Struggling to have an effective co-parenting relationship with your ex can be incredibly frustrating. After a separation or a divorce, everything becomes more difficult. Emotions are running high, and disputes about how to parent your children are common. Despite the best intentions of both parties, you may feel like an effective co-parenting relationship is impossible.
Though improving your co-parenting relationship may seem like an unrealistic dream, there is hope. There are things you and your former partner can do to work on the relationship. Remember, improving your relationship will take time, and you may never reach a point where you and your child’s other parent are friendly. But, you may be able to get to a point where conflict is limited, and you can work together more often than not.
Keep reading for some tips on working on your co-parenting relationship and what to do if it just doesn’t work.
Find a More Effective Way to Communicate
One of the biggest hurdles that co-parents face is communication. Situations often devolve into a dispute when parents are unable to relate to each other effectively. Knowing how to fix your communication issues is also difficult, and if you feel lost, you are not alone. A good place to start is to consider the method of your communication.
Do you and your ex typically communicate in person, over the phone, or via text and email? Is there a particular form of communication where things usually break down? For example, many co-parents struggle with face-to-face communication and phone communication. This is especially true after a difficult separation and high-conflict situations. Changing your communication method to written only (text or email) can help reduce conflict. It allows both parties the space needed to remain calm and consider their response before sending.
Set Clear Boundaries
After a divorce or separation, boundaries can be difficult to identify and maintain. Even in high-conflict situations, you’ve gone from sharing your life to living entirely separately. However, you are still linked by your children. This can be confusing as you will still need to communicate in detail about your children and their lives. Knowing what is appropriate to share, discuss, or even ask of your child’s other parent can feel nebulous.
By settling explicit boundaries, you and your former partner can stay focused on the children and avoid getting into arguments about unrelated topics. Try to keep your communication isolated to matters directly involving your children. Additionally, set some rules regarding what day-to-day child-care issues require communication. For example, if your child gets in trouble at school, you may wish to share that with your co-parent. Meanwhile, little squabbles at the dinner table may not be worth bringing up.
Stick To Your Schedule As Much as Possible
Though things will come up, do your best to adhere to your custody and visitation schedules. Reliability and stability are important when working to improve your co-parenting relationship. It is also very important for children who are still developing their sense of security with the new situation. When one parent is constantly asking to trade days or to make adjustments, it can be incredibly frustrating for the other parent. It also creates instability for both the parents and the children.
When you cannot avoid making or requesting a change in your schedule, do your best to even things out with the other parent if you can. For example, if you ask your co-parent to take the children on a day that is typically yours, offer to do the same for them, and follow through when they ask. Conversely, if your co-parent has to give up a day, offer to let them make it up later and give them one of your days so that they do not miss out on this time with the kids.
Try to Be Flexible, Understanding, & Willing to Compromise
Even with clearly set boundaries and a strict visitation schedule, issues will arise, and missteps will happen. Though difficult, do your best to stay calm in these situations and look for ways to diffuse the problem. Just as being a co-parent is often challenging for you, it is also difficult for your child’s other parent. Most parents are doing the best that they can. Working to be understanding when problems crop up can help keep a situation from escalating.
When you feel yourself getting angry, see if you can take a step back and give yourself a moment to calm down. Then try to refocus your energy on finding a solution to the problem. We know this is easier said than done, but handling these situations can become easier over time.
What to Do When Co-Parenting Doesn’t Work
Co-parenting is often held up as the ideal for divorced or separated parents. Co-parenting can indeed work well for some families. However, it is not appropriate or possible for everyone. There is nothing wrong with this. Every family is different and has different needs. If you are struggling to make a co-parenting relationship work, you are not alone. You also have other options.
Co-parenting requires a lot of teamwork and is highly cooperative. In high-conflict situations or circumstances where domestic violence or abuse has occurred, this type of relationship is not appropriate. Instead, you may find more success in adopting a parallel parenting model.
Parallel parenting is a style of post-divorce parenting in which each parent manages childrearing in their own way on their own time. Each household has its own set of rules, and parents tend to only work together on large matters and when necessary. This can not only reduce conflict but can also create greater stability for children. Instead of a struggling co-parenting relationship with high stress and frequent changes, the children know what to expect from each parent. With parallel parenting, parents can stay actively involved in their children’s lives while disengaging from each other.