Divorcing when you have kids requires some special considerations to protect their mental health and well-being. Assuming that their other parent is willing to remain in the picture, you will most likely be negotiating some kind of co-parenting relationship with your ex.
But first: what is co-parenting, exactly?
Typically co-parenting happens when both parents are willing to work together to problem solve, attend important events or school functions together, and strive for low-conflict communication. (You may have also heard of parallel parenting, which is a different parenting model. Parallel parenting is generally implemented when parents cannot interact with each other without tension or conflict.)
Co-parenting means you are prioritizing your children’s well-being, even over any disagreements or distrust you may have with your ex. The goal is to show your kids that they are loved by both parents and to create a stable and supportive environment for them to live and thrive in.
Negotiating a successful co-parenting relationship can feel overwhelming—especially at the beginning when emotions are still running high and you’re navigating the divorce process. But with commitment and a few ground rules, it’s definitely possible.
Here are my 7 tips to help you create a successful parenting relationship with your ex:
> Make co-parenting a business relationship
Any successful business venture requires impersonal, comprehensive, and timely communication, and you can apply that same thinking to your co-parenting relationship. In this case, the “business” is making sure that your kids have everything they need. Good communication doesn’t mean you have to share every detail of your life with your ex, but it does mean you should pass on any critical information that they may need.
> Put your kids first, always
No matter how difficult your ex is being or what they have done, the new priority when communicating and negotiating should be your kids’ best interest. Ask yourself how your decisions will affect them and try to act accordingly. Whatever you do, don’t ask your kids to be go-betweens. Talk with your ex face-to-face when issues arise and send messages to them or transfer money yourself.
> Set consistent rules between households
This might be challenging, depending on your lifestyle and individual habits, but try to maintain similar routines, expectations, and consequences at both households. Sometimes this means having a conversation with your co-parent and finding a middle ground. Your kids will be happier and feel more secure when they know what to expect, regardless of which home they are in.
> Establish relationship boundaries for yourself
When you’re new to a co-parenting relationship, it can be tricky to figure out what the rules of engagement should be. It can help to think ahead of time about your comfort levels and what you’re willing to accept. I frequently suggest these rules to my clients:
- Avoid getting drawn into verbal arguments when discussing something;
- Keep conversations focused on information that pertains to your kids;
- Remember that you are not required to share any personal information with your ex; and
- Walk away from conversations that you aren’t comfortable with.
> Plan and organize how to share information and handle activities
Who will drop kids off or pick them up from their activities? And who will pay for fees? Will they stay on your medical insurance or your ex’s? Try to anticipate questions like these and plan for them ahead of time to relieve stress and frustration. And if you’re primarily responsible for organizing these things, try to keep your co-parent informed about your kids’ activities and needs.
> Maintain a neutral stance in front of your kids
It will inevitably happen… your ex will allow the kids to do something, eat something, or behave a certain way that you never would have allowed, or they will say something negative about you that the kids will then relay back to you. When this happens, take a deep breath and refrain from badmouthing your ex. To your kids, this person isn’t a frustrating ex, but a loved parent. It might be challenging, but do your best to be supportive of your co-parent’s role in your kids’ lives.
> Let go of your need to control things
One of the biggest adjustments new co-parents have to make, especially women, is realizing that they can no longer control all the small decisions related to taking care of their kids, and this can cause a lot of conflict. Letting go can be hard to do, especially if you were the person in charge of doing everything before the split. At the end of the day, try to trust that your co-parent loves your kids just as much as you do and will do their best—even if it’s not exactly what you would do or want.
As a loving, caring parent, you want what is best for your kids. In fact, trying to eliminate conflict between yourself and your ex so that it didn’t affect your kids may have been a factor in your decision to divorce. Successful co-parenting is one of the best ways to show your children that they are still loved and will be taken care of, even after you and your ex split up.
Need help negotiating a co-parenting relationship with your ex, or navigating something else in the divorce process? I’d love to help you. Feel free to reach out to me or follow me on Instagram for practical tips and advice.