Co-Parenting: It’s hard, but worth it. 

August 23, 2012

Putting your kids’ needs ahead of your own is a defining part of being a parent (that, and sometimes DNA plays a role).  But what happens if you and your spouse decide that separating as a couple is what you want?  It’s not the end of your road as a parent, and it’s certainly not the time to stop working as a team to raise the children you have together.  Co-parenting is best for your children, but many divorced or separated parents have a difficult time adjusting. We thought we’d share some great tips we found at helpguide.org, a non-profit that serves people looking for information regarding healthy living, childhood and family issues, as well as mental and emotional health.

  1. Set aside your anger and hurt feelings. The best way to do this is focus on your children – remember that your child’s best interests are the most important.  You should also make sure you are not using your child as a messenger or talking negatively about your ex.
  2. Be peaceful, consistent and purposeful when communicating. Before you contact an ex, think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Helpguide.org suggests setting a business-like tone, making requests (“Would you be willing to…?”), listening, showing restraint, talking consistently and keeping your conversation child-focused.  If you are interested in rebuilding a relationship (not necessarily a romantic one), keep three things in mind: relax, apologize sincerely when you feel badly about something, and ask for your ex’s opinion.  Keep topics simple (do not ask his or her opinion with a topic on which you know you disagree), and make sure you are ready for a relationship.
  3. Parent as a team. The real key to this is consistency. Parenting styles don’t have to be exactly the same, but it won’t work if one parent is trying to undermine the other.  Make sure you have general rules (you don’t need the exact same rules at both homes) so your child knows what to expect going between parents and there isn’t a radical change.  Another idea to keep in mind is making sure you and your ex are disciplining similarly. If your child loses dessert privileges at one house, make sure your ex carries the punishment over to their house.  The same goes for rewarding good behavior! Lastly, children need schedules.  Make sure dinner, bed and homework times are the same at each house so the child feels like they aren’t being disrupted. Important issues need to be talked about and agreed upon by both parents.  These topics include medical care, education and financial decisions. If you have disagreements, try to be respectful, keep talking (not arguing) and be prepared to compromise.
  4. Make transitions easier for your child. Separation or divorce can be very hard on a child. There are two specific times to make sure your child is comfortable: when your child leaves and when they return. During these times, do not exchange more than pleasantries with your ex, you are only there for your child at that time.When your time with your child is coming to an end, remind them they will be going to see their other parent (this should be a day or two ahead of time) so they are prepared. Make sure your child’s things are packed so they don’t forget anything they will miss (a special toy or stuffed animal, for example). Finally, always drop off your child – do not “pick them up.” If you go to the other parent’s home to get your child, you might interrupt a special bonding moment between your child and ex. Make sure there is an agreed upon drop-off time (5 p.m. or ‘after dinner’) so you don’t worry and your ex gets all of their time with the child.When your child is coming home, keep things relaxed and low-key – for example, you can read a book together or talk about their time away. It’s important to allow them some space to transition.  Make sure there are two sets of necessities like toothbrushes – one for each house – so the child isn’t worried about unpacking. Have a routine for their return, such as a special dinner or game night.Something many parents deal with (and worry about) when going through a separation or divorce is “visitation refusal.”  This is when a child doesn’t want to leave one household to go to the other. Something important to keep in mind is that this is common!   Find the cause, go with the flow and have a respectful conversation with your ex about the problem. And remember: most visitation refusals are temporary!

Listen to our recent radio show on Co-Parenting and download a Fact Sheet on our Parent Resource Center, or visit these other useful links:

YOUR TURN: Have you and your ex found creative ways to make co-parenting work? Please share with us in the comments section below!