When a divorce is finalized, it’s normal to never want to see your ex again. There’s the heartbreak, of course, and probably some nascent anger, too. The biggest issue is wanting to start fresh and avoid constantly confronting a failed relationship. When children are involved, seeing your ex is an unavoidable outcome. There’s no way that such a scenario won’t be tough, but there are hundreds of thousands of couples who, in joint custody arrangements, have worked out co-parenting relationships that not only put the kids first but also allow them to exist amicably.
So, what does successful co-parenting (joint parenting, shared parenting, or whatever you’d like to call it) look like? While no arrangement is exactly the same, there are factors all successful post-marriage partnerships share — like the seven below. Will every day be easy? Of course not. But by keeping these things in mind, you’ll eventually mold something that works for everyone.
They Keep to Consistent Parenting Styles
You and your ex may have your differences, but when it comes to parenting, you have to be on the same page. From academic expectations to rules around socializing and going out, you both need to adopt one philosophy and stick to it. When one parent is a strict disciplinarian and the other one flaunts the rules, it can create chaos in the home. “This polarized style of parenting dynamic can lead teens to drugs, alcohol, and delinquent behaviors,” says says Dr. Fran Walfish, a Beverly Hills family and relationship psychotherapist and author of The Self-Aware Parent who’s also a regular guest on The Doctors. “This is one of the reasons why parents need to agree on a mutual parenting strategy and implementation.” Anne Mitchell, Esq, a Family Law Attorney and the founder of DadsRights.org, agrees. “Just as you were partners in life while married, you still need to be partners in parenting,” she says. “This has the added benefit of the children being much less likely to be able to play one parent against the other, which nearly all children of divorce try to do.”
They Maintain Some Structure
Divorce has already upended your lives and the lives of your kids, so it’s vital to maintain organization in post-divorce life. Maintaining the same bedtime, dinnertime, and homework schedule will go a long way to keeping things on as even a keep as possible. “The more stable your child’s life and routine the less separation anxiety he will suffer,” explain’s Walfish.
They Understand That Communication Is Key
As much as you might not want to, it is vital that you and your ex stay in touch and communicate about what is happening in your kids’ lives, what they need from each of you, and what you can do for them. In addition, it’s doubly important that this communication occur away from the kids, as well as away from friends, neighbors, and in-laws who can negatively impact the situation.
“I’ve never yet seen a situation where well-meaning friends and family, or jealous next partners, aren’t at least to some extent telling a [parent] how bad the other person is, or how they shouldn’t ‘let them get away with that,’ or whatever,” Mitchell says. “This is where co-parent counseling comes in. Many find this sort of counseling invaluable as it gives them a place where it is okay and acceptable for them to communicate, for the sake of the children, without the outside influence of the children, second mates, friends, and family.”
They Leave the Kids Out of It
As tempting as it might be, hold your tongue around the kids and never, ever run down your ex around them. “It’s crucial to remember that your children are keenly aware that they are the product of both mom and dad,” says Mitchell. “So hearing bad things about the other parent is actually telling the child that one-half of them is ‘bad.’ It doesn’t take much to realize how hurtful —and damaging — that is to a child.”
They Work Hard to Keep Things Civil
An obvious follow up: don’t argue with your spouse in front of the kids either. “For the sake of your children be courteous, polite, and civil with your ex,” Walfish says. “I can’t tell you how many teens throw themselves onto my office couch hour after hour painfully complaining about their parenting fighting.” Overall, it’s vital to keep the kids’ feelings at the forefront of everything you do throughout this process, as they are the ones who are going to be the most affected. “Every child wants, wishes, and longs for their mothers and fathers to stay together,” says Walfish. “The breakup of the family unit is traumatic – even in the most amicable divorce. Kids have a range of feelings that can change at any given moment.”
They Leave the Baggage at Home
Don’t take dropping off the kids at your ex’s as an opportunity to open up old wounds. “It can be hard for exes to separate out their co-parenting relationship,” says Mitchell, “because interacting with someone with whom you had, at one time, a romantic or married relationship does bring up old dynamics, which is another reason why co-parenting counseling can be so valuable, as it really helps the parents to get to that place of just co-parenting.”
They Take Time for Themselves
This is one item that isn’t often talked about, but it’s more important than parents may realize. When you’ve dropped your kids off with your ex, it means you have something few parents ever do: free time. “Separated/divorced parents often feel like they can’t have a life outside of the children and work, as if it will somehow be used against them, or make them look bad,” says Mitchell. Co-parenting cooperatively absolutely gives each parent some time to decompress, to not have to worry about carpools or getting the kids to activities, and generally be an adult. This is the time to go out with the girls or the guys, to take yourself to a grown-up movie that you want to see, or even to just revel in the quiet of the house.” Take advantage of thtat and you’ll be primed to be the best parent you can be for your kids.