The way you feel about your co-parenting relationship might change from one day to the next. Sometimes, you might feel like high-fiving to celebrate; at other times, it might feel more like hard work. Nevertheless, a healthy co-parenting relationship is something to strive for and, hopefully, it’s something you and the other parent can work towards together.
Here are six signs of a healthy co-parenting relationship:
#1 Your children are the priority
You don’t waste time being petty or trying to get one over each other. Your kids come first, always. This is the be-all and end-all when it comes to co-parenting.
You might not necessarily agree about everything, but you minimize conflict and focus on your children. You both understand your own feelings are trumped by your child’s needs. Although you might not live under the same roof anymore, you are on the same page regarding your kids.
#2 You have clear boundaries
You might be co-parents, but that doesn’t mean you are overly involved in each other’s lives. Establishing an effective co-parent relationship requires setting and respecting your boundaries. If you are yet to establish boundaries, you should consider the following points:
- Keep the kids out of it. No matter what is going on between you and the other parent, you should keep the children out of it. They shouldn’t hear either of you badmouth the other. If you need to vent, lean on your friends or a therapist, not your kids. Children feel safe when their parents get along
- Keep it strictly business. Don’t talk about personal stuff. This is a co-parenting relationship; you don’t need to know about each other’s dating lives. Your relationship is focused solely on the kids, so make sure your conversations are, too
- Communicate effectively. This will take time and effort on both sides. You need to communicate without arguments, defensiveness or criticism. You are equal partners in the role of raising your kids; make sure this is reflected in all your conversations. Set boundaries about how and when you contact each other, so you’re not constantly messaging
- Support the other parent’s relationship with your children. Your child wants to have strong relationships with both parents, so help them achieve this. Keep the other parent informed of anything that might be helpful. For example, party invites over their weekends, school meetings, school events, and things that could be giving your child a hard time.
It might feel strange at first to suddenly have a strictly business relationship with your ex but it will help you move forward in a constructive way.
#3 Your kids think you get on
The truth is that being co-parents doesn’t necessarily mean you have to like the other parent. There might be a lot of history that you have to ignore in order to have a healthy relationship as co-parents. What matters is that your kids think you get along. You and your ex should seem to get along and shouldn’t say negative things about each other in front of the children.
Having both parents attend basketball games or dance recitals can mean a lot to kids. Separated parents actively engaged in their children’s lives is a healthy sign of co-parenting success.
#4 You can attend events together without friction
From parents’ evenings to dance shows, life much easier if you and the other parent can attend events together without friction. Your children will benefit from not having to choose which parent attends which event. These family events also give your children opportunities to see you getting along as co-parents, which is definitely a positive thing.
The co-parenting relationship is also successful if parents have no problem attending school meetings, and can go to sporting events, and recitals without any difficulty. The band performances and football matches of today will make way for the graduations and wedding days of the future, so it’s worthwhile putting the groundwork in now. If you share children, you will be in each other’s lives forever, and the easier you can make that, the happier you all will be.
#5 You are expert communicators
Long gone are the days of pointless bickering. Now that you’re co-parents, you can communicate healthily and productively. You can discuss scheduling conflicts and discipline without falling out. You are flexible and open with each other. If your child is having problems, your co-parent is the best person for you to talk to because he or she is as invested in your child’s well-being as you are.
Upcoming events are discussed in advance so you’re both (hopefully) able to be there. There are no forgotten invitations or missed events because of miscommunication. You discuss important milestones and plan birthday gifts and celebrations with the other parent’s help. Some co-parents find it helpful to use a shared calendar so they can see what’s coming up in their child’s life.
Things to discuss when co-parenting
Healthy co-parenting means certain topics are out of bounds. For example, you shouldn’t be discussing dating or your sex life. That’s nothing to do with co-parenting and so it’s not relevant to your discussions with your co-parent.
Instead, you should stick to topics such as:
- Scheduling. Who is having the kids, and when? It’s ok to ask for flexibility sometimes, and a healthy co-parenting relationship usually means flexibility is considered a positive
- Your kids. You don’t need to call your ex at the end of every day to provide a full rundown, but it’s worth keeping the other parent in the loop regarding the bigger things. For example, if one of your children is struggling at school or exhibiting challenging behavior at home, it might help to talk to your co-parent about this
- Anything else you think is relevant. If you think it’s relevant to co-parenting, then talk about it. However, don’t use this as an excuse to pry into your ex’s private life. Instead, remember to stay focused on your children and avoid unrelated topics of conversation.
#6 You don’t shy away from therapy
Not all co-parents have therapy but it can be helpful for those who do. Some people have therapy as they separate to help them do so in a way that will be best for the children. Others might have therapy further down the line, as they find their footing as co-parents.
If you haven’t had therapy yet but think your co-parenting relationship would benefit from it, it’s never too late. Qualified and experienced therapists are equipped to help you move forward and co-parent effectively together. They will teach you communication techniques and help you set boundaries.
The time spent in therapy will also help change how you see each other. By the end of the sessions, you should see your ex-partner as a co-parent first and foremost. To find a therapist, look online for recommended couples therapists in your local area.
How do you become a healthy co-parent?
You become a healthy co-parent with time and plenty of practice. Of course, you won’t always get things right – especially in the early days – but setting boundaries can help you focus on the essential things.
If you’re finding co-parenting tough, that’s perfectly normal. It’s challenging to switch gears with somebody after a relationship breakdown but this is something you need to do for your kids. Therapy can help you deal with any major issues and make a concerted effort to co-parent effectively.
Does co-parenting ever get easier?
The simple answer is yes; co-parenting gets easier with time. At the beginning of your co-parenting relationship, there are likely to be a lot of emotions. As time passes – and perhaps with the help of therapy – you will learn how to focus on your co-parenting relationship rather than on the previous years you spent together.
If you are at the start of your co-parenting relationship, don’t let the hard work put you off. It is worth investing time in this, both for the sake of your children and for your mental health. Remember, you are not alone. There are lots of other families like yours navigating co-parenting and figuring out what their new family setup should look like. There are lots of support groups, in person and online, if you would like to find friends who understand what you’re going through.
Is co-parenting for everyone?
No, co-parenting does not work in every situation. Safety is the key consideration here. If you are escaping from an unsafe situation – for example, an abusive or violent partner – co-parenting might not be suitable for your family. You might need the help of support agencies to establish what a ‘new normal’ looks like for you and your children.
Co-parenting boundaries – new relationships
When you think you’ve got this co-parenting trick perfected, a new relationship can come along and trip you up. During this time, you might have to remind yourself why co-parenting is so important.
Remember, the boundaries you have put in place serve an essential function. You don’t need to know about your ex’s love life. You might argue you have a right to know who they’re seeing or who is meeting your kids, but this could be overstepping the boundaries. As long as you both have your child’s best interests at heart, everything else should fall into place.