Family, Kids & Relationships

Top tips for successful coparenting — for the kids’ sake

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Coparenting, or sharing custody and parenting responsibilities after a breakup or divorce, is becoming quite common. The rate of joint custody after divorce has more than doubled since the 1980s. While there is less data about never-married couples who are not romantically committed but are raising kids together, it has also become a common family arrangement.

When both parents are ready to take on those responsibilities and willing to cooperate, coparenting can have positive outcomes for kids and families. Here are some tips to make it work for the whole family.

Actively support your co-parent, not just the kids

Parenting is difficult, no matter your situation. Having empathy for your co-parent when they’re facing a tough situation will go a long way. Even if you don’t get along in other areas of life, the idea of coparenting is that you’ve decided to come together as a team to raise your kids.

Supportive coparenting means that both parties are able to forgive each other for past mistakes, respect each other as parents, and work together as a parenting team. Studies have shown that when kids receive the same messages from both parents, the kids’ wellbeing and problem-solving skills are likely to be improved.

So be sure to avoid speaking negatively about your co-parent in front of your kids. Save those complaints for adults-only chats with your close friends.

Make peace with the past

The best thing you can do for your kids and your coparenting arrangement is to try to live in the present and let go of regrets and hangups about how your life, family, and relationship could have been.

If you’re struggling to move past the breakup or divorce, or to reduce your feelings of resentment toward your co-parent, counseling or a group of supportive friends can help a lot with that. Write down your feelings in a journal, or even write a letter to your ex (you don’t have to send it if it doesn’t strike the right tone). Make time for self-care and mindfulness whenever you can.

If you can make peace with the past, you’ll be able to take control of your own behavior better and keep a cool head. Then you’ll be in a better place to coparent successfully, because you’ll be able to put past emotions aside to work together as a parenting team — which is in your kids’ best interest if you’re both going to be involved.

Learn to resolve conflicts effectively

How do you offer kids consistent parenting across two households if you and your co-parent don’t agree on everything? It’s important to compromise and communicate so that you can have a consistent approach to key parenting issues such as discipline, screen time rules, and sleep routines.

Even if you have a history of not getting along, here are some basic rules you can agree on when trying to resolve coparenting disagreements:

  • Use “I” statements to avoid blaming each other
  • Listen to each other before jumping in with opinions
  • Stay calm and respectful, and take a break if things get too heated
  • Focus on the positive changes you want to make for your child’s wellbeing, instead of focusing on the other parent’s missteps

Slip-ups are bound to happen, no matter how hard you try to stick to the above rules of communication. After something goes awry or emotions run high, be sure to reflect on what you could have done better and what to keep in mind for next time. Write down your feelings, or talk to a level-headed friend or therapist. Make a specific apology to your kids or your co-parent when needed.

You don’t have to be good friends with your ex to make it work — you can treat coparenting more like a coworker relationship, which might help you put any strong emotions to the side and focus on problem-solving together.

Hold regular coparenting meetings and/or family meetings

To keep the lines of communication open, and address any potential issues, set aside time every week to talk privately with your co-parent. It could be a phone call after the kids go to bed, a quick coffee after you drop the kids off at school, or even an ongoing email thread — as long as it’s working for both of you.

Also consider holding monthly family meetings if your kids are old enough and if you can communicate well enough to be in the same room together for extended periods of time. Family meetings can help address behavior, routines, rules, and plans so that kids feel more like a part of the decision-making team.

Use and share parenting or coparenting educational resources

No one is born with great parenting skills — raising kids is a set of big challenges that most of us are unprepared for. It’s important to adopt a growth mindset when it comes to parenting, and be open to learning and improvement.

If you find a helpful parenting class, book, article, or video series that is rooted in expert advice, share it with your co-parent. You could even have a parenting book club with each other or join the same webinar so that you’re receiving the same information at the same time.

You can acknowledge to your co-parent that a certain aspect of parenting is challenging for you and that you’re seeking out resources so you can improve. Ask them if they’d be willing to read/watch it too so that you can find the best approach for your kiddo. Your co-parent may be more likely to listen to a child development expert than your own opinion on the matter. Plus, then you’ll learn a new parenting or coparenting strategy that you can decide to try out together for better consistency.

Joanna Eng is a staff writer and digital content specialist at ParentsTogether. She lives with her wife and two kids in New York, where she loves to hike, try new foods, and check out way too many books from the library.