Need somewhere to start? Here are our top ten tips for a successful co-parenting relationship
1. Communication is critical
If you cannot communicate well as parents, co-parenting is not going to be possible. Communicating means listening to the other person and responding appropriately. Keep calm even if you don’t agree with what they say. Work out what each of your triggers are and know when to walk away if you’re being pushed. Use neutral language and put yourself in the position of the children at all times. If you see things from their perspective and keep them at the forefront of your mind, you will have a shared goal to work towards together.
2. Set some parameters
Agree the “how” of your interactions. Face to face is a good idea, if you can manage it. Set a time and place for discussions, so they don’t spill over into other areas. Decide on one channel to communicate about the children – consider an app like Our Family Wizard. You also need proper boundaries and to have some space and time on your own. If one of you is bombarding the other, you are going to end up in an argument. Of course, there needs to be a means of getting hold of the other person, but is it necessary to speak to them right away? Modern communication lends itself to an information overload, so where that is applied to a relationship that may be delicate, it can cause it to fragment.
3. Leave your baggage behind
This is a tricky one! This relationship is not the same as the one you had before. You have to turn the page, and that means looking forward and not back. Your anger, hurt and resentment won’t help your children. File away what’s gone before. Visualise your children as adults watching you interact now with your partner. Is this what they want to grow up listening to? There are no winners in this new situation, but your children can be the losers if you don’t make it work.
4. Agree an approach
Do you have the same parenting style? Are the house rules going to be the same across two households? If not, it will be confusing for the children. It’s OK for there to be small differences as long as the children know where they stand. You will have to accept that your other co-parent may have a different view on some issues. You do need a united front on the bigger issues like introductions to new partners, otherwise you’re asking your children to bridge a gap between you, which is not fair on them.
5. Consider the children’s views
Children are people too! Older children can be consulted (they would be if you were in a court process), but they should not be pressured, and they shouldn’t decide. Asking them to pick a side is like tearing them in two. Having a grown-up conversation together, or asking someone else to elicit their views (a mediator trained to consult children or therapist, for example) is one way of making it easier for them. Empower them to speak freely and without fear and they will reward you with honesty and trust.
6. Pick your battles
Remember, you’re the grown-ups! There will be moments when you feel exasperated with the other parent because they aren’t being sensible. But the ebb and flow of your relationship is going to be about compromise and trying to respect the other person’s point of view. If you go to the wall on every issue, life is going to be exhausting for you, for your partner and the children. It is also about the example you want to set. Your relationship is the template for every adult relationship the children have in later life. Do they really need to see you disagreeing and name-calling?
7. Clear the air
You need a mechanism to do this, but whatever it is, it should not happen in front of the children. Choose a time and place which is going to be less stressful and where you can concentrate on the other person’s point of view without distractions. Consider Mediation as a forum for exploring differences of opinion. Sometimes just having a third party in the room can be all you need.
8. Write a plan
A parenting plan is a written document setting out the details of how you intend to co-parent. It can be a great foundation for this new chapter of your journey as parents. It can cover not only the child arrangements (time split, Christmas, Easter, half terms, summer) but also general principles for the way you want to parent, how you might choose a school, what you want to do about issues like screen time or social media.
9. Ensure you have support
Parenting when separated can be tough! You’re going to be on your own for periods of time with the children. Who is going to support you? Friends and family are great but don’t rule out some professional support, be that therapy/counselling, from a mediator to both of you, a parenting counsellor or even a family lawyer for legal and practical advice. You’re going to hit bumps in the road, for sure, so make sure you have someone to lean on when you need it.
10. Be kind to each other
You did a great thing bringing your children into the world. If you focus on them and are grateful for them, you’ll find it easier to be grateful to your co-parent. Don’t lose sight of what this is about – raising happy and well-adjusted children and bringing them to emotional maturity. If they see you two interacting like grown-ups, you’re making your life easier as they are far more likely to develop into emotionally mature adults capable of conflict resolution and good communication.