Tips for Co-parenting
Co-parenting is usually easier said than done, especially in the beginning, however it’s not impossible! Furthermore, it can have multiple benefits for your child and your family as a whole. So it’s worth giving a go, right? If you want to learn how to co-parent in a healthy and effective way then continue reading to find out our top 10 tips.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is when two adults share the responsibility and duties of raising a child. A co-parenting relationship differs from an intimate relationship in that it focuses solely on the child and their upbringing. This is why the term is typically used for parents who are separated or not in a relationship.
Why it’s beneficial for your child
Research suggests that kids who have parents with a healthy co-parenting relationship grow up just as well-adjusted as kids whose parents are in a “successful” marriage. This is because a healthy co-parenting relationship allows kids to feel safe and loved in family settings, helping them grow in self-esteem and confidence. For example, consistency between parents (in terms of household rules, etc.) helps kids to feel safe, as they know what to expect and don’t have to worry about uncertainty or feelings of unfairness as much. In addition, kids seeing their parents resolve conflicts in a calm and mature way enables them to better understand and cope with disagreement in their own life. All in all, when kids feel certain of both of their parents’ love they are able to adjust more easily to divorce or separation.
On top of that, there are also benefits for the parents! Both parents get to take part in their kid’s lives meaning that everyone experiences less loss. Healthy co-parenting leads to less conflict and stress within family settings, meaning that parents can spend more time focusing on and having fun with their kids. Furthermore, children tend to have better relationships with both of their parents in a co-parenting arrangement, as they get to spend quality time with both of their parents and aren’t made to feel negatively about either parent.
Even though co-parenting has many benefits and can help families adjust to life after divorce/separation, it should be noted that it’s not right for everyone. For example, if there is a lot of conflict or even abuse* in your relationship, or if you and your ex live far apart from each other, then arrangements like “parallel parenting” or the more traditional parenting time and visitation approach might be more appropriate for you.
** If you and/or your child is experiencing abuse (or you suspect this might be the case) then please reach out to one of the organisations listed here.
Tips to make co-parenting work
So you want to make co-parenting work between you and your ex-partner? We’ve accumulated some tips for you to help make the transition to co-parenting as smooth and favourable as possible for the whole family.
1. Communicate respectfully and effectively
Try to view your relationship with your ex in a “professional” way. Meaning you don’t necessarily have to like the people you work with, however you still respect their time and try your best to work together in order to reach your shared goals. So try to view your ex in this way and keep your conversations kid-focused. Avoid asking more personal questions about their life as this could lead to tension and conflict, and of course you should both respect each other’s privacy.
Another key point related to effective communication is to actively listen. Even if you end up disagreeing on something it’s important that you still actively listen and try to understand your co-parent’s point of view instead of just shutting them down. Show them that you’re listening by repeating back to them what they just said and by asking clarifying questions - this also decreases the chance of any misunderstandings.
2. Also communicate respectfully in front of your child
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all” - chances are you’ve probably given those words of wisdom to your kid, now it’s time to take your own advice! Don’t insult your ex in front of your kids or talk about “adult issues”. Kids may feel conflicted or guilty if they feel pressured to choose one parent over the other, or may even blame themselves for the split. It’s important that even if you disagree with or don’t like your ex partner that you model how to deal with these feelings in a healthy and respectful way to your kid.
3. Have a support system
Going through a separation and trying to navigate co-parenting is tough. Make sure you have a support system in place and are taking care of yourself. Talk to friends or a therapist, and make sure to take time for yourself and keep up your hobbies. This will mean you’re less likely to vent in front of your child, as mentioned in the previous point, and in general taking care of yourself will mean you’re less stressed and able to be more present while parenting.
4. Separate your feelings from your behaviour
There may be a lot of hurt, anger, or resentment when splitting with your ex. You may also still have romantic feelings for them. This is arguably the hardest part about co-parenting, however, it is essential for you to put your child’s well-being first. As mentioned in the previous point, working through your feelings by talking to friends or a therapist is a great idea to help you cope better with this transition. And will indirectly also benefit your child. Some people also find exercise to be a healthy way to let off steam or others find that saving their kid’s picture as their phone’s home screen can act as a reminder to help encourage them to get through these difficult times.
5. Co-parent as a team
It’s important to be on the same page as your co-parent when it comes to your kid’s upbringing. Kids thrive off of consistency and routine. So make sure to discuss routines, rules, and discipline with your co-parent so that your child understands appropriate behaviours and knows what to expect in specific situations. Don’t compete to be the “fun parent” - as important as having fun is, your kid also needs a sense of security and boundaries, and it’s better for them if both parents can provide this.
6. Create a parenting plan
In addition to the above point, it’s a good idea to sit down with your co-parent and create a parenting plan together so that you’re on the same page in all areas. This gives you an opportunity to anticipate any potential problems/situations before they happen so that you’re better able to deal with them. As well as rules and routines, it’s also important to agree on your child’s medical and financial needs, education and childcare.
7. Make transitions/visitations between homes easier
As already mentioned, consistency and routines are important for children, so switching between homes can sometimes be tricky. To help your kid prepare for these changes, make sure to remind them in the days leading up to a switch that they’re going to be staying with your co-parent and help them with packing in advance so that it’s not a last-minute rush. It may also be useful to keep some basic items, such as a toothbrush, at both homes.
Another helpful tip is to drop your kid off at their other home rather than pick them up. This way you don’t interrupt the child from whatever they’re doing in that present moment and feel like you’re “taking them away”. Establish a routine where after your child is dropped off at your place you cook them their favourite meal or play a particular game together. This will help your kid feel more comfortable with the transition.
However, keep in mind that it’s also important to give your child space if they need it. Or if they refuse to go to one of the parents’ places, listen to them and figure out why. The problem might be easily solvable, such as wanting a specific toy with them. If the reason is more emotional, then it’s also important to talk to your child about it (when they are ready). And don’t worry - most cases of refusal are usually temporary and can happen to either parent, so try not to take it personally.
8. Manage your expectations
Even if you’ve come up with a parenting plan together, chances are differences and disagreements in parenting style (and general lifestyle) will arise. If it is a serious or reoccurring issue then it’s a good idea to revise your parenting plan to include this or make it more realistic. However, if it’s something small that ultimately doesn’t matter then it is probably better to let it go and try to put your focus on your own parenting.
Also remember that “fair” doesn’t always mean “equal”. For example, if you know that you or your co-parent works longer hours than the other or if one of you earns substantially more than the other, then chances are time, money, etc. won’t be divided equally.
9. Be flexible and accessible
We’ve talked about the importance of consistency, however, as we all know life isn’t always predictable. There may be unexpected changes in one of your schedules or there may be an emergency concerning your child. It’s important to try and stick to the schedule you agreed on, however, if there are any changes it’s important to be understanding and give your ex the benefit of the doubt. Having this understanding and respect will also benefit you whenever you need to reorganise something.
Also be flexible with your child’s needs. You may have come up with the perfect parenting plan and of course it’s important for the parents to be in control to give the child a sense of security, however, you can still give your child some agency and ask them for feedback on what they’d like to do (within reason).
10. Use tech
There’s a lot to organise when it comes to co-parenting! This is why using apps, such as Google calendar, can help with organisation and keeping you and your co-parent on the same page with appointments, etc. It can also be useful to have communication in writing, whether through texting or your parenting plan, so that you have “evidence” of what you both agreed on to help hold each other accountable and limit misunderstandings. On this note, it’s also a good idea to have both parents on emailing lists for school, etc. so that everyone is kept up to date.
We hope you found these tips useful and wish you and your family all the best! If you need more advice on how to handle childcare after/during a divorce then you can read more about it here.
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