7 Keys to Healthy Co-Parenting
Parenting kids has become more complex today than ever before. The digital explosion of entertainment and social media has created layers and layers of options, opportunities, dangers, and decisions that we must navigate as we do our best to love and lead our children well. Add to all this the challenging dynamics of dealing with another parent who lives in a different home with different beliefs, values, and expectations, and the whole process can feel totally overwhelming. And it’s especially hard when you and your Ex are disagreeing and butting heads. And if it’s hard on you, think about how hard it must be on your kids, who desperately need you to work it out with as much cooperation and respect as possible. Well, take a deep breath and take heart. Because I’ve got some simple, practical, real life tips to help you navigate the difficulties of c0-parenting with sanity and balance:
- Keep your kids’ well-being first and foremost, above your own personal feelings and preferences. Regardless of how right you think you are, and how wrong you think their other parent is, you’ve got to remember the only person you can ever really control is your self. Are you still speaking and making decisions out of your beliefs about what is best for your child… or are you allowing your self to turn this into a power struggle and personal grudge match? Always come back to asking, “How will MY choices, actions, and words right now affect my child in the coming days and beyond?”
- Aim for consistency between households as much as possible, but DON’T sacrifice a basic climate of respect and peaceful cooperation in your efforts for consistency. Yes, it is much better for our kids to have similar rules, values, and routines in both of their homes. It nurtures a foundation of security and clarity in kids’ hearts and minds. As much as it depends on YOU, make this possible for your precious children. But if your zeal for consistency between households leads to a climate of tension, blame, drawing kids into unhealthy conversations about their other parent, or escalating legal action, then you have made life far more burdensome and difficult for them in the process. For the sake of your kids’ well-being, be wiling to relax and cooperate on some things that aren’t the way you like them, if it will promote a climate of more peace and security for them.
- Plan regular co-parenting conversations regarding how each of the kids are doing physically, emotionally, academically, spiritually, etc. If you make these important conversations a regular and predictable occurrence, they are much more likely to be constructive and helpful than if you wait until problems or frustrations have escalated to near-crisis level. For younger children, aim for monthly co-parenting discussions – more frequently if you have a child with special needs. For teens, quarterly talks along these lines should be sufficient most of the time. Of course, any time something new comes up, be proactive in communicating with the other parent. Depending on the nature of your relationship and personalities, these regular conversations may take place face to face, by phone, or by email.
- Utilize email or an app like Our Family Wizard for communication, planning, and record-keeping of time and expense. DON’T USE TEXTING or other instant messaging apps for communicating important information or discussions. This form of rapid-fire communication is ideal for drawing immediate attention to a critical situation or email. But for regular communication exchanges and discussions, texting is way too likely to lead to emotional escalation, miscommunication, or lost information. Email is a much better method, especially if dealing with your Ex is difficult. And if you don’t know about Our Family Wizard, check it out as soon as you finish this article. It is an outstanding tool for facilitating communication, planning, record-keeping, financial cooperation, and more.
- Focus on giving your kids the healthiest experience you can give them at YOUR home – where you are actually in charge. This is not about competition with your Ex. Not at all. It’s about remembering YOUR HOME is the only place where YOU are really in charge. So your kids need you to focus primarily on what is going on there, and how YOU are doing as a parent. Don’t spend time and energy complaining about or comparing with their other home. And don’t fall into the trap of overcompensating in your home for what you believe are deficits in their other home. Instead, emphasize how life works in your home, and WHY you do life the way you do. Take responsibility for discussing the morals and modes of living you want to see your kids adopt for life, and be sure you practice what you preach. Your kids need you to be a leader, not a reactor.
- Continue to read good parenting books and discover other parenting resources to help you stay on a healthy path for your kids. There are so many great books, websites, podcasts, classes, and other resources to help us on our journey of parenting. Some good ones are: ScreamFree Parenting, Parenting with Love and Logic, and Smart Stepfamilies. Continue to be an eager and open-minded student of parenting and living well, even as you actively teach and lead your kids. And any time you find a resource that is particularly helpful for you, for goodness sake, share it with your kids’ other parent! Just don’t be preachy or judgy about it. That won’t help anyone, no matter how “right” you think you are about it.
- Utilize a professional as needed. If concerns or conflicts reach a high enough level, you may need to reach out for help from a qualified professional, such as a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Don’t let pride, stubbornness, or cost stop you from reaching out for help when your kids need you to get it. You don’t have to do this alone. Reach out. Your kids are counting on YOU!