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Coparenting Tips When You’re No Longer Together
Coparenting describes how parents work together to raise children. Sometimes, your coparent is the child’s other parent. A grandparent or another family member can also be in the coparent role. The end of a relationship often means a big change in the coparenting process.
By Rebecca Parlakian, MA, Ed.
A strong, respectful coparenting 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 coparent. 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 coparent 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 coparenting 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 coparent’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 coparenting relationship. Talking through these issues with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor may help.
2. Keep your child at the center of your coparenting 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 coparents. 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 coparenting 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 coparent.
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 coparent 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 coparent 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, “[Coparent] 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 coparent 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 coparent 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 coparent 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 coparents 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 coparent—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 coparent loves your child too, and it’s likely that your coparent 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.