In the challenging journey that divorce can be, getting to the end of the process only to still be in regular communication with your co-parent can feel overwhelming. It’s important to remember that no matter how hard it feels, coordinating with your co-parent to raise happy, healthy, and emotionally stable children is feasible.
The real question that we know people just like you keep asking themselves is how. The good news is we have answers for that. To help, we’ve put together ten co-parenting tips to help guide you as you navigate this next stage.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is a form of post-divorce child-rearing where both parties work together to make decisions about issues that affect their children’s upbringing. From their children’s health to their social lives, co-parents communicate and cooperate in making decisions about what’s best for their children, who form the crux and focus of the co-parents’ relationship.
Co-parenting involves interaction between parents, often outlined in their child custody agreement. Some parents don’t begin their post-divorce lives co-parenting smoothly, but most move in that direction over time and with practice.
What is the best way to co-parent after divorce?
Having a parenting plan, which is usually a child custody plan the parents have agreed on, can be immensely helpful in transitioning to post-divorce co-parenting. In a time of change, when a new “normal” is being forged for everyone, the structure of thought-out parenting arrangements can go a long way.
The best way to co-parent after divorce is to put your children’s needs first. This can be a lot harder than it sounds, especially if you feel you’re repeatedly making attempts to communicate or compromise, but your co-parent isn’t.
Ultimately, however, the co-parenting relationship is about your children, not your co-parent.
Top 10 tips for successful co-parenting
1. Children come first
Co-parenting is about your children. Put their needs first, especially when it comes to fostering a sense of stability. Is that hard to do? Absolutely. Most divorced parents say it’s the hardest part of co-parenting, especially when you and your co-parent don’t agree about what those needs are or how to satisfy them.
Prioritizing your children’s needs is a common thing to lose sight of in a moment of frustration, but if you feel you’ve lost your bearings, be kind to yourself and re-prioritize. Take the conversation, email, text, or even your own thought-process in a different direction—or take a break, and come back to it another time.
2. Communication is key
Teamwork doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Working together means communicating, and adjusting your communication style with your co-parent to something that more closely resembles a co-worker relationship will take practice.
Recognize where you’re both at and plan accordingly. If face-to-face communication is derailing your conversations to the point where your relationship with your co-parent becomes the focus, take a break from in-person communication.
Decide on an alternative form of communication with your co-parent, such as text or email, or consider using an online parenting communication tool.
Most importantly? Choose your words wisely. You’re both attempting to achieve an outcome that’s best for your children, so forget the heated exchange and focus on facts. Keeping emotion out of the conversation is hard, but critical.
3. Venting and children don’t mix
It’s a good idea for both co-parents to avoid badmouthing the other in front of their children. You both have a lot of power in your children’s lives and speaking poorly of the other parent will have a negative impact, no matter how subtle you think you’re being.
Instead, use your support network for venting. Friends, siblings, therapists, and other adults can help you blow off steam—when your children aren’t around or in earshot. (Be careful about texts and messages too—children who can read and have access to your electronic devices often stumble upon things better left unsaid.)
4. Keep a bird’s-eye view
While your children are in your co-parent’s home, you won’t necessarily have control over what’s happening. This is a hard thing for many parents to accept, especially in cases of a messy divorce where co-parents still feel very much at odds or when one parent questions the other’s caretaking skills or abilities.
However, hashing out every minor detail isn’t always the solution, either. Instead, try to come to an agreement on the really important stuff to your family—and the routines, schedules, and things that matter to your children. Having consistency when it comes to things that are particularly important for your little people will do more good than frittering away energy on negotiations over low-stakes differences that don’t have a direct impact on your family.
5. Make the parenting schedule a priority
Try not to adjust the basis of the parenting schedule once it’s set until you and your co-parent have mastered many of these other key tips, or until you’re able to do so with ease. Yes, things come up at the last minute, but one of the key goals of co-parenting is to build up your child’s sense of stability.
6. Don’t shun parallel parenting—if your family needs it
Everyone’s post-divorce road is different. You may have a friend or sibling who was gracefully able to transition into co-parenting, but that doesn’t mean it will or won’t be the case for you.
Instead, be honest with yourself about how co-parenting is going at this point in time. Plenty of people start off with intentions of co-parenting but need to temporarily shift to parallel parenting, in which parents operate independently, with minimal or no interaction.
If your Marital Settlement Agreement says that you’ll operate as co-parents, shifting to parallel parenting will require agreement from your co-parent or a written modification to your agreement. For some families, this can be the right choice, and with time, many of those same people make the return to co-parenting.
7. Make time for self-care
While a divorce can ultimately be a good thing, in the short term, it can of course be extremely hard. It’s also hard to shift roles from spouse to ex-spouse to co-parent, and it can take some time to learn how to communicate and act in those different roles.
It’s important to make time for taking care of yourself. For some parents, that may look like exercise, time outside, a creative outlet, or time with friends. Other parents may need to curb negative self-talk, which can affect our moods and decisions more than we realize.
8. Remember you’re the parent
Having a support network during and after a divorce can go a long way toward maintaining a healthier mental baseline. Friends and relatives can listen and commiserate when you need it. But often, those supportive people are reacting to you in your role as the “ex” and may not understand what it’s like to co-parent with your former spouse, making decisions you both feel are in your children’s best interest.
Your friends, siblings, and parents may have opinions about everything from your child custody agreement to what successful co-parenting should look like, but too many outside critiques can easily become the opposite of constructive. Remember to filter the advice you’re given, taking in what works and leaving behind what doesn’t.
9. New partners—when and how do they fit in?
Seeing your new partner spend time with your children is an exciting and important moment for any parent. However, simply being in a relationship with someone new doesn’t mean that that person gets “parenting rights.”
Even if they’re clearly a member of your household and parenting seems like the next step in bringing your relationship closer, take your time. It’s important to have a real sense of stability in this arrangement before your new partner takes on parenting roles.
More importantly, you and your co-parent need to set expectations about how, when, and IF these new partners fill any role in making decisions about your children, no matter how difficult this conversation may be.
10. Practice empathy
As best you can, try to make empathy part of your co-parenting relationship. This doesn’t mean that it can or will always be directed toward your co-parent. Early in the post-divorce process, it may only be possible to practice empathy toward your children—imagining how they feel in a moment and how your behavior might impact that.
With time, however, you may be able to extend empathy toward your co-parent and yourself. Working your empathy muscles can help lead to more effective communication and therefore more successful co-parenting.
Need to modify a child custody arrangement in NJ?
Co-parenting rules and structure are typically codified in a child custody agreement. However, life changes quickly, especially when children are involved. Even agreements drafted with careful consideration may eventually need to be updated.
A child custody agreement provides an important structure in a co-parenting relationship, but being committed to an outdated structure can be wearing on everyone and lead to unnecessary challenges.
The family law attorneys at Jacobs Berger, LLC have extensive experience in working with co-parents on all kinds of child custody modifications. We understand that each family’s situation is unique and we take pride in listening to and working with clients to find solutions that make sense for their families.
If you’re considering modifying your child custody agreement, contact us today for a strategic planning session. Our knowledgeable attorneys can guide you through the process and give your family the support and structure you need.