The Dos and Don'ts of Co-Parenting

Mastering Co-Parenting is Vital to the Emotional Well-Being of Your Children

You may hate your ex. You might even think he or she is the worst possible excuse for a human being on planet Earth. You might find it hard to imagine what you ever saw in your former love. You also might need to work on the lingering anger and hurt surrounding your divorce.

I am here to tell you that, if you have kids, none of that matters. None of it.

You and your ex must take the high road, put aside your antagonism and resentments, be emotionally mature, and find a way to co-parent your children. There really isn’t a middle ground here. Putting children in the middle of your relationship is selfish and destructive; the fact that your marriage didn’t work out isn’t their fault and they should not have to pay for its demise.

How do you continue to parent together after splitting up?

So here you are, the two of you, officially no longer a couple but tied together forever by your children. The only question remaining is the most important one of all: How do you continue to parent your children together?

For some exes, co-parenting is relatively smooth and conflict-free. For most, however, I would say that co-parenting is challenging and takes a lot of work and adjustments.

The needs and emotional well being of the children come first. Show them acceptance while giving them a structured environment. Make them feel safe by ensuring them that both parents are still there for them. Give them the space and permission to express their emotions and vent their anger and confusion, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

My advice is to always take the high road, act with dignity and respect toward yourself and your ex. Your children will notice, and they will love you for it. Learning how to co-parent so that your children grow up knowing that they are loved by both parents, that they are safe and secure, and they always have two people in their corner, is a gift you give to them.

What you should and shouldn’t do when co-parenting

See this list from Dr. Phil about the dos and don’ts of co-parenting is spot on, and you can learn a lot from it.

Don't:

  • Sabotage your child's relationship with the other parent, intentionally or unintentionally
  • Use your child as a pawn to get back at or hurt your ex (even though it can be tempting)
  • Use your child to gain information or to manipulate and influence your ex
  • Transfer hurt feelings and frustrations toward your ex onto your child
  • Force your child to choose a side when there's a conflict in scheduling or another planning challenge
  • Turn family events into pressure cookers where everyone feels the tension
  • Depend too much on your child for companionship and support because you are hurt and lonely
  • Become so emotionally needy that your child develops feelings of guilt if he or she spends time with others
  • Convert guilt into overindulgence when it comes to satisfying your child's material desires

Dr. Phil also shares two important rules that all parents should adhere to when the family is experiencing a crisis or instability:

  1. Don’t burden your children with situations they cannot control — it’s unfair to toss this responsibility onto them. They’ll end up feeling helpless and insecure, which can lead to questions about their own strengths and abilities, and lead to low self-esteem.
  2. Don’t ask your children to deal with adult issues, because they aren’t developmentally ready to consider adult problems. Let them focus on and navigate the childhood developmental phases they need to go through.

Things you can do to be a successful co-parent

Now, let’s look at what you can do. Dr. Phil suggests that you:

  • Sit down with your ex and make an affirmative plan that sets aside any differences you may have and focuses instead on meeting the needs of your children
  • Agree with your ex that you absolutely will not speak negatively about each other to your children
  • Furthermore, forbid your children to speak disrespectfully about the other parent, even though it might make you feel good in the moment
  • Negotiate and agree on how you can best handle logistics like handing off the children for visitation, holidays, and special events
  • Agree on boundaries and behavioral guidelines for raising your children so that there is consistency in their lives, regardless of which parent they are with at any given time
  • Negotiate and agree on the role extended family members will play and the access they'll be granted while your child is in each other's charge
  • Communicate actively with your ex about all aspects of your child's development
  • Recognize that children are prone to testing a situation and manipulating boundaries and guidelines, especially if there's a chance to get something they may not ordinarily be able to obtain (you need to be ready for this to happen)
  • Compare notes with your ex before jumping to conclusions or condemning one another about what may have happened
  • Although it may be emotionally painful, make sure that you and your ex keep each other informed about changes in your life circumstances so that the child is never, ever the primary source of information
  • Commit to conducting yourself with emotional integrity. I’d even suggest re-committing to this regularly.

You want your children to have a secure base to grow from, but when intense feelings are at play, it can be incredibly difficult to co-parent. Co-parenting counseling is one tool available to you that can help you create that healthy, secure foundation for your kids.

Children can thrive after divorce if both parents are committed to healthy co-parenting. Call us, we can help.