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What I Wish I Knew About Co-Parenting Much Sooner, According To 12 Men

This hard-won advice helped these men create a co-parenting relationship that works for everyone involved.

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Father and daughter sitting at breakfast table

Co-parenting is hard. Especially at the start, when wounds are fresh and you must reform your once-romantic relationship into something else entirely. There are new schedules, new systems, new, well, everything to figure out. It’s easy for bitterness to seep in; resentment, too. It’s also normal to have some not-so-great moments — to let hard feelings slip out at inappropriate times, to hold an ex’s feet to the fire if they make a small schedule mistake, to refuse to meet in the middle for nothing more than spite. It takes time to heal, to find a rhythm, and to come to terms with the new shape your life has taken.

As dads who have successfully arrived at healthy co-parenting relationships can attest, it’s important to remember your number one priority: the health and happiness of your children. That true north is the guiding principle of a good co-parenting arrangement. What helps it thrive is a combination of open communication, flexibility, understanding, honesty, and good prioritization. Of course, such realizations tend to come a bit later than we’d all like. That’s why we we asked a dozen men to share the wisdom they wish they gained sooner about co-parenting. Theirs is advice that can offer perspective and context to benefit your arrangement, your health, and your kids. Here’s what they want others to remember.

1. Open Communication Is Everything

“As a co-parent who also happens to be a divorce attorney, I’ve learned the importance of open communication as a way to avoid misunderstandings about parenting. So many issues that arise from parenting can turn into messy arguments and disagreements incredibly quickly. The usual culprit behind these issues isn’t one of the parents, but rather communication that either isn’t honest, isn’t tactful, or is selfish in nature. Through my own experience, which I’ve seen mirrored in many of my clients, I realize that there is no downside to open communication. Even if it leads to a fight, speaking openly is the only way to solve a problem. Like I tell my clients, ‘You can’t put a puzzle together if you don’t have all of the pieces on the table.’ Embracing that mindset earlier in my co-parenting experience would’ve been difficult because we were both young, immature, and still learning. But it would’ve led to a faster trajectory of growth for both of us as partners and parents, I think.” - Andrew, 45, Minnesota

2. Routines Benefit Everyone

“As a father of a one-year-old, co-parenting has been an eye-opening experience. It’s been both challenging and rewarding. One thing I wish I knew sooner about co-parenting is the importance of creating a consistent routine. Children thrive on routine, and having a predictable schedule can help them feel secure and grounded. Having a clear routine can help keep everyone on the same page, and allow both partners to manage their schedules with fewer problems.” - Jayesh, 30, Mumbai

3. Flexibility Makes A Big Difference

“As your children grow, their needs will obviously change. It's important to be adaptable and ready to adjust your co-parenting strategies accordingly and as effectively as possible. Flexibility can be helped by maintaining a sense of humor, especially when things get embarrassing or challenging. When these types of moments happen, you need to remember that you’re both working toward a common goal: providing the best possible upbringing for your children. I wish I’d learned earlier that it’s okay to make mistakes, as long as you and your ex learn from them and support each other along the way.” - James, 42, London, UK

4. Search For The Middle Ground

“Like every couple, we’ve had our fair share of challenges in raising our son. We are likely to want to raise our children according to how we were raised. A new co-parent must understand that the desire for certain parenting styles can create conflict, but that there can always be a middle ground for agreement. If I had known this earlier, I would have always looked forward to reaching a consensus instead of insisting on having my way.” - Kobina, 34, Ghana

5. Boundaries Are Essential. So Are Sensible Expectations.

“Establishing clear boundaries and expectations is something most new parents think they’re going to do right away, but really don’t know how. My ex-partner and I were definitely guilty of that, and the early parts of our co-parenting experience suffered because of it. It wasn’t as simple as me being the strict one, and him being the easygoing one. In fact, things probably would’ve been easier if the roles were that defined. Instead, it was more like we both had the same ideas, but weren’t on the same page regarding how to implement them. If we’d sat down and established specific boundaries and expectations for both ourselves and our daughter, at least we would’ve had some direction regarding how to support each other. I think that’s why I wish we would’ve learned that lesson sooner — it would’ve given us more opportunities to provide for and encourage each other as parents, and be more consistent with our daughter as well.” - Michael, 39, New York

6. Don’t Make Kids Messengers

“When my wife and I had our first son, we weren’t in a great place as a couple. Our son was seven and, while I don’t think either of us did this intentionally, we often relied on him to communicate on our behalf. Looking back, it’s clear how selfish and dumb that was. Of course it led to miscommunication between us but, more unfortunately, it put a lot of pressure on our son. If he mentioned something to his mom that I had said, and she got upset, he thought it was his fault. Similarly, if I got upset at something his mother had ‘said’, he would think I was mad at him. It was immature, stupid, and self-centered. I’m ashamed that we were so wrapped up in our own bullshit that we didn’t learn what seems like such a no-brainer of a lesson about co-parenting.” - David, 34, Oklahoma

7. Take Care Of Yourself, Too

“After my wife gave birth to our first child, I thought I had to do everything. I was compelled by this weird combination of love and guilt. And, for a while, I was able to maintain. But then I became exhausted, irritable, and ineffective as a partner and a parent. And that contributed to our separation. Now I’ve realized that a true co-parenting relationship depends on honesty and being there for each other when your children are concerned. We lean on each other, and we realize that we need to share responsibilities in order to make it work. I wish I would’ve known that martyrdom isn’t the way to a healthy relationship with anyone, whether a child or a spouse. Better late to learn it than never, I suppose.” Jay, 40, Ohio

8. Mistakes Are Part of the Process

“My ex and I both could have benefitted from realizing earlier on that despite our best intentions to be prepared, and educated, and level-headed, neither of us had a damn clue when it came to real world co-parenting. If I’d believed that fact sooner, I would’ve saved myself a ton of unnecessary stress and self-doubt. It would’ve been so much easier and healthier to admit we were both just winging it and hoping for the best.” - Jon, 42, California

9. Bitterness Doesn’t Solve Anything

“It can be tempting to bad mouth an ex or an ex’s new partner, but it’s never going to benefit your child. I made this mistake soon after my divorce, because I was still very bitter. My wife left me for someone else, so I would make fun of him in front of my son as a way to make my son laugh, and make myself seem cool. Almost a decade later, it’s disgusting to think about. But, I was immature and desperate. All it did was confuse my son. My ex-wife’s new husband is a genuinely good man. He treats my son well, and my son really likes him. My son loves me, too, so it was understandably complicated for him to hear the things I would say about this other man who was an important part of his life. He didn’t know what to believe. Like I said, I’m ashamed of it now. And, even though I’m not sure it would’ve sunk in 10 years ago, I wish I would’ve learned that all being bitter did was damage more relationships than it helped.” - Danny, 41, New Jersey

10. It Takes Time To Untangle Your Emotions

“The human ego is a weird, dangerous thing to deal with as a co-parent. Once the dust has settled, at least for me, resentment was still very present in my relationship with my ex. And it pained me every time she would do something awesome that I either hadn’t thought of, or had tried and failed at. My self-worth was directly tied to her success, in a very negative way. And that mindset was completely destructive for everyone. Once I got over the initial immaturity, I realized that as co-parents we should be celebrating each other’s parenting successes. Ultimately, they contribute to the health and happiness of our child, right? I couldn’t see that fact during the initial post-divorce madness. I wanted to be the best at everything, and show my ex-wife I didn’t need her. But, even if I don’t need her, our daughter does. And that’s okay. In fact, that’s great. That’s how it should be. I should’ve known and admitted that a long time ago, saved myself some embarrassment, and concentrated entirely on helping my daughter live her best life no matter what.” - Billy, 43, North Carolina

11. Remember Whose Team You’re On.

“Your children’s. That has to be the only team that matters in a co-parenting situation. In the beginning, of course, that’s much easier said than done. But despite whatever happened in your relationship or in court, the second you realize that you’re both on the same team is when you really begin creating a better life for your children. Who cares if one of you gets them a better birthday present? The point is that the birthday present made them happy. If they say they had a better time with your ex one weekend, that’s going to sting. But you can still embrace the fact that your child spent the weekend being happy. When everything is still raw, it’s normal to be competitive. But it’s definitely possible to refocus that energy for the benefit of your children. Celebrate their happiness whenever possible, and everyone wins.” - Gabe, 50, Oregon

12. Don’t Go it Alone

“When you divorce, friends that you and your ex shared are going to pick sides. Not necessarily out of spite or anything, it just seems to be how the cards fall. So, the people that you may have relied on while you were a couple may not be there once you separate. That was what happened in my situation. Instead of trying to rebuild friendships, I became resentful and isolated myself. I was determined to survive and thrive without anyone’s help. And I couldn’t.

My first step in seeking support was joining a therapy group. From there, I met a few dads who were going through almost the same situation I was. These friendships formed quickly and organically, which made me stop and think, Why the hell had I been trying to gut this out on my own for so long? Both my children and my ex noticed that I began changing for the better, and that was because I finally learned that I didn’t have to navigate everything alone. I don’t think a successful co-parenting relationship can exist without support, and I wish I’d known that much, much sooner.” - Russell, 56, Florida

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