What Helps A Co-Parenting Relationship Thrive

New to co-parenting? Here’s what to keep in mind about creating a working relationship with your ex that benefits everyone involved.

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For whatever reason, it didn’t work out with your partner. But you’ve both agreed in one way or another to make your relationship succeed in a different form: as co-parents.

While there are certainly hurdles to overcome, and it will take time to get a feel for the rhythms of the arrangement, co-parenting enables you to both be a huge part of your kids’ lives and provide them with the same levels of happiness, security, and love they deserve.

Whether your divorce was amicable or full of aggrievement, when you focus on making sure your children are as loved and cared for as possible it’s easier to come together and co-parent effectively. It’s also important to familiarize yourself with what goes into a successful co-parenting arrangement and helps couples in the same situation thrive.

What Makes Post-Divorce Parenting Successful

Transitioning to the role of co-parent is, of course, a big change. The good news is that this process is an evolution. It may start off hard but it’ll eventually ease up. What you decide early on will likely change as life flows, too.

Researchers in a 2022 study pointed to three consistent markers that helped couples in high-conflict divorces create a strong co-parenting relationship and help their kids cope better:

  1. Consider each other parents for life
  2. Act in the child’s best interests
  3. Manage disagreements with empathy and flexibility so children don’t feel the emotional backlash

When co-parents treat one another’s role as lifelong parent with mutual respect, it significantly decreases the drama. Research confirms that, if not managed properly, children who lose time with one or both of their parents experience increased emotional distress and decreased emotional security — risk factors you can mitigate by assuring they have plenty of bonding time with you both.

Of course, this may be easier said than done. “Poor communication is a major factor in the breakdown of many marriages, which is why divorced parents frequently have difficulty communicating effectively,” says, Dolly Ferraiuolo, LCSW. “Co-parents must develop far more honest and effective communication techniques and patterns for the benefit of the children.”

This honest and effective communication, adds Shandelle Hether-Gray, LMHC, could be a text thread, an email, or periodic calls to check in on the child and how they are doing or what they need. There are plenty of co-parenting apps that help organize shared schedules and keep communication open as well. As a guiding light, always keep your decision-making and conversation rooted in the needs and experiences of the child.

Handling Co-Parenting Conflict

Children of all ages are sensitive to the effects of a divorce. However, kids take the lead from their parents. If the children see their parents adapting well, it’s likely that they will follow suit and model healthy coping strategies. Plus, it’ll help relieve any responsibility they may feel and free them up to just be kids.

So, even when it’s hard, co-parents must do their best to put any messy issues aside and deal with them when the kids aren’t around. Be respectful of each other and maintain active communication – such as sending photos of the kids on your custody days — and discussing parenting and scheduling issues directly. It’s crucial to keep them in the loop with serious romantic partners or big lifestyle moves you’re thinking about, too.

Also important is to never use your kids as go-betweens for anything or have them keep secrets. Kids hear everything so if they do hear you talking about your ex, make sure you’re not bad-mouthing them. It may have unintended consequences later on. If you want to disagree, privately hash it out.

Instead, try to go the extra mile with compliments. Remember that positive feedback creates reciprocity in your dynamic and it’ll pay off later. Tell your kids how much you appreciate your co-parent (“It’s so great that your mommy took you to the play place last week, what was your favorite part?”) to show that you still value their role. It’ll go a long way in making sure they don’t have complicated feelings about loving you both.

Perhaps you didn’t have the best romantic relationship, but you can make up for it by being positive co-parents for the sake of the kids.

Creating And Maintaining Structure As Co-Parents

Routine and stability are crucial elements for kids. Experts emphasize the importance of smoothing out practical matters to ensure kids feel a semblance of stability wherever they go.

“A child dealing with the back-and-forth shuttle might be experiencing an array of emotional reactions; they might feel stressed over practical concerns like organizing belongings or reactive to the change in environment,” Hether-Gray says. Parents, she adds, can negotiate this change by ensuring cohesiveness and consistency between households.

This could look like coming together about and being consistent with behaviors, such as homework before dinner, bedtime, chores, and discipline practices. “If different rules or expectations exist in a house, communicate the inconsistency and why it is important in this house,” she says.

Create a shared calendar to figure out the fine details of everything from day-to-day schedules and vacations to playdates and parent-teacher conferences. When it makes sense, involve the kids and let them into their schedule to give them a sense of agency. You don’t want to bring them into big adult discussions but let them have a say in their extracurricular activities, how they decorate their new room, or how many points they can score on a chore wheel for allowance money. This kind of control will help them roll with the changes better.

4 Signs A Co-Parenting Arrangement Is Working

As you’re figuring this stuff out, you and your co-parent’s parenting styles won’t perfectly align. That’s OK. The little details can slide, but it’s important to unify on the big issues (sleep, school, health, diet, etc.) and meaningfully tackle any disagreements.

Co-parenting takes time to work. One thing that’s helpful to remember is that It’s not about which parent has the right approach. Rather, it’s about what approach is best for the specific development needs of the child at hand. If you’re hitting a wall, don’t be afraid to bring in a professional to mediate.

“If this type of conversation is difficult to imagine with your co-parent, consider reaching out to a family therapist to discuss parenting styles and help reach a cooperative decision,” Hether-Gray suggests.

While healthy, successful co-parenting arrangements differ from couple to couple, they do share similar DNA. Here are four signs a co-parenting arrangement is working.

1. You Feel Respected

Let’s say you put all of this into practice. Maybe there was some stress figuring everything out along the way, but when you land at a place where you both mutually approve of the way you parent the kids, you’ll feel a big sigh of relief that all of your best-laid plans are working out. That’s where you want to be.

If you’re able to come out of the transition mutually respecting the way you independently raise the kids, Hether-Gray says you can rest assured you’re on the right track. It’s always a positive feeling knowing your kids are in good hands when they’re with your ex and vice versa.

2. There’s Flexibility When Needed

You share a weekly, monthly, or yearly calendar that accounts for time on and off with the kids, activities, all major holidays, school closures and more. The kids have adjusted to a regular routine and things are moving along. One day, perhaps your ex is unexpectedly sick and can’t take care of the kids that weekend. They ask if you can take the kids for the weekend so they have time to rest. It seems like a small action but your kids will be able to feel your generosity, which helps as they go between your places. If you’re able to step up and adjust the schedule to help them out, Hether-Gray says, this flexibility is a constructive sign.

3. Communication Is Open And Consistent

If your kid is having a rough day at school, it’s a great signal when you can reach out to your ex to promptly discuss your concerns, provide essential information, and show your kids you’re a united front about how you’ll care for them. “Maintaining open lines of communication is essential for building connections and managing expectations,” Ferraiuolo says. “Parenting a child consistently is made possible by effective communication between the parents.”

4. You Have A Good Work-Life Balance

You show up to all of their school events together. You demonstrate genuine support and happiness when your ex dates someone new. With each situation, it’s clear. The kids are number one. No matter what. Despite any lingering resentment, insecurity, and anger, you put it aside for your kids. At the end of the day, it’s not about what’s easy for you, it’s about making sure that your kids feel stable and safe when you’re around each other. That means no pettiness.

Moving Forward

Co-parenting won’t be perfect. The relationship you have at the start won’t be what it is later down the road. It evolves based on learnings. Even when you do all the right actions – communicate properly, get on the same page, show respect to your ex, and so on – you’ll still experience plenty of big issues along the way.

What matters is that you talk it out and create a forward-looking, trusting relationship together that can evolve. It may feel impossible, but with small actions each day, you may be surprised at what the relationship can be.

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