Co-parenting is the cooperative parenting by exes in the best interests of their child. It involves sharing parental duties. It may also include step-parents should the separated couple seek new partners. It is of utmost importance that the parents work together to raise well-balanced, disciplined children despite any differences that they may have. This involves some level of civility towards each other, which may seem obvious but which is not always the case and many fail at. They engage in constant arguments, belittling and bad mouthing each other and sometimes going as far as alienating the other parent, denying them access to their child and cutting off all communication. This is bad for the kids as they have a right to have a relationship with both parents.
When you behave badly towards your ex in front of your child, or bad-mouth them to your child, you diminish yourself, your ex-spouse, and most of all, you diminish your child. You dent their self-esteem. You put them in the awkward position of choosing between parents whom they love in equal measure and worst still you make them blame themselves for the breakup.
So how then do you make co-parenting work? How do you create an environment that allows the children to enjoy the love of all their parents while not sacrificing important aspects such as discipline?
Realize that you are ex-spouses not ex-parents
Whereas your relationship may have come to an end your parenting is forever. As painful as the breakup is, you will have to put that aside when it comes to matters that concern the well-being of your children. Talk to each other and cooperate on all issues regarding the children such as school activities, hobbies, interaction with extended members of the family, birthdays and other milestones in their lives. Your children desire to have a relationship with the both of you. They don’t care about what happened or who did what to who. Focus on loving them and demonstrating this love by showing up for them. That is all they want
Speak positively about the other parent or don’t speak at all
When parents badmouth each other or use mean and unkind words when speaking about the other parent, the children feel like they are being put down as well. In their minds they translate it to mean that they too are just as bad simply because they are an extension on their parents. Using comparison statements like “you are just like your mother/father” especially in negative light, chips away at your children’s hearts and should be avoided at all costs even when there is truth to the statements. For example if a parent promised to pick up the children to spend some time together, doesn’t do it and the kids get upset or sad about it say something like “I know you’re sad that daddy/mommy wasn’t able to make it today. I am pretty sure there is a perfectly good explanation for it and he/she will tell you the next time you meet “. This is a much better response than “Your father/mother can’t keep his/her promises, this is one of the the reasons why I left her”. Get the gist?
If you really cannot say anything positive then don’t say anything at all.
Have and keep visitation schedules
After separation or divorce it takes time for the children to adjust to the new living arrangements. They will miss their old family and want it back. They will also really miss the absent parent. Parents need to provide some level of structure and predictability in their interactions. Children thrive in environments with structure so try to have this as much as you have control over. Make visitation schedules that allow them to spend time with the parent who is away and try as much as possible to stick to it. Agree on certain routines to be practiced in both homes for example meal times, playtime, bedtime, household chores, curfews and the like. That way both homes are similar to some extent and you can spare yourself the agony of having the kids being spoilt while with the other parent which is a very common issue.
Not all the rules will necessarily be applicable to the other household but both sets of rules need to be honored. It is your job as parents to reinforce them not just with words but in action because children are constantly watching your actions.
Your children are NOT messengers nor are they spies
Your children should really be left to be just that. Children. If you need to convey a message to the other parent and especially if it is a matter that frustrates you do it in person and resolve it without putting your children in the middle of it. Do not send your kids to deliver your messages or pry into the other household’s affairs by questioning them about the other parent and their activities. This puts them under pressure to watch what they say and do in a particular home. They will be afraid to mess up or let you down, which is completely unfair to them and robs them of their childhood and innocence.
Respect the privacy of the other home.
Co-parenting is not easy but you have to make it work for the sake of your children. Putting them and their happiness first is a good way to keep yourself in check as you work through whatever obstacles that come your way.