- Take Some Time Alone. The best advice we’ve ever heard came from a therapist speaking to two people just beginning the process of learning to co-parent as a relationship ended. The advice was: “You haven’t done or said anything to each other yet that can not be forgotten or overcome, but if you keep being in each other’s lives, you probably will.” She then instructed them to only communicate as they absolutely must (and only regarding the children) and to save big decisions or discussions for their time meeting with her. She said they should not attempt to have ANY sort of relationship with each other (even a friendship) until they were at least 6 months into their co-parenting journey. This was good advice. Feelings and emotions are never higher than when a relationship or marriage first ends and no good decision was ever made during a time of heightened emotions.
- Little Pitchers Have Big Ears. Children understand (and hear) far more than we give them credit for. No matter your child’s age, level of understanding, etc., just do NOT speak ill of their other parent in front of them. “But what if…” – No. No matter what if, no matter how justified you feel. Just don’t do it. And don’t allow anyone else to violate this rule either. You may have to have some uncomfortable conversations with your sister, father, best friend, etc., and you may know that they are coming from a good place of wanting to protect you, but let them know – when your children are in your home, no one will badmouth their other parent.
- Don’t Involve Third Parties. If you really take this list to heart, it should be a MINIMUM of 6 months into co-parenting before you think about dating or any other manner of bringing a new third party into your child’s life (remember #1? You’re taking some alone time). Even if you are years into co-parenting and everyone has moved on, don’t bring a new partner and their opinions, etc into your co-parenting relationship. Some days it takes everything in the world to get you and your co-parent to agree about something related to your kids – do you really want to start factoring yet another person into these discussions? If you want to talk decisions/conflicts/frustration over with a new partner, feel free, but don’t do it when your kids are around (see how it all keeps coming back together?) and don’t bring up what your new partner says/thinks/does with their kids to your co-parent.
- Remember, They’re Still a Human. This one can be very difficult, especially at the beginning of the lifelong dance known as co-parenting, but remember – you likely once either thought that you would spend a significant amount of time with your child’s other parent or possibly DID spend quite a bit of your life with them. No matter how or why your relationship ended, at one time you probably did care about that person. Try to remember that, and the good times you spent together when you find yourself at a point of potential conflict over parenting.
- Remember, You’re Still a Family. On your days of highest conflict about sleeping schedules, after-school activities, food, etc., keep in mind the reason for all the stress. There are tiny people who you both care very deeply about, and who care very deeply about both you and your co-parent, and THEY are the reason you keep working on things. They have a family that may be different from most of the ones they see in books, movies, etc, but it’s THEIR family. Don’t take that away from them. Don’t force them to choose. If at all possible, find ways to do things together with your kids, even if it’s just both attending one of their school events, games or birthday parties. Try as best you can not to take the joy out of those events by forcing your little one to worry about whether their parents are going to get along. Just do it. Get along. Be the grown-ups your kids need.
It may sound simple when you summarize things into a nice list, but we know co-parenting like a boss requires lots and lots of work and support. If you or someone you know is having co-parenting issues, we’re here to help. Drop us a line and we’re happy to point you to some great resources or meet to discuss your legal options around parenting.
*There’s one important caveat here. The only way co-parenting can really work is if both parties involved are willing to try to do it like a boss. If you are in a situation where the other party is abusive to you or the children or is completely unwilling to work with you, these tips, unfortunately, aren’t going to provide much help. Often in situations such as that, legal action is your only remaining option.