Tips on how to make joint parenting work after separation or divorce
Co-parenting after a separation can be hard. The relationship between you and your ex-partner can make parenting especially difficult. You may be concerned about financial security, child support, burned out by conflict, or worried about overcoming resentment in your relationship. Co-parenting with your ex-partner can give your children security, stability, and a relationship they need with both parents for their well-being.
All too often, parents seeking guidance after a divorce are instructed on what not to do rather than provided ideas on how to co-parent. With these tips, you can remain calm, consistent and resolve conflicts that make co-parenting work.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is having both parents play an active role in their children’s lives. A healthy co-parenting relationship is one in which the parents are able to communicate and collaborate frequently and freely. Healthy co-parenting relationships can have a positive influence on the mental and emotional well-being of the couple’s children. Of course, this is easier said than done. The key to successful co-parenting is separating your personal relationship with your ex from the co-parenting relationship.
Making co-parenting work
- Set hurt and anger aside: If you cannot get along with your ex-partner, reframe the situation by thinking of them as a colleague you dislike, says Christine Carter, Ph. D., a sociologist and senior fellow as UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and the author of Raising Happiness: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. You may not be friends, but you will need to solve problems together. Co-parenting is not about your past relationship with your spouse, it is about your child’s happiness. Setting aside your feelings may be the hardest part about co-parenting, but arguably the most important.
- Maintain open communication with the other parent: Open and regular communication is important in co-parenting. Think about communication through its highest purpose, your child’s well-being. Before contacting your ex-partner, remember that your communication will affect your child, and keep your child as the focal point of every conversation. Commit to meeting and talking consistently about the needs of your children. Cooperative parenting meetings with or without a third-person present is also an alternative is emails, phone calls and text messages are not an option.
- Co-parent together: Cooperative parenting is a team sport. Parenting is full of decisions that two people make together and that is no different after separation or divorce. Aim for consistency in co-parenting. It is okay for children to be exposed to different perspectives. They do need to understand a basic set of expectations that apply at in each home. Discussing consistent guidelines for each household, forms of discipline and schedules can provide a supportive environment for children traveling between two homes. Medical, financial and educational needs should always be made together between you and your ex-partner. Compromise, respect and letting go of minor disagreements can go a long way in successful cooperative parenting.
- Seek out external support and resources: Co-parenting is difficult, and disagreements are likely to occur between you and your ex-partner. Ensuring that your kids are never put in the middle of a conflict with you and your ex-partner is important. Do not use your kids to convey messages to your ex-partner. Keep issues with your ex-partner to yourself and seek external support. Finding local support groups, confiding in friends and even household pets are healthy coping mechanism to separate feelings from behavior. Seeking counseling or online resources for managing your feelings can also improve the co-parenting environment.
- Never place your child in the middle of a disagreement: Children thrive on consistency and stability. Children should never be used to convey messages to the other parent or asked to weigh in on the other parent’s actions. Doing so will force them to choose sides and, worse yet, destroy their sense of stability.
This post was written by Ahlaam Delange, Northwestern University class of 2019, and Joshua E. Stern.