and then read it one more time so you can make changes. Then send the email. This is especially important when a call, text, or email from your co-parent has hurt or upset you. Take the time you need to calm and center yourself before responding.
6. Figure out what works for effective communication.
For young children under age three, keeping a notebook (or online diary app) that goes back and forth between homes can ensure that feeding and activity schedules remain the same. Also, discuss your expectations about things like screen use, bedtime, mealtime, and setting limits. Planning around these issues helps co-parents give children a consistent experience across homes. It may be helpful to know that children can adjust to different rules in different homes. You can recognize those differences without judging your co-parent—for example, by saying, “That’s the rule at Dad’s house, and this is the rule at Mom’s house.”
7. Assume the best.
Your co-parent loves your child too, and it’s likely that your co-parent wants the best for your kid, just as you do. But they’re going to do things differently than you. Remember that there are many ways to be a good parent. Choose your battles carefully when you’re tempted to judge, react, or disagree.
8. Take care of yourself.
Do what makes you feel good and cared for. Remember that you are your child’s role model for managing challenges and big feelings in positive ways. Of course, you’ll have bad days. But know that taking care of yourself during this period of intense change is a gift to you and your child.