At some point in our lives, nearly all of us have experienced the end of a relationship. Whether it’s a soured friendship, a work collaboration gone wrong, or a romantic relationship that has run its course, we all face an eventual parting of ways.
But separated or divorced parents face the challenge of navigating the end of their intimate relationship while simultaneously working on raising children together. Unless there are circumstances that support a more permanent separation, such as domestic violence or unmanaged addiction, or mental illness, co-parents must remain in each other’s lives. For the sake of their children, they have to find a way to put their feelings aside and build a reconstructed relationship focused on different priorities.
As difficult as it may seem at the outset, developing a successful co-parent relationship with your former partner is possible.
The dos of successful co-parenting
Making co-parenting work requires effort and patience. It will take time to adjust to your new parenting time plan. The good news is that the time and energy you spend working on co-parenting skills can benefit you in other relationships in your life.
Find opportunities to be flexible…
Knowing when to be flexible on issues is a good muscle to build over time. As long as your ex is reasonable, flexibility around things like occasional last-minute schedule changes can help you keep your sanity and conserve your energy for the issues that you know really matter. It also helps keep things civil, which protects your child from unnecessary animosity and anger.
But remember: your parenting plan is there to serve your child, your co-parent, and you.
It can be good to work some flexibility into your daily life, but it’s important to ensure that sticking to the parenting plan is the rule and not the exception. Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to give in to every request your co-parent makes. Instead, it means you’re open to a joint decision-making process when the circumstances require it.
…But also set boundaries
It’s important to be flexible, but your flexibility should have limits. Setting reasonable but firm boundaries with both your co-parent and your child helps everyone understand how you expect these relationships to play out within your new family structure. And they’ll help you remain true to yourself and your goals.
Boundaries are healthy, and we all have them (for example, topics you’re willing or unwilling to discuss, times and methods of communication you agree to, events you will or won’t attend, etc.). The practice of expressing them helps with the long-term management of expectations.
You don’t have to be unkind as you enforce your boundaries. In fact, try to remind others of what your limits are in moments of calm before you face situations that feel disrespectful and inspire anger or upset. Maintaining your boundaries without inflamed acrimony can keep minor issues from escalating to major battles.
Provide consistency for your child
Uncertainty can be a source of stress for children following their parent’s separation. And while children are resilient and capable of adapting to change, they can benefit from consistent routines as they adapt to their new normal.
Rules don’t have to be the same at both houses. However, having similar standards for chores, behavior, school and extracurriculars, screen time, curfews, etc., can restore some of the stability your children may be looking for during a transitionary period. Whenever possible, and where appropriate, allowing them to be part of establishing the ground rules gives them a sense of agency and may help them adapt more quickly.
The don’ts of successful co-parenting
Often, the things you choose not to do are as important as those you do. Avoiding the following co-parenting don’ts can help ensure you and your ex play positive roles in your child’s life.
Don’t argue in front of your child
When you can’t agree, do your best not to argue with your ex in front of your child. Your conflict is an adult responsibility to manage, not theirs.
If you can’t talk to each other without animosity, remember that emails, texts, and even talking through your attorneys or a mediator count as open communication. Writing out your argument can help you think through your points and word choice. But remember to temper your words and your tone, because once something is in writing, it can easily become an exhibit or a weapon if the matter escalates and needs court involvement.
Don’t put your children in the middle
Your children should be at the center of your co-parenting relationship because you’re both focused on their wellbeing, but that doesn’t mean they should be in the middle.
Parents who put their children in the middle might:
- Talk badly about their ex or share information they shouldn’t in front of their children
- Ignore the parenting schedule or make their children feel guilty during transitions or off-holidays
- Force children to deliver messages back and forth between co-parents
- Keep important information or concerns about their children from their ex
The consequences of putting your children in the middle of your co-parenting relationship can be damaging. Children who get put in the middle of their co-parents feel forced to choose sides. They also may feel an outsized and unrealistic responsibility for their parents’ happiness.
Don’t jump to conclusions
No matter what relationship we’re talking about, it’s wise to avoid jumping to conclusions.
If your co-parent isn’t meeting your expectations or upholding their obligations, don’t automatically assume you know the whole story. Instead, ask for more information. If you don’t get a response, or if the response isn’t satisfactory, you’ll have saved your emotional energy and negotiating power for when you need it.
And since you never know when the shoe will be on the other foot, if you avoid making assumptions, your ex may be more likely to give you the benefit of the doubt as well.
Work with a New Jersey child custody attorney
If you need help managing or updating your parenting time plan or navigating your co-parenting relationship, the experienced child custody attorneys at Jacobs Berger are here to help.
Make an appointment to coordinate your strategy session with our team.