Co-parenting is always the best option for your child. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for 2 former spouses who had a traumatic breakup. But if it starts out difficult, does co-parenting get easier?
Co-parenting does get easier over time as tensions between former spouses subside, and a routine falls into place. It helps to put the needs of the children first, create a co-parenting plan, and set clear boundaries. But abuse, substance abuse, or a narcissistic ex can make co-parenting worse.
Even if you’re in a less-than-ideal situation, you can learn strategies to mitigate any challenges you may be facing. In this article, I’ll share some advice on making co-parenting easier.
I’ll also shed light on how certain circumstances and negative feelings can make the process all the more difficult.
The Importance of Making Co-Parenting Easier for All Parties Involved
People end up co-parenting for many reasons.
Perhaps you were once married but are now divorced or separated. It’s never easy to go through a breakup, especially when children are involved. Not to mention you may be harboring hurt feelings over the relationship or split.
Alternatively, you might’ve never been in a steady relationship with the other parent but are now responsible for raising your child (or children) together.
It is possible to make the situation work for all parties involved in either case. However, it will take dedication, patience, and emotional maturity from you and the other parent. You know that you need to put your kid’s needs first, and you want to do what’s best for them.
Unfortunately, research on child psychology and the impact of parental divorce indicates that separation can have long-lasting consequences. The ACE Study (Adverse Childhood Experiences Study) lists parental separation as one stressor that can affect children into adulthood.
However, if you co-parent successfully, and strive to have a good relationship with your ex, you can give your child the best chance to grow up psychologically resilient and have a positive future.
Children look to their parents for financial or material aid and emotional and psychological support. Therefore, it’s essential for you (and your co-parenting partner) to be emotionally healthy and mature so that you can model this behavior for your child.
Of course, life in itself and parenting can be stressful, frustrating, and challenging, even in the best of circumstances. And it can be doubly hard and create major issues, if you, the other parent, or your child suffers from a mental health condition.
But so long as your kids are safe and loved and are not exposed to abuse, you can help them thrive by learning how to co-parent positively. There are many different parenting styles. And those differences can create serious issues between co-parents.
Co-Parenting vs. Parallel Parenting
It’s helpful to define what co-parenting is and how it differs from parallel parenting.
You are in a co-parenting partnership if:
- You can both come to mutual agreements on how to best parent your child.
- Your child can easily spend time in either household.
- Interactions between you and the other parent are respectful and cordial.
- You can all voice your concerns and problem-solve together.
- There are only minimal conflicts between both parents.
- You agree to compromises for your child’s well-being.
If your relationship exhibits the following, you could be parallel parenting:
- You and the other parent are unable to problem-solve together.
- You engage in hostile arguments and conflicts.
- Rather than sharing parenting strategies, you keep your parenting lives separate.
- Information-sharing or phone calls or texts about your children are kept at a bare minimum.
- You cannot come to mutual agreements or stand spending time together.
- One parent does the bulk of the work, while the other contributes less.
- The co-parenting custody agreement was arranged by court orders.
Please continue reading to learn how to make co-parenting easier and what circumstances can worsen it.
How To Make Co-Parenting Easier
Your child will benefit significantly if you and the other parent are emotionally stable and willing to solve child-related concerns together.
Therefore, by going through the following list, you’ll be equipped with a plethora of healthy, bonding strategies that are guaranteed to make this often complex process much easier.
Care for Your (and Your Children’s) Mental Health
Taking care of your mental well-being will ensure you have enough to give to your children, too. (the same reason why you must put on your oxygen mask first in planes!) Running on empty will lead to increased strain, so seek therapy, medication, and support from loved ones if you feel like you need it.
It could be a good idea to set up family therapy for all of you. This will give everyone involved a chance to express worries, frustrations, and grievances in a safe, non-judgmental space.
If you see signs that your child is struggling emotionally, create a caring environment where they feel comfortable talking to you. Alternatively, arrange for them to speak with a therapist in private. A safe relationship with a caring adult is a protective factor for at-risk children.
Here are some reasons kids may suffer emotionally after their parent’s separation. They might:
- Blame themselves for your breakup.
- Feel like they don’t see the other parent enough.
- Worry about future family events, such as weddings and graduations.
- Feel sad to see you fighting.
- See a rejection of the other parent as a rejection of themselves, too.
- Be envious of other children whose parents are still together.
- Feel like your needs take greater importance than their own.
- Worry about finding a loving relationship of their own.
- Have trouble adjusting to your new partner if you have one.
Thankfully, there are many resources on navigating co-parenting and raising well-adjusted children, such as The Co-Parenting Handbook by Karen Bonnell on Amazon.com. This insightful book features tips and strategies to co-parent in the most beneficial ways.
Respect Your Child’s Needs
As a single parent, you are responsible for taking care of your child’s physical, financial, social, and emotional needs. It’s not called “the toughest job in the world” for nothing!
By listening to your child’s concerns and arranging support for them, they will learn that their feelings are important. It will also help them to become resilient. Making space to hear and validate your kid’s worries will significantly help them in the future.
Even if your children are coping well, they will still want to have a healthy relationship with their other parents. You’re no longer romantically involved with your ex, but your child shares a strong bond with them.
It’s usually a life-long bond, driven by attachment and a child’s emotional needs.
It can hurt your kid to see you and your ex fighting or bad-mouthing each other. You may not realize it, but when you criticize your ex, your child could interpret that as you attacking them, too, if they are biologically related.
To co-parent positively, always keep your child’s best interests in mind. Keep tensions low, and don’t expose your kids to harm. Don’t use your child as a way to “get back” at the other parent or throw them in the middle of heated arguments.
Breakups are hard. Parenting can be complicated. But any feelings of resentment, anger, or bitterness need to take a back seat. Your child’s needs must take top priority if co-parenting is to work well.
Additionally, it’s best if you live in close proximity to your co-parent.
Your child will have an easier time when they know that you’re both accessible to them. If this arrangement isn’t possible, try setting up a group chat where you all can discuss day-to-day topics together.
Additionally, if your kid is between the ages of 3 and 7, they may be comforted by this book about living with separated parents: Living with Mom and Living with Dad by Melanie Walsh on Amazon.com. The book features the story of a young child happily living in two households.
Create a Co-Parenting Plan
A great way to create consistency in your lives is to create a mutually agreed-upon parenting plan.
This plan will list all the different aspects of childcare and how you will approach them. Sit down with the other co-parent and your children and try to give everyone a voice throughout the plan’s creation.
Things to cover in the parenting plan include:
- Who the children will live with. Who will your kids live with the most if you have joint custody?
- Visitation schedules. When and how often will your kids see the other parent?
- Division of responsibilities. What are your expectations? Division of responsibilities can become a contentious issue, so write it up to avoid resentment.
- Education. Where and how will your child be educated? Take into consideration future education as well.
- Parenting styles. If you adhere to a specific type of parenting, how will that work split across two households?
- Special events. Who looks after the kids during holidays, birthdays, and other special events? Will you alternate year by year or allow your kids to spend time with both parents on the same day?
- Finances. How will you share financial responsibilities related to your kids? If one of you earns significantly more than the other, carefully consider how to balance your contributions.
- Healthcare. What are your expectations regarding your children’s physical and mental health?
- Conflicts. How will you deal with disagreements or changes in preferences?
- Discipline. As parents, how will you discipline your kids? Be consistent with dealing with conflicts and discipline (nobody should get preferential treatment).
Set Firm Boundaries and Expectations
Once you’ve completed your parenting plan, you need to agree to stick with it.
It might be handy to keep the list somewhere in both households where everyone can see it. Kids thrive best when there’s consistency in their lives. So, make sure you all stick to the plan.
Setting healthy boundaries increases your mental well-being and empowers you. Therefore, it’s best for everyone involved to stick with clear boundaries, especially if relations with your ex quickly slide into bitterness and resentment.
It could also be helpful to include your boundaries in the parenting plan. This will keep everyone on the same page and help you feel calmer and in control.
Make sure everyone involved clearly knows your limits and expectations, including the children. You want the best for your kids, but make sure you have time to practice self-care too. By showing your children that you respect yourself, they will learn to respect themselves too.
In my case, my ex and I have a legally-drafted agreement addendum to our divorce decree that spells out our parenting plan. But she still tries to change it!
And I was very generous in what I agreed to give her in the divorce, so it’s sad for me to see her so focused solely on her own needs and frankly just being greedy.
So have a clear agreement, and if you can draft that with your divorce attorney, even better!
What Makes Co-Parenting Worse
Co-parenting can be tough for many people.
But if you’re faced with any of the below circumstances, you could be experiencing a world of stress, hurt, and frustration. In many cases, you might end up parallel parenting rather than having a true co-parenting dynamic.
Your ex doesn’t have to be your best friend, but it’s ideal for divorced parents to at least find positive things about each other and strive to put the needs of the child ahead of their own.
- One of you has a history of being abusive or abused. Unfortunately, this is quite common among co-parents. Abusive people often come from backgrounds where they were victimized. You and your kids need safety and support.
- One parent has a substance abuse problem. Dealing with drug or alcohol addiction strains many relationships. It can also make it hard for a person to fulfill their duties.
- Either parent has a severe mental health condition. Co-parenting can be challenging if your ex is affected by untreated mental illnesses, such as personality disorders, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, or major depression.
- You live far apart. It can be challenging to know if your co-parent fulfills their responsibilities and keeps the kids safe when you live far apart.
- One co-parent is uncooperative or disrespectful. Tempers can flare up quickly when one parent refuses to comply with the other’s wishes or doesn’t take their responsibility seriously enough. Co-parenting can fail if you don’t respect each other.
- There’s no consistency. When it comes to successful co-parenting, consistency is key. If one parent starts changing over time, a lot of stress and conflict can accumulate.
- You don’t like each other. While it’s understandable that you may dislike your ex, you need to get along with each other well enough to co-parent effectively.
- There are financial strains. If you are struggling with money, parenting with your ex can lead to worries, stress, and resentment.
Please consider speaking with a therapist or a trusted friend if you are struggling. Psychotherapy can equip you with the tools and strategies that work best for your situation.
Remember that the only way you can excel as a parent is to take care of your own mental needs first.
A healthy co-parenting relationship is one where both parents:
- Respect each other and their kids.
- Fulfill their obligations.
- Set clear boundaries and expectations and respect them.
- Take care of themselves and their children.
- Agree on important aspects of child-rearing.
- Create an environment of safety and support.
No person, relationship, or situation is perfect, and co-parenting can undoubtedly test you.
However, by sticking to a parenting plan that you all agree with and maintaining a positive co-parenting dynamic, you can help yourself and your child’s life.
When in doubt, consult a family law attorney in your area.