Co-parenting can be difficult to manage as there is usually tension and lots of emotions running high.
However, when managing co-parenting and sharing custody, the most important thing is that the needs of the kids are placed above at the forefront.
Getting along with an ex after the breakdown of a relationship and moving on as co-parents can be difficult. You don’t have to stay friends, but if you can maintain some form of civility this will help. Forming a new partnership that will help both you and your children manage this often difficult time as painlessly as possible.
What does co-parenting mean?
You might not be in a relationship anymore, but if you share children it means you are still on the same team in wanting what is best for them.
Co-parenting is an agreement by parents who are not in a romantic relationship or are no longer cohabitating, to continue to raise their children together. Both parties agree to undertake the responsibility of the upbringing of the children.
As parents, you need to put your own relationship drama aside and put the children’s needs first. This includes things like sharing custody, visitation, transfers and drop-offs. It also includes things such as parenting styles and communication in general.
The level of co-parenting really comes down to personal circumstances. Some couples share everything 50-50 and others may work out a split that is more realistic for them.
Here are some helpful tips for separated and divorced parents to manage co-parenting and sharing custody.
Tips for managing co-parenting and shared custody
1. Come up with a co-parenting plan
This will vary for everyone depending on your situation. For some, it may be a document you draw up yourselves, or you may choose to get an official one put in place by a family mediator or practitioner.
It will outline factors such as visitation/custody, education costs, finances and medical costs or concerns. It might also include special events, holidays and general living expenses related to the children.
These can also outline care responsibilities for example if a child can’t attend school because they are unwell, who will look after them? As well as ad hoc expenses that arise and how you will address any decision-making in the future.
2. Give yourself time to heal
When a relationship ends (and especially one where there are children involved), there are a lot of emotions involved.
Without taking the time to heal you may carry these into your co-parenting relationship too. Spend time mourning and processing the end of the relationship. Despite what happened between the two of you you need to get to a point where you can put that aside for the children.
You need to get to the point where you are making decisions in the best interests of the children and not to spite or hurt your partner.
Use the time away from your children to focus on you, see friends, take up a hobby or spend it doing something you enjoy. You’ll be better for it when the kids come home.
3. Try to rebuild a new type of relationship together
Your relationship won’t ever be what it was but you need to try to create a new partnership that puts you on the same team. Even if that new relationship is very formal and business-like. If that’s what works best for you both as divorced parents, then that’s fine. Find your co-parenting flow and stick with it.
4. Put on a united front
Be a team and let your kids see that. Don’t undermine the other person or belittle them in front of your children. And wherever possible, try not to fight or argue in front of them.
The reality is this isn’t always possible, especially in the early days as you navigate this new territory.
If you do lose your cool, or say something you wish you hadn’t said in front of the kids, that’s ok. Just try and make a point to discuss it with them later.
You can tell them you were upset and that you shouldn’t have said those things. You don’t need to go into detail. Explain that sometimes you get angry/frustrated but it doesn’t make it ok to say mean things. Tell them you will try to do better next time.
This will model to the children that you are human and have big emotions too.
5. Keep your word (but be flexible)
Do what you say you’re going to do, or what has been agreed to and try and stick with the agreed routine as much as possible. Even if you don’t want to.
It’s also important to remain flexible, within reason.
Things inevitably come up in life that we can’t avoid. Both parties are sure to require some flexibility at certain times. Just make sure this flexibility is even and not being taken advantage of, with one party constantly making allowances.
6. Communication is key
Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible.
Be accessible and make sure you are open and honest with them when it comes to dealing with the children. It can often be a good idea to schedule a weekly, fortnightly or monthly catch up to discuss anything to do with the kids. That way you can keep pickups and drop-offs amicable.
Then if you do need to discuss anything major there is a dedicated time and space to do so, ideally without the kids around.
If you do struggle with communication, there are ways to help manage this. There are apps that can help divorced or separated parents manage schedules and input all their vital information. This can help limit the actual face-to-face or direct communication you need to have. It also saves all the communication so there is a record of it.
7. Let the small stuff go
The reality is you’re probably never going to agree 100% on how to raise the kids. Especially as your lives head down different paths.
So try not to get hung up on the small things like letting them stay up late to watch a movie or giving them junk food. Within reason and unless these things are affecting their health or wellbeing, of course.
You should make sure you are aligned on the “big stuff” as much as possible and agree that all major decisions are to be made together.
8. Keep the kids informed
Let the kids know what their schedule will be and why. The detail you give will vary on the age of the children.
Even though things are changing, this will help them understand that they can still feel safe and secure. Children thrive on routine and stability.
For younger kids drawing a diagram or picture of the two houses can be a good idea to help them process things in their minds.
A calendar that states the routine and where they will be on certain days can also help. Stickers or magnets can be a good idea for little ones. Make it fun and light and help them feel in control.
9. Set up both houses with all the essentials
Limit packing bags and items as much as possible. Make sure each house is set up with clothes, toothbrush, toys and any other essentials they need.
Also, make sure they have their own room or their own space where they can keep their things. You want to make sure they don’t feel like a visitor.
They can pack their favourite toy or comforter, but try to limit the packing as much as possible.
It is always going to take some time to get used to a new schedule and to navigate sharing custody. There are so many emotions involved after a separation or divorce and with children at the centre of it can make it difficult.
10. Share photos and milestones
If your relationship will allow it, it can be really nice to share photos, moments, accomplishments with your ex. There are apps that you can use to drop these into if you would rather not have direct communication. Making a point of telling your children you are “sending that photo to daddy” or allowing them to call themselves to share the good news, eg. if they got an A on an assignment at school or their team won soccer.
Give yourself (and your children and ex-partner) time to adjust to this new co-parenting routine. Try and focus on healing yourself first and foremost. This will help you handle this new difficult territory of co-parenting and will ultimately help you move on.
These tips are intended as general advice only. They do not take into consideration specific details, instances of domestic violence or other family disputes. You should always seek professional advice pertaining to your personal situation.