Even if you have a great relationship with your child’s other parent, co-parenting can be difficult to navigate — two schedules and two homes, plus all the associated emotional challenges (for the adults and little ones).
When you’re committed to co-parenting, there are ways to make it work. The most important thing is to establish a schedule with consistent expectations and rules. When your child has a good sense of what their week is going to look like and knows that their parents’ expectations are aligned, it’s easier for them to adjust.
The smoother you can make it for your child, the better it will be for everyone.
How to co-parent effectively
Let’s talk about communication
Finding the best way to communicate with your co-parent is likely something that will evolve over time, but whether you talk daily or weekly, having clear, open communication is key.
First things first, establish a schedule for planning your schedule. It should be a time when you’re both feeling calm (for example, the first Monday of the month when your little one is at a regular extracurricular activity). If there’s tension between you, it might be helpful to communicate through email or text. This way, you don’t have to talk to each other directly, and you’ll have a record of what was agreed upon.
Second, make a plan for how you’ll handle emergencies, interact during drop off/pick up, and navigate special occasions. Situations may pop up that you hadn’t previously anticipated, but just do your best to proactively plan for moments that might be tense (for example who your child will spend a certain holiday or their birthday with).
If things start to get heated, agree to only communicate about your child and do it in a business-like manner. This practice will help you keep emotions out of things. At the end of the day, you share a common goal: you both want what’s best for your child. This will get easier over time.
Mapping out schedules
Co-parenting involves a lot of moving pieces. Not only do you need to consider your schedules, you also need to keep your child’s schedule in mind. Working closely with your co-parent will help things run smoothly. Make sure to follow any custody agreements that have been arranged and try to approach scheduling conflicts with patience and compassion.
A great way to stay on the same page is by sharing a calendar or using a scheduling app. This way, you can both see what the other person has planned and will be able to navigate your schedules together. You can add the regular schedule, special occasions, and your kiddo’s activities to the calendar.
Consistency is key
Keeping things consistent week to week and setting clear expectations will help make co-parenting successful.
Of course, you and your co-parent might have different parenting styles, but do your best to align them. For example, if technology needs to be put away at 5pm at one home, it’s important that the same rule applies at the other. Children crave consistency, and your kiddo will do better when they know what to expect (even if they push back on some of your rules in the moment).
Prioritizing your child
If it’s logistically possible for your child to see both parents regularly, that’s usually best for them and gives them space to develop a strong bond with each parent. However, if it isn’t possible for logistical or safety reasons, your child’s well-being is the priority.
No two families are exactly alike, and no two co-parenting situations are the same. Just because equal time with both parents works for some families, it may not be what’s best for your child. You know what’s best for your family.
Talk to your child about how this situation is affecting them, and encourage them to speak up if they have any concerns. Their life is hugely impacted by this, so if something isn’t working for your kiddo, you may need to work together to find a solution. If they’re not talking to you about how they’re feeling, it can be helpful to speak with their teacher, who might be able to shed some light on their emotional well-being outside of the home.
If you’re having a tough time navigating a difficult co-parenting situation, talk to your healthcare provider or a family therapist for extra support. For most families, co-parenting is hardest at first, but in time you will get into a groove.
Donovan, Sherri. “Co-Parenting Boundaries: List of Rules.” Parents Inc. Parents Inc. https://parentsinc.org/co-parenting-boundaries-list-of-rules/
Pedrick Law Group. “Why Does Consistency Matter in Co-Parenting?” Pedrick Law Group. Pedrick Law Group. July 18, 2021. https://www.pedricklaw.com/ways-to-maintain-consistency-with-co-parenting-the-importance-of-working-together/