How to Co-Parent

co parenting 1
How to Co-Parent

The ending of relationships takes a toll on your mental and emotional state. Yet it gets even harder when there are children involved. It is not easy to tell them, but there is also planning beyond that. As a parent, when you decide whether to ask your partner for a divorce, you are already concerned about the absence of one parent and how it might affect your children. Especially if it appears that it’s going to be a messy divorce. Can you get the other party to co-parent? If yes, can you co-parent successfully if the other party is challenging? These are all questions that run through your mind. One of the reasons for divorce might be that you never agreed on a joint plan on parenting. How are you going to manage this now?

The period after a divorce or separation is a vulnerable time in a child’s life and needs to be handled with care. This might explain why parents sometimes put off divorce at the expense of their happiness if they fear they might not provide the same parenting quality afterward. Thankfully, several techniques can help you learn how to co-parent even with a difficult ex.

What Does It Mean To Co-Parent?

Co-parenting describes a situation where both parents agree to take care of their children even though they’re no longer sharing a residence. For co-parenting to have a chance at succeeding, it has to be based on a mutual decision to put the children’s’ physical and psychological well-being first. That decision doesn’t happen as easily as it sounds though. According to a study led by Dr. Linda Nielson, professor of Adolescent and Educational Psychology at Wake Forest University, most parents don’t voluntarily agree to this from the beginning until they get a push by mediation or court order. There may be many reasons for the separation in the first place, and one-half might not be able or willing to the children above their feelings and needs.

When parents finally come together to co-parent, they should be careful not to give their child the impression that they might reconcile. Parents whose union ended with some residual feelings are at a greater risk of this. Attending the child’s graduation or games should be just that and nothing more. They have to avoid getting personal, especially in front of the kids, even if they both harbor a little hope of getting back together. This way, they can avoid getting the child to share in their hope.

How Can You Get Your Ex To Co-Parent?

Due to the nature of your relationship and divorce, eventually, your ex might refuse to co-parent. Maybe co-parenting forces them to engage with you, and they don’t want that. But on your part, you want both parents to be involved in your child’s life. What can you do in such a situation? Fortunately, parallel parenting technique allows you both to be involved in your child’s life without being in direct communication.

Though co-parenting is the better technique for your child, parallel parenting can work just as well. You both make critical decisions for your child together, but each of you is responsible for their daily parenting schedules, which are passed to the other party in writing. With parallel parenting, communication is business-like, and nothing personal is shared.

However, there are situations where co-parenting or parallel parenting may prove impossible. Different circumstances result in divorce. If you have an ex who refuses to communicate or compromise, becomes physical, constantly makes inappropriate comments towards you or your child, they might be incapable of creating a healthy environment for co-parenting or parallel parenting. And you have to accept that there’s nothing you can do. They shouldn’t be in your child’s life. However, if they have opinions that are just different from yours, they are not a bad parent, only concerned for your children.

How To Co-Parent With a Controlling Ex

Co-parenting after a divorce or separation is challenging enough without your ex being controlling or narcissistic. The whole point of co-parenting is to continue to provide stability and security even in the absence of a romantic union. So how do you co-parent with an ex who’s interested in co-parenting but can be controlling and difficult? Here are a few co-parenting tips that can help:

  • Recognize the patterns and adjust. A controlling ex will do all they can to get their way most of the time. Or make things plain difficult and then try to blame you for it. Study the pattern of your communication and try to adjust. What makes you go back and forth endlessly? Is there any particular thing that puts extra strain on the dynamics? How do you engage when your ex is making things difficult? Are you responding, or are you reacting? Recognizing and watching these patterns may not completely solve the problem, but it can help reduce co-parenting strain with a controlling ex.
  • Get a co-parenting agreement. Before going to a judge, ask for a co-parenting agreement if you know your ex to be the controlling type. Take your state’s parenting plan and try to remodel it to what works best for your situation. Going to court without doing this would result in your getting the usual parenting plan, usually for normal couples. Remember you’re dealing with a controlling ex here. So study the agreement carefully and look for conditions your ex might use to their advantage. Deal with open-ended conditions that are ambiguous and open to personal interpretation. Your ex might impose their meaning to gain control. Also, consider how you are expected to communicate and what decisions you must make together.
  • Expect difficulties. You’re dealing with a controlling person here, so expect serious challenges. Your ex may spread false rumors about you in your and their cycle as a way to wear you down. Nobody enjoys being seen as the bad guy, which might make you start to question some of your decisions. But don’t let it. Remember, your child is what matters here, and you’re trying to protect them. An excellent way to check if you’re doing the right thing is to ask yourself if you’d make the same decision if you were the lone parent.
  • Tighten the boundaries. People who are controlling are calculative, and they thrive on getting a reaction. Boundaries can help you limit your ex’s reach to you and your child. Whatever stipulations are contained in the co-parenting agreement, make sure they are followed to the letter. You came up with that agreement for an excellent reason.
  • Documentation is your friend. No detail is too little when it comes to documentation. There may come a time when you might want full custody. The information you collected would be of great help. Is your ex skipping pickups? Write it down. Are they neglectful, abusive, or manipulative? Document it.

Consider using a co-parenting app. They help document your day-to-day logistics, and these are admissible in court. The text on these apps can’t be edited or altered in any way because most don’t offer such features.

How To Co-Parent a New-born Successfully

Divorce affects infants and preschoolers more than any other group, especially if the divorce is toxic. This is when infants build secure attachments to both parents, so simply scheduling visits after the divorce is not enough. Separation needs to be minimal. According to Psychology Today, stability, consistency in caregiving routines, and predictability of transitions between parents need to be optimal for infants and young children in caregiving arrangements after separation. For separated parents with an infant, below are some tips on how to co-parent successfully:

  • Avoid long separation. The long separation of an infant from their primary caregiver can result in anxiety and depression. At such an early stage, infants don’t have the cognitive skills to handle that loss. So the best thing for the newborn is for both parents to find a way to be more present than absent even if they don’t live in the same house.
  • A schedule should revolve around feeding and rest. Both these things are important to the baby’s development. If you are planning to breastfeed, expressing might be necessary. This can sometimes present a tough challenge for the breastfeeding mother as the infant may resist when she wants to leave after a breastfeeding session. However, if the child’s well-being is at the forefront, this might be the start of the compromises. Also, in these early years, a sleep schedule will pay dividends, so this should be agreed upon and factored in.

How to Co-parent a Pre-School Successfully

With co-parenting, the whole arrangement is based on both parents’ involvement in the child’s life. This is meant to provide security, stability, and parental attachment. But at that age, both parents are subject to the child’s whims. What happens if the child refuses to visit one parent because they feel like spending more time with the other parent? How can parents handle transition better? Below are a few tips on how to co-parent a preschooler successfully:

  • Focus on the child. Because after most separations, both parents usually still have an axe to grind, it’s easy for one parent to conclude that the other is influencing the child somehow. It is essential to keep this suspicion aside. If your child refuses visitation, focus on them to find out why, instead of making it about you and your ex.
  • Prepare the child for each transition. Try not to abruptly uproot the child and take them back when visiting time is over. Instead, prepare them a day or two before by informing them when they’d be leaving. This makes the child expect and prepare for the transition mentally.
  • Allow the other parent to return the child. When the child spends time with the other parent, don’t just ring the doorbell and demand the child over. You may arrive in the middle of a parent-child special moment, forcing the child to have to leave abruptly causing resentment. Try and be civil and let the handover happen at a natural pace.

How To Co-Parent an Elementary-Aged Child Successfully

Co-parenting an elementary-aged kid is not so different from co-parenting a preschooler. This age bracket needs stability and security as much as their junior counterpart. Below are a few tips on how to provide that stability and security:

  • Inform your child’s school. Your child’s school needs to be aware of the changes to your child’s living situation. This helps put things in sync in case of extracurricular activities, class schedules, and parent-teacher meetings.
  • Establish a routine. Children thrive better with a routine. So be consistent with your routine between both households. Whether it’s making meals, homework, or bedtime. Having a routine in both homes provides stability that has to move between two places already chipped away at. Your child will know what to expect in both homes. Also, it causes quick resentment when one parent hands over an irritable child and says they will need an early night as they have kept them up late the last few.
  • Discipline should be consistent. Teamwork between you and your ex is crucial here. If your child is bearing the consequences of unacceptable behavior enforced by your ex, make sure you follow through even when the child returns to you. If your ex revoked your child’s TV rights, then they shouldn’t watch TV even under your roof. This way, the child wouldn’t escape accountability by simply moving to the other parent’s.

How to Co-Parent a High School Child Successfully

Co-parenting a high school child presents its own challenges. The child is older at this age, and there are pitfalls unwary parents can easily fall into. This can raise stress levels, affecting your child physically and psychologically. Below are a few tips on how to co-parent a high school child:

  • Avoid using your child as a messenger. Due to their age, it can feel harmless to use your child to send a message to your ex. But doing this thrusts the child right in the middle of whatever is going on. Keep the adult exchanges between the adults.
  • Allow the child some agency. At this stage, your child probably has things they are attached to. Things like favorite books, shoes, games, and the like. Let them take them between houses. This helps bring a sense of normalcy and security.
  • Encourage communication between your child and the other parent. Even when you are together with your child, encourage them to communicate with the other parent. Could be a simple text message, a letter, or an email. Doing this will help make the child remain connected to their other parent.
  • Watch your child for warning signs. Watch your child’s behavior as they adjust to this new arrangement. The child may be stressed. Signs could be isolation, spending too much time playing video games, or a drop in school performance. Being proactive will allow you to adjust in helpful ways.

Final Thoughts

The success of co-parenting heavily depends on the parents’ ability to move forward. Moving forward requires some form of healing and compromise for the sake of the child. If parents are still holding on to the reasons for their failed union, it’s bound to make co-parenting even more challenging. It’s also important to remember that you don’t want your child in the middle of you and your co-parent’s issues. Keeping the child’s well-being in mind can help reduce the intensity of your animosity towards each other and work smoother.