Creating a safe, healthy environment (or two, really) for your child or children is important, especially when they spend time in two different homes. The term co-parent is being tossed about more and is more accepted, but it is still difficult to come up with a good set of guidelines for co-parenting and becoming a good co-parent. While a child specialist can help with learning to co-parent during the collaborative divorce process, it takes hard work and possibly some professional assistance to create a working relationship with an ex.
Basic Rules for Learning to Co-Parent Successfully
Children’s Needs Come First
This may seem obvious, however, the whole goal of co-parenting is to ensure that the best interests of the child(ren) are being met. When stress or old negative patterns arise, it’s important to push through to keep the child(ren)’s needs front and center. If your divorce has been traumatic or if you are still dealing with issues with your ex or your previous relationship, speaking with a therapist can help create a safe space for you to discuss lingering issues without fear of having the kids overhear you.
Set Ground Rules
A time-sharing agreement serves as the ground rules for co-parenting in that it highlights the obligations and responsibilities of each party. At the same time, you may need to create your own ground rules regarding your new arrangement. This can include how dropoff or handoff occurs, which items live where, how things are communicated, etc. Some of this may be included in your time-sharing agreement, while other aspects may not. When creating ground rules or adjusting them to fit your situation, keep in mind how you would like to be treated and what can help you be the best parent you can be.
Open communication is important. Let your co-parent know if you’re running late or if your child has been having nightmares. Anything that you would like to know about your child(ren), they, too, may like to know. Find a method of communication, whether it’s a detailed email or a brief text, that works for both of you and allows you to both do your jobs as co-parents effectively.
Stick to Agreements
Whether you and your spouse crafted a time-sharing agreement or a judge imposed on, it’s important to understand your expected role and to meet your obligations. This goes beyond knowing which weekends or days you are responsible for the child(ren)’s care. Time-sharing agreements can also contain information regarding financial and decision making responsibilities. Understand what falls under your purview and make a point of sticking to the agreement.
If something happens and you need a temporary change to the agreement, talk to your co-parent. If you need a major change, it may be necessary to seek legal advice to ask for a court order modification.
Be Flexible When Possible
Sometimes an opportunity arises and you may be asked to be flexible with your co-parenting or timesharing agreement, or you may as your former spouse to be flexible. It may be as simple as switching a weekend or allowing your spouse to skip or attend a game. Whatever the case, as long as it is not a frequent thing, being flexible can help strengthen your co-parenting relationship by showing that you are putting the needs of your child(ren) first.
Cultivate a Network
It takes a village, they say. After a divorce, this couldn’t be more true. While in the past, you could call your former spouse to pick up a child because you were running late, that is no longer an option. Connecting with friends and families and building a network so you can get help when you need it —whether in the form of a babysitter or a shoulder to lean on—can make life a tad easier as you work through your transition.
Co-parenting takes commitment. Learning to co-parent is no easy task—it’s an ongoing endeavor that will take time and patience. However, for the sake of one’s children, it’s a worthwhile investment.