Coparenting after a divorce or separation is not an easy task. It requires effort, cooperation, and effective communication between both parents in order to provide the best experience for your child. If the idea of coparenting is new to you, though, you might not know where to start to achieve this kind of relationship.
To help with that, explore five essential steps to coparenting successfully. We’ll touch on these steps along with ideas on how to improve the coparenting experience for you and your child, as well as resources like apps that can assist you in your journey. With any luck, these tips will help us create a positive and nurturing environment for our children’s growth and development.
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The act of coparent refers to the shared responsibility of raising a child between two ex-partners. This concept goes beyond just financial upkeep; it encompasses emotional, mental, and physical care as well.
The goal of coparenting is to ensure the child’s sense of security, satisfaction, and overall well-being. It’s about putting the child’s needs first and ensuring they have access to the love, care, and guidance they need from both parents. Essentially, in order to coparent successfully, you have to be able to put aside personal differences to prioritize the child’s best interests.
There are key principles that underpin successful coparenting. At the heart of these principles lie cooperation, mutual respect, and managing emotions. Cooperation refers to the ability of both parents to work together in making decisions that affect the child’s life. Mutual respect is about respecting each other’s roles and contributions as parents. Lastly, managing emotions entails keeping negative feelings, such as anger, resentment, or guilt, from affecting the child.
The journey to successful coparenting involves multiple steps in creating a conducive environment for the child. Some ideas to keep in mind as you do this include:
Communication acts as the cornerstone of every relationship, and coparenting is no exception. Clear, open, and respectful communication ensures that expectations are set, issues are discussed healthily, and the child’s best interests are prioritized.
Practical ways to improve communication can include active listening, where each parent takes the time to fully comprehend the other’s views without interrupting. Setting boundaries, such as adhering to agreed-upon discussion times and respecting each other’s private lives, can also bolster co-parenting communication.
Conflicts are inevitable in any relationship, and coparenting comes with a specific set of disagreements. Instead of letting these escalate, it is imperative to have healthy conflict resolution strategies. Techniques such as addressing issues directly, discussing calmly, and seeking a third-party mediator when necessary can help maintain harmony. Common ground may be hard to find at times, but a good place to start (and to come back to if things get heated) is that you both want what’s best for your child.
Effective conflict resolution also involves creating a safe space for open dialogue. This provides both parents with the opportunity to express their concerns, frustrations, and expectations without fear of judgment or retaliation. It’s also beneficial to keep in mind that it’s not about winning or losing an argument, but about finding a middle ground that best serves the interests of your child.
Another technique that can be helpful in conflict resolution is using a problem-solving approach that centers on finding solutions rather than dwelling on the problem. Approach the conflict as a shared problem that affects both of you and your child. By focusing on solutions rather than problems, you can engage in a more positive and productive conversation.
Balancing schedules and shared responsibilities is often a challenging aspect of co-parenting. It’s hard not to feel like you’re being put under more stress than is fair sometimes, especially when you’re inevitably stuck being the “bad guy” to your child by enforcing certain rules and responsibilities. Strategies such as maintaining a shared calendar or creating a coparenting plan can help manage time effectively and ensure that responsibilities are fairly divided. It’s crucial to keep the child’s activities and schedules as consistent as possible to avoid confusion and conflict.
Thoroughly discussing and agreeing upon who is responsible for certain aspects of the child’s care can also create a smoother coparenting relationship. This can include decisions about who will take the child to doctor’s appointments, who will help with homework, and how other daily tasks will be managed. Financial responsibilities are also included here, as it can be easy to feel like one parent isn’t paying their fair share if another is constantly footing the bill. It’s vital to keep this division of responsibilities equitable and fair to prevent feelings of resentment or overwhelm.
Technology can greatly assist in parenting your child, and coparenting is no exception. Several apps offer features like shared calendars, expense logging, and communication platforms. This can enhance coordination and reduce potential conflicts.
OurFamilyWizard, Cozi, and Talking Parents are some popular options to look into that have many of the features discussed before plus many more, with different free and paid options depending on what you need. Using one or a combination of these apps can alleviate a lot of the stress associated with maintaining open lines of communication and successfully coordinating shared responsibilities.
The introduction of new partners can often be a precarious situation when you coparent one or more children. It’s integral to have open discussions about the impact this can have on your child and to ensure any changes are introduced gradually and with sensitivity. It’s also necessary to treat your former partner as the independent person that they are and avoid coming off too strongly or as if you’re simply jealous or resentful.
Remember that your child’s feelings and responses should be taken into account during this transition as well. Provide them the space to express their feelings and reassure them that both their parents love them and that this change does not affect the bond between them and their parents. Make sure they understand that this new person is not a replacement for their other parent but an additional person who cares for them.
Having disagreements is a part of life, but coparents can be particularly susceptible to fights. If the nature of your split was less than amicable, it can often be difficult to remain level-headed and rational when problems arise. As such, finding ways to handle disagreements and differences in a mature and thoughtful way is important for coparents.
For starters, it’s necessary to navigate disagreements without exposing your child to conflict. Modeling good parenting is a part of being a parent, so constant fights between you and your ex-partner in front of your child are not a healthy way to conduct yourselves. Being willing to compromise, showing empathy and understanding, and always prioritizing your child’s needs help to manage parental differences effectively.
One approach to handling disagreements and differences is to incorporate structured communication techniques. This can include setting a specific time to discuss issues, using “I” statements to express feelings without casting blame, and taking necessary breaks if conversations become too heated.
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In addition, it is vital to agree on certain ground rules concerning important parenting decisions such as education, health, and discipline. While it’s not necessary (or even possible) to agree on everything, a fundamental alignment on major parenting values can minimize conflicts. If you both have different ideas about what is best for your child, that sort of thing needs to be addressed early in your coparenting journey to avoid potentially major problems down the line.
It might also be worth considering using a neutral third party, like a counselor or mediator or even just a mutual friend, to aid in resolving ongoing or significant disagreements. They can provide unbiased guidance and help both parties see the other’s perspective.
Remember that it’s normal to have differences, and it’s more about how these differences are handled than the differences themselves that impact your child. By employing effective conflict resolution strategies, you can model constructive disagreement management and create the best life possible for everyone.
Sometimes, coparenting can become overwhelming, and it’s okay to seek professional help. It’s normal to feel stressed and unsure in a situation like this, especially early on. Therapists and counselors can provide tools to navigate disputes, communicate effectively, and maintain a healthy coparenting relationship.
Consider the possibility of seeking advice and support from a professional experienced in family dynamics and parenting strategies post-divorce. Child psychologists, family therapists, and social workers can offer tailored advice that can help parents navigate the journey of coparenting. These professionals can also work directly with your child, helping them adjust and express their emotions effectively during this period of significant change in their life.
You may also benefit from attending parenting classes specially designed to help divorced or separated parents build effective coparenting strategies. These classes often cover topics such as the effects of parental conflict on children, how to minimize the stress of transition, and the importance of consistent parenting across households. Remember that seeking such help is not a sign of failure but rather a proactive step in ensuring the best possible outcome for your child.
While coparenting strategies tend to focus on how best to act for your child’s sake, it’s just as necessary to care for yourself during this process. Some things you can do to help be the best parent and person possible include:
Maintaining personal health and well-being is crucial when you coparent. You must find ways to manage stress and maintain a positive outlook. This can include regular exercise, a healthy diet, adequate sleep, and seeking support from family or friends. Indulging in hobbies or other fun activities is good, too. Parent or not, you’re still human.
Having consistent routines can create a sense of security and predictability for your child, not to mention yourself. Consistent routines across households, such as meal times, bedtimes, and homework schedules, can help your child adjust to the new living arrangement. It also reduces the amount of stress for coparents.
While it’s important to agree on ground rules and routines, it’s equally vital to be flexible. Life is unpredictable, and being open to adjustments and changes can reduce tension and conflict. Balancing consistency with adaptability is key for relaxed coparents.
Involve your child in decisions that affect them as much as is appropriate and possible. Children are often made to feel like their opinions don’t matter, particularly in situations like divorce, where the best solution for everyone involves a major and unwanted change in family dynamics. By keeping them involved, you can empower them and reassure them that their voices are heard and valued. However, be mindful not to burden them with adult issues or put them in a position where they feel like they have to choose between parents.
Successful coparenting is a journey filled with challenges and triumphs. The effort that goes into creating a healthy relationship is crucial to ensuring your child’s well-being. Despite the difficulties, the benefits of parenting together make the journey invaluable. Try to remember the steps and ideas discussed here to create a happier and healthier environment for everyone.
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Favez, N., Max, A. Bader, M., & Tissot, H. (2022). When not teaming up puts parents at risk: Coparenting and parental burnout in dual‐parent heterosexual families in Switzerland. Family Process. https://doi.org/10.1111/famp.12777
Kalmijn, M., & De Graaf, P.M. (2012). Life course changes of children and well-being of parents. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74(2), 269–280. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2012.00961.x