If you grew up in a divorced home or you are divorced with kids yourself, you have some idea what coparenting is about. Typically, coparenting refers to parents who are separated or divorced who work together to care for and raise their children. It can look many different ways depending on the relationship you have with your ex. Whether you get along well with your ex or you can barely stand to look at them, when you have children together you have to learn how to coparent. Here are 5 things you can do to set up a healthy coparenting relationship with your ex.
1. Understand Your Coparenting Relationship
In order to have a healthy effective coparenting relationship, you have to begin by understanding the type of coparenting relationship you have. In one of the most comprehensive studies of divorce in America, Dr. Mavis Hetherington defines three types of coparenting: parallel, conflicted, and cooperative.
- Parallel coparenting is a lot like it sounds. Both parents work in parallel to each other. They each stay in their own lane and do their own thing. They have little to do with each other, often communicating through their children. There is no coordinated parenting strategy or consistency between each household unless by coincidence. This tends to be the most common type of coparenting according to Dr. Hetherington’s study. The problem here is that kids can take advantage of being the messenger. They can easily manipulate or play one parent off the other. It is also hard to keep up with what is going on with your children as they get older when there is no communication across households.
- Conflicted coparenting is also like it sounds – lots of conflict between parents and poor communication. Parents involved in a conflicted coparenting relationship are unable to put their own (bad) feelings for each other aside to parent their children. These are the situations where one or both parents badmouth the other parent in front of the children and interactions between the parents frequently result in a fight of some sort. The fact is that it is never good for children to hear one parent talk badly of the other, no matter what happened in your relationship with your ex or how you feel about them. It is not your child’s job to be a sounding board or your confidant. They can grow up to be resentful or closed off from parents due to listening to that sort of talk. It is also not good for children to have to listen to their parents fighting.
- Cooperative coparenting is what every separated or divorced couple should be aiming for when they are parenting their children. This is when parents truly share parenting decisions. There is little conflict and good, open communication. Parenting decisions are made together as much as possible and rules (and consequences) are the same (and often follow children) from one house to the other. It is the best-case scenario for a coparenting situation.
There are other experts who call these categories by different names or add additional categories but most people can identify their coparenting situation with one of these three simple descriptions.
It is important to understand your current coparenting relationship so that you can identify areas that you can work to improve and think about what it would take to obtain a coparenting relationship that would be best for your children. What steps can you take to improve your coparenting relationship? Are there ways to have better communication?
In some situations, it is not easy to openly communicate with your ex or share parenting decisions. These may be things that were areas of contention when you were together. Your divorce could have been ugly and messy. For some parents, it may be a far reach to come anywhere close to cooperative coparenting. If you fall into that group, do not beat yourself up.
It is great when parents can come to an arrangement that allows for consistency across households, but the fact of the matter is that children who are raised in a joint custody arrangement have better outcomes than children raised when one parent has sole custody, regardless of whether or not there is some level of parental conflict. That means that having both parents in their lives is a better situation even if you have a conflicted coparenting relationship.
The point here is that knowing your coparenting relationship can help you understand ways to improve it. It can also help you see if there are things you are doing that might not be so great for your children in the long term. Understanding your relationship makes for a healthy situation – for both you and your children.
2. Get Along in Front of Your Kids
You do not have to agree on everything or even always like your ex but in a healthy coparenting relationship, parents make an effort to respect each other in front of their children. In order to do this, you have to communicate effectively and learn how to minimize conflict. If this is difficult, start by trying to remove the emotion from conversations. Talking about upcoming schedule issues, discussing a child’s birthday party, or talking about an issue one of your children is having in one of their classes at school does not need to be emotionally charged. Stick to the facts of the matter.
Again, this effort takes good communication. It is also a good practice to try to stay civilized even when your kids are not around to get into the habit of talking to each other calmly, rationally, and without conflict. Then, if your ex drives you crazy, you can go lock yourself in the bedroom after and scream into a pillow if you need to let out some negative feelings.
This can take time, especially if your divorce was messy or is still new. One of the many coparenting problems you might face is that it can be hard to learn how to navigate this new relationship because it is a new relationship. You dated and were married to this person, but now you are no longer together. It can take time to figure out how to talk to each other without feeling angry, hurt, or even just awkward. But it is possible. Awkward is okay. Not knowing how to act is okay. Give it time. At first, it may be hard but it will likely get easier as there is some distance from your divorce.
Some people have an easy time with this. Not everyone’s divorce is ugly and hard. If you find that you and your ex get along better now than when you were married, you are some of the lucky ones. Getting along in front of your kids should prove to be easy for you. That is amazing.
When you get to the point where you can get along well (and this does not mean that you are best friends or want to hang out or anything), consider doing things together with your children like having Thanksgiving dinner or celebrating your children’s birthdays together. Give your children as many positive experiences as you can and let them see that you both love them and can be around each other even though you no longer want to be together. It is not always easy but it can have a real positive impact on your children.
If it is nearly impossible to get along, an alternative is to spend as little time as possible with each other. Exchange the kids and get moving, for instance. This is better than standing around and getting into an argument. Hopefully, with time, you can learn to spend at least a little time together. You may never be the family that can spend a holiday together, but if you can attend a school function or just exchange the kids without a fight, that is progress!
3. Have and Keep to a Schedule
Creating a schedule for when your children will be with which parent and when transitions are going to happen from one household to another is another way to foster a healthy coparenting relationship. This helps make transitions easy on everyone. Your children know when to expect the transition and both parents are able to plan their schedules accordingly. This takes good communication between parents (see a common thread yet?).
At the same time, it is also important to have the ability to be flexible. Things come up. Schedules change. If there are times that the schedule needs to be shifted, come up with ways to make that shift easy on your children. For instance, if they usually spend an entire week at one house and then switch houses on Sunday afternoon but the weeks need to swap for some reason, consider having them spend a week and a half at one house before switching to their other house for a week and a half. The weeks get swapped but it is done in a way that feels natural and does not cause the children to bounce back and forth.
The same goes for a day when your ex cannot pick the kids up from school or has a work commitment that is going to keep them at work late one night when they are supposed to have the kids. Be willing to pick them up or keep them for that one night.
Hopefully, with this model and good communication, both parents know that if a conflict comes up and a change needs to happen that it is something unavoidable. Whether or not you suspect that when you ask for flexibility that the same courtesy may not be returned to you, being accommodating demonstrates a respectful coparenting relationship. You can also politely remind the other half of this coparenting relationship that you were accommodating when they needed it. At the end of the day, you want what is best for your kids and an extra night with them, while it may make you feel resentful of your ex for lots of reasons, is never a bad thing.
READ MORE: 7 Tips for Dating During Divorce
4. Agree on the Basics When it Comes to Your Kids
A healthy coparenting relationship makes an effort to work together and reach an agreement on what you see as the important things in raising your children. Things like healthcare, discipline, and education are things that both parents and households deal with similarly in a healthy coparenting relationship. This keeps things consistent for children across both households, making transitions easier. It also makes parents’ lives easier because you are not fighting against rules or expectations that are or are not happening at the other parent’s house.
This can be hard depending on your coparenting relationship but is something that you can work towards doing better. Start by focusing on the really important stuff. Do not try to regulate every little thing. If bedtime is a little later or they eat meals at a different time when they are at their dad’s house, let it go. It is more important that they have to do their homework every night or that consequences for breaking a rule are similar if not the same in both places.
A schedule or getting along in front of your kids might be easy but agreeing on some of the basics might prove more difficult than you thought. Do your best. If discipline is something your ex just will not see eye to eye with you on, focus on what you can agree on. Over time, you may be able to agree on more. If not, stay the course when your children are with you. Do your best to smooth transitions when they come back from the other household and realize it is not their fault when they have a hard time with your rules when things are not the same when they are with their other parent.
READ MORE: Why is Parenting so Hard in a Digital Age?
5. Set Boundaries
Cooperative coparenting is great. Being able to communicate, agree on parenting decisions, and be around each other without conflict is so good for your children. That does not mean that you should or need to be talking to your ex about everything going on in your life. Along those same lines, you also should not be getting all the details of their life either. You are no longer the significant other in this relationship.
There is nothing wrong with setting clear boundaries about what you are uncomfortable talking about or when it comes to things that may trigger an emotional response because of your history together. If they start talking about your former in-laws and that is a subject you really do not care to talk about, say so. If they start complaining about work, kindly say that you need to get going. Whatever those trigger topics are for you, be aware of them and distance yourself from those discussions.
How you set these boundaries is up to you. You know your coparenting relationship, so you know if you can look at your ex and say that you would rather not talk about his family or have him offload his bad day at work. If you know that conversation is going to start a fight, then just excuse yourself from the conversation. Use your knowledge of the type of coparenting relationship that you have to guide how you deal with these things.
Setting boundaries for yourself in terms of what you are comfortable with and what you can handle is a super healthy thing to do in any relationship you have. A coparenting relationship is extremely important because your kids depend upon it. That is why this is not a time to put up with something or sit through listening to something that is going to make you upset, angry, or cause conflict that could be avoided by simply saying that it is not something you are capable of talking about right now (or ever for that matter).
FAQs about Coparenting
What does it mean to co-parent?
Coparenting simply means that parents who are separated or divorced work together to care for and raise their children. You are parenting together for the best parenting and child outcomes.
What are the rules to co-parenting?
There are no set rules to coparenting. This relationship will look different in every situation. However, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind: set boundaries, keep a schedule, do not fight in front of your kids, and set a schedule. With these things in mind, you can have a good coparenting relationship with your ex.
What are the 3 types of co-parenting?
The three types of coparenting are parallel, conflicted, and cooperative. Check out number one in the list above for descriptions of each.
What are examples of co-parenting?
Examples of coparenting are going to your child’s school functions together, discussing rules and how discipline will be handled at both houses to maintain consistency, sharing holiday and birthday meals together, having a set schedule for when the kids will be at each household and a regular time for switching homes, and being able to talk to each other about issues with the kids or with your schedule.
Coparenting is not always easy. You and your ex are not together for a reason. Whether or not the separation was amicable or extremely difficult, the fact is that a healthy coparenting relationship with that person is necessary for your children. Trying to achieve any of these 5 things can only help make your coparenting relationship better for both you and your children. Some things take time. Some coparenting relationships never evolve to a place that becomes cooperative. It is okay. Do your best and love your kids. At the end of the day, that is what it is all about.
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