By definition, co-parenting merely means “to share the duties of parenting a child”. In reality, this word means so much more. It’s not only the participation of parenting, it’s when a family splits in two, and can still mutually and beneficially work together in raising their child in a more positive way.
Divorce, or the general breaking-up of a family, can rattle chains, build up walls, and cause a lot of pain. But over time, I hope you’re able to set aside your hurt from the past and look forward to what’s more important – the well-being of your child.
Co-parenting only works when both parents realize how incredibly beneficial it is in raising happy, well-rounded children. If you have the guts to co-parent successfully, your children are the ones who will benefit the most. They’ll be happier, more relaxed, and feel more secure in their “abnormal” life. (If you don’t think you’re ready for co-parenting, give parallel parenting a try first.)
When it comes to my daughter K, her father and I divorced when she was 4 years old. One of the driving factors in our decision to split was not wanting our daughter to be raised in a household where her parents hated each other, where betrayal clouded the air, and depression was constant. It was no healthy way to live.
But divorce also has a way of destroying a childhood. It’s no secret how hurt children can be from divorce when they consider themselves part of a “broken home.”
But what if it wasn’t broken?
What if parents who were no longer together, found a way to work together as a team?
That is co-parenting.
The opportunity to not only give your children a better life, but to also make your relationship with your ex and his family, so much better.
And that’s what we’re all about, right? Being a better person, a better parent, and raise a better generation.
How to Co-parent Successfully
Communication is key, not only with the other parent but also with your child. The lines of communicating must be open in order for this new relationship to work, and so that your child is raised consistently and securely.
Find the method of communication that works best for both parents. In my own experiences, texting became a big no-no. Every time we’d text each other, the other parent would take it to mean something worse than it was. This only escalated things into heated arguments. Instead, we’ve opted to speak more on the phone and in person. This helps us understand each other’s meanings and communicate better.
For you and your child’s other parent, try whatever channel works best for you, and go from there. You may start out emailing each other only, and graduate to phone calls. Once you get used to that, you may even opt for conversations over coffee, and eventually schedule entire-family dinners.
It may not always be feasible for you and the other parent(s) to be friends, but effectively communicating to each other is important no matter how close you guys are.
Put yourself in the other’s shoes. For some of you, this may be easier said than done. It’s part of being a compassionate human, being able to imagine ourselves, our feelings and reactions, if we were in someone else’s situation. If your ex does something to upset you, says something inconsiderate, or acts in a way you just don’t understand – try to imagine how you would act, if you were on their side of the coin. Does it make more sense now?
It’s easier to understand each other when you open up with how you’re feeling. Kristen shared her feelings about being a stepmom with me not long ago, and it really opened my eyes.
Be mindful of different parenting styles. Not everyone parents the same way. Natural circumstances, how they were raised themselves, financial means, different religions, these all play a part in your ex parenting different than you. And that’s okay. Just because you’re not the same, doesn’t make either of you wrong.
As long as your child is safe and happy, there’s no reason to say anything about it.
#3 Admit when you’re wrong
You’re an adult now, and it’s time to grow up. Part of being a mature adult is being able to admit when you’re wrong. In any relationship, this is important, and that goes for the co-parenting situation, too.
Arguments may happen, but when you’re wrong about something, admit it. This helps you build trust in the relationship, and shows that you respect them and yourself enough to admit when you’re wrong.
Make sure you’re not committing these 7 sabotaging behaviors – they may be why you haven’t been successful yet!
#4 Stay on the same page
This coincides with communication. Both families absolutely MUST stay on the same page. I don’t mean you have to parent alike, and I don’t mean you always have to do the same routine or activities. What I mean is that you must communicate and keep parenting along the same guidelines. This is particularly important when it comes to discipline.
You’re not just raising your son or daughter, you’re raising someone’s future spouse, parent, best friend, mentor, employee, boss, or whomever they grow up to be. And because you desire your child to develop into a productive, influential, contributing member of society, they must learn the value of discipline. It’s a vital tool to help mold them into a good person.
Communicate with the other parent to talk about what kind of person you both want your child to grow into. How do you want to develop them into that person? What kind of behaviors do you agree should be reprimanded, and how? What misbehavior constitutes the need for corporal punishment?
Your child shouldn’t get in trouble for something at one house, but get away with it at the other. This lack of consistency leans toward learning to break the rules instead of learning how to follow them, which won’t help them as an adult.
#5 Mutual trust and respect
Your families may disagree on things, you may not get along when in close quarters (hopefully that gets better!) but when co-parenting, you must trust one another. Trust that you both always have your child in mind. You both love your child. You both want what’s best for them. And neither of you would do anything to hurt them.
Trust also leads to mutual respect. Respect each other’s needs, each other’s wishes. Respect each other’s beliefs and time together. Your child needs both houses and both parents in their life. Realizing that, and respecting that you both want and need time with your child, will make life better for everyone, and help the lines of communication stay open and positive.
#6 Remember, you’re on the same team
As I mentioned before, you both love your child. We all know this. You both want what’s best for them.
Realize that you’re both just two sides of the same coin! You’re on the same team, y’all!
That’s why working together and co-parenting successfully is so important. Can you imagine if the Green Bay Packers decided that all they were going to do is argue, instead of working together toward an end-goal?
They’d lose every time!
The same goes for split families. Work together as a team, and your children will grow and develop into successful, well-rounded human beings.
#7 Your child’s ignorance is bliss
Don’t pit the child against the other parent(s). Ever.
In fact, don’t ever include your child(ren) in any of the arguments. There will inevitably be disagreements when there are two families raising the same child. But remember that you both desire the same thing – what’s best for your child.
Keep your kids out of the conversation. They don’t need to hear the arguing, and they don’t need to shoulder the worry that Mommy and Daddy aren’t getting along. As far as they’re concerned, their parents get along, they both love them and they get to spend time with both of them.
They also should NEVER feel as though they have to choose a side. Your child loves the both of you (and their stepparents, if they’re lucky enough to have some!), and that shouldn’t change just because the two of you remain less than friends. It’s not your child’s fault you hurt each other. But it is your fault if you expect your child to hate them for it.
#8 Make an effort
Even if the other parent isn’t stepping up, be the bigger person. Extend that olive branch. The only way this more positive relationship and parenting strategy is going to work, is if you make the effort to get it to work.
Take the first step in reaching out a hand to your child’s other half. Ask to meet for coffee one day, you’ll buy. Sit down and discuss your hopes for your child, and your hopes for the parent and stepparent relationships.
Take the first step and set the wheels in motion. And once started, don’t give up.
#9 Don’t Give up
It can be challenging at times, to stay respectful, to keep understanding, to get in a working-together mindset. But it’s absolutely worth the trouble. And once you get momentum going, sailing will get a lot smoother. Don’t give up at the first sign of another confrontation. That doesn’t mean co-parenting isn’t working. Learn to take the challenges as they come, and keep pushing forward.
Your child is going to thank you for it.
#10 Don’t look back
The past may be full of broken friendships, expensive lawyers, angry texts and misunderstandings, but don’t dwell on the past. Looking back at what was doesn’t help you move forward. So put the past out of your mind and focus on what could be better.
Keep working together. Develop that positive relationship. And never look back.
One day, when both houses have made it through successfully co-parenting, you may even become bosom buddies (like Kristen and me) with the other parent(s)! You may find you have a lot more in common than you realized!
One Big Happy Family
While not everyone is lucky enough to be friends with stepparents, every “broken” home should work toward co-parenting successfully. When both houses work as a team, your child’s family won’t feel so broken, after all. It’ll feel even bigger!
Kristen and I makes sure to always tell K how lucky she is to have so many parents that love her. She doesn’t get the normal 2 moms and dads – she gets 4! And with all of us working together, she gets to feel more secure, more at ease, and more loved than ever before.
PS: One of the biggest pain points in shared parenting is enforcing house rules when your child lives in two homes. But we found a way to make it work!