Co-Parenting the Right Way: An Everyday Guide

Happy dad embracing daughter

The marriage between the two of you didn't pan out, but there are kids involved, so you'll be in one another's lives for some time. Co-parenting can be tricky, but with the right mindset, goals, and considerations, it is possible to continue raising your children together while apart.

Co-Parenting Tips and Tricks

Working through a split is going to look different for every family. Break-ups can range from quick and amicable to messy and drawn out. Some children will be entirely unaffected by divorce, while others will be greatly impacted. How you are your former partner navigate the often choppy break-up waters will probably determine the level and severity of turmoil that it has on the kids. The goal for parents should always be to make things easier on the kids, and there are some tried-and-true ways of doing that.

Keep It Out of Court When Possible

It is always going to be easier on everyone involved if the parents can come to agreements through mediation and collaboration rather than litigation. Divorce court is expensive and court decisions can leave one party feeling wounded, defensive, and uncooperative. Deciding on logistics concerning the children often works out better for everyone when parties can discuss and agree on things outside of a courtroom. This will take some give and take from both parties, but in the end, it may work out better. Sure, some relationships don't have the capacity to remain civil any longer, and for those former partners, the court is likely the best option available.

Family figure and gavel on wooden table

Be as Professional as Possible

It will feel strange at first to treat someone you once shared a life with as a work college, but remaining professional with your ex-partner is the best approach possible when it comes to co-parenting. Staying professional means that you are likely to do the following:

  • Make all scheduled appointments
  • Keep emotions at a minimum
  • Speak in a respectful tone

Learn the Difference Between Fair and Equal

Fair and equal are not the same thing. If you place too much emphasis on equal time, then you'll lose the essence of fairness. Maybe it is your weekend with the kids, but your ex is your son's basketball coach. Does it make sense for you to spend a Saturday driving back and forth to practices just so that you have equal time down to the minute, or is it fair and sensible for him to come and snag your son and take him to practice?

Hash out the Big Days

Up until this point, you both had access to your children on big days and milestones like birthdays, holidays, and vacations. With a split comes the division of big days. If possible, sit down with a third party and work out how to best schedule these major events from here on out.

  • Agree on where the children will spend the holidays
  • Decide if birthdays need to be done apart or if you and your families can still hold them on a single day together
  • Discuss school and sporting events.
  • Remember the children. Even if it is uncomfortable for you and your ex to sit at a school performance or a basketball game together, what will be best for the kids? Will it be beneficial for them to have you both present?

Give Effective Communication Another Go

If you are splitting or divorcing, there is a solid chance that communication between you and your ex wasn't so stellar. This is a good time to learn effective communication skills because that element of the relationship won't be going away until the kids grow up and move away.

Give Warning

If you need to address an issue, give your ex some warning. Don't show up at drop-off and spring something huge on him/her. Everyone needs time to prepare and process.

Pay Attention to Body Language

When discussing matters at hand, pay attention to your facial features and your body language. Uncross your arms, unclench your fists, and try to remain relaxed when communicating with your children's other parent.

Watch Your Tone

Yes, you want to yell, cry and scream in their face because you are hurt and mad and emotionally ravaged. Don't do it. Keep your tone as neutral as possible when communicating in a co-parenting situation. Heightened vocal tones will only add fuel to the fire.

Discuss Certain Issues Away From Little Ears

The kids have probably seen enough already. Spare them any uncomfortable discussions moving forward. Try to refrain from yelling, badmouthing, or manipulating manners if you are your ex are not seeing eye to eye.

Learn to Listen

It won't be easy and there will be times that you will want to shut your brain off and ignore anything and everything coming out of your ex's mouth. Fight this urge and learn how listen. Spend time tuning in to what he/ she is saying without trying to create a comeback. The inability to effectively listen is a major relationship barrier.

Little girl feeling sad while her parents are arguing in the background

Be on the Same Boundary Page

At one point or another, one of you will move on romantically. It is important to be on the same boundary page regarding the children. Discuss the kids possibly meeting a new person in mom or dad's life and make sure everyone is okay with it. Be open to your former partner's suggestions, as this new relationship will impact his/her children. With older children, allow them to have some input in when it is time to meet a new person.

Create Schedules When Possible

Scheduling family events and activities are about to become even more intense with two households. Having a master schedule of parenting time, vacations, sports, and schooling will help everyone meet the children's needs more effectively. Consider creating a joint calendar on Google where both parents can add events and access the day's activities.

Get Everything in Writing

Even if you and your ex verbally agree on something regarding the kids, make sure to get it in writing. People interpret information differently, and miscommunications occur all the time. Whatever changes or alterations to former agreements get made, put them all to pen and paper.

Divorced Co-Parent Don'ts

Effective co-parenting also depends on what you don't do.

  • Never withhold information that the other parent should have. You may feel powerful, important, and "in-the-know" while armed with more info, but it is best to be on the same page with any information regarding the kids.
  • Never project feelings for an ex on a child.

  • Don't accuse an ex and solely go on the child's story. Get all the parts before confronting.

  • Don't ever make a child choose sides.

  • Don't try to taint your kid's relationship with their other parent.

    Father Comforting Son

Keep Expectations Realistic

Just because you envision a split going a certain way doesn't mean the cards are going to fall the way you will them. Keep your expectations regarding co-parenting realistic. Just because you and your co-parent parted ways doesn't mean that either of you will suddenly become different people. You will always only be able to control your own words, feelings, and actions. No matter what happens with your split and our co-parenting journey, the single most important tip anyone can give you is to keep the kids at the center of your focus, always.

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Co-Parenting the Right Way: An Everyday Guide