Parenting can be an enormous challenge when a relationship ends, but experts say parents can still work together as a unified front to create a consistent, committed co-parenting plan that works for everyone.
As you customize your own unique co-parenting plan, it’s important to provide your kids with consistency and structure, providing the foundation they need to become autonomous, connected individuals, says Karen Bonnell, a divorce coach with more than 30 years of experience working with couples and families. She is the author of several books, including “The Co-Parenting Handbook.”
Being able to effectively communicate is key, as is remaining flexible. No matter what, never put your kids in the middle of a conflict, says Shari Bornstein, a matrimonial and family law attorney at Yacos Law, and mediator on the Supreme Court Roster of Matrimonial Mediators. Shari is also the creator of a co-parenting communication program, GOODTALK4PARENTS at FamilyKind.
Bonnell and Bornstein share 8 time-dividing tips for co-parenting success:
1. Maintain a conflict-free relationship with your ex
Using positive, open communication to solve problems is vital in order to keep conflict at a minimum, Bornstein says.
“The main objective for a healthy co-parenting relationship is to shield children from exposure to parental conflict, sharing information with each other about child-related issues so that both parents remain involved in every aspect of their children’s lives,” she says.
2. Let go of past resentments
It’s vital to let go of feelings of anger, hurt, betrayal and loss, Bonnell says.
“When we’re married, we’re both spouses and parents; when we’re divorced we must resolve and let go of the part of us that was a spouse and strengthen the part of us that was a parent… Parents don’t need to like each other, they need to be civil and love their children more than they need to [get even with] their children’s other parent,” she says.
3. Don’t let emotions cloud your judgment
To come up with an objective parenting plan, keeping emotions off the table is crucial.
“When parents respond solely from an emotional standpoint, the concern to be addressed becomes buried in accusations and a focus on ‘relationship/marital junk’ rather than the children. Shifting toward a business-like relationship can assist with this task. [Parents] should treat each other like they would treat co-workers,” Bornstein says.
4. Hire a mediator to help you compromise
If you’re unable to agree on a parenting plan, outside help may be warranted.
“Keep conflict in the executive board room, and if you can’t resolve within a reasonable amount of conversation, hire a mediator. Co-parents are ‘Co-parenting Executive Officers’ and ‘Co-parenting Financial Officers’ of their children’s lives. Children don’t belong in the boardroom (they are not voting members of the executive team) and parents need to protect children from conflict until it’s resolved,” Bonnell says.
5. Recognize your kids need both of you
Kids need a strong, healthy relationship with both their parents.
“[Parents] need to coordinate within reason with the kiddo’s other household so that children continue to have one childhood – two homes, but one childhood… The best parents recognize that by strengthening each other as parents [and] strengthening their children’s relationship with each of them, their children will grow and thrive in their two-home environment,” Bonnell says.
6. Don’t restrict your child’s communication with their other parent
Being accessible to your ex and keeping the line of communication open supports your kids’ needs.
“Parents need to be communicating and sharing information consistently about their children. Most parents want to know what’s going on with their children as they transition between homes… Children need to know that their parents are communicating and sharing information. This will prevent children from trying to manipulate their parents and pitting parents against each other,” Bornstein says.
7. Resolve disagreements peacefully
You won’t always see eye to eye, so focus on how you’ll resolve disagreements, taking a step back to see things from the other parent’s perspective. Ultimately, show up as a united front for your children, Bornstein says.
“Drawing a line in the sand or standing firm on a position does not leave room for negotiation or generating options to resolve an important issue affecting a child. Parents will be great role models for their children if [they] demonstrate good problem-solving skills. They will raise issues with each other (that neither parent can dismiss), discuss the issue, do any necessary ‘homework’ to bring more information to the table and come to a decision,” she says.
8. Support your kid’s emotional needs
Keep in mind the psychological impact high-conflict interactions have on kids. It’s simply not healthy.
“Children are significantly impacted by toxic/chronic conflict between their parents. Children need to know that [their parents] can heal from the loss of their marriage and can move on and parent them with love and understanding – understanding that children deserve to love each of their parents out loud [and] freely regardless of what home they’re currently residing in… Healthy parents embrace their children’s whole life,” Bonnell says.