Co-Parenting 101: How to Coexist for the Kids (Without Killing Each Other)
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First comes love…
Sometimes comes marriage…
Then comes baby in the baby carriage?
C’mon… let’s be honest with each other.
We now live in a very progressive society.
One where marriage isn’t necessarily the goal for a lot of people.
In fact, one might say that the dream has been somewhat watered down to simply finding that special someone you “click” with… can happily cohabitate with… and then maybe, just maybe, start a family with.
And it does seem that people today still want to raise kids… in or out of wedlock.
Which can be tricky…
Especially if you’re not living together for one reason or another.
Especially if you don’t like each other anymore.
What happens then is something called co-parenting… and it’s on the rise, according to psychologists.
In this article, I will:
- Define co-parenting
- List the benefits of co-parenting
- Offer tips on how to get started
- Provide ways for dealing with a toxic ex
- Supply a list of resources to help you succeed at co-parenting
It’s not as scary as it sounds.
We can get through this.
So let’s get started.
What You Will Learn
- What is Co-Parenting?
- The Benefits of Co-Parenting
- Co-Parenting 101: How to Get Started
- Dealing with the Toxic Ex
- Some Final Thoughts on Co-Parenting
What is Co-Parenting?
Co-parenting occurs when two parents of a child are no longer romantically involved, but still assume joint responsibility for the upbringing of their child.
Whether it’s the result of divorce… a one night-stand gone wrong (it happens)… or a relationship that simply wasn’t meant to be… most people can agree that a child benefits from the love and guidance of both parents.
In the case of co-parenting, separated couples share joint custody of the child (or children).
They are in frequent contact with one another in an effort to keep up a seemingly normal and healthy routine for the child.
Putting the needs of your child first is the key to successful co-parenting.
Remember… regardless of how you feel about your ex, your child only feels love for the both of you.
And co-parenting is intended to keep them feeling that way for years to come.
The Benefits of Co-Parenting
Similar to the benefits associated with raising children in a loving two-parent household, the benefits of successful co-parenting will directly and positively impact your child’s emotional sense of well being.
In fact, research has shown that children with parents who co-parent successfully following a separation, grow up just as happy and well adjusted as children with parents who had successful marriages.
And in some instances, these products of co-parenting are even more likely to succeed in their careers and face a lower divorce rate as adults.
There are many factors that attribute to this.
Among them, successful co-parenting:
- Limits a child’s feelings of guilt
- Eliminates a child’s anxiety, keeping them “out of the middle” of a tough situation
- Demonstrates how to effectively resolve problems and settle conflict
- Teaches patience and compromise
- Keeps the feeling of family in tact, making it a priority
- Makes life easier for extended family, teachers and friends
- Exemplifies good communication skills
Children are impressionable, especially at a young age.
They wear their hearts on their sleeves… and often no nothing of true animosity towards another person.
As parents, we are responsible for showing our children what love is.
For making them feel safe and cherished always.
For building their self esteem.
We are the example.
Co-parenting reassures your child that they come first. That they are loved.
And that benefits their psyche.
Solid and unified parenting will help to determine the type of adult your child turns out to be… and the relationships he or she choose to forge.
Co-Parenting 101: How to Get Started
You may find yourself asking, “Will co-parenting work for me?”
And, “Where do I start?”
Well, the answer to the first question is yes!
Co-parenting works if you want it to… and if you are both open to compromise.
It works because you are doing it for your children.
And your children are perhaps the one thing you and your ex have in common.
So where do you begin?
Step #1: Start by having the conversation with your former partner.
Assure him or her that you have no intention of messing this up… that the children are your priority.
Let them know your expectations for co-parenting, and listen to theirs.
Step #2: Identify your situation.
What kind of relationship do you have with each other?
Typically, there are one of two scenarios that come into play:
- The amicable split
- The bitter breakup
In the ideal scenario… a couple’s decision to end a relationship is an amicable and mutual one.
One where they remain friends… or, as friendly as one can be after a breakup.
One where there respect each other’s separate lives and personal space… yet have no problem coming together when it involves making decisions on parenting.
In fact, they don’t seem to mind it much.
But sadly, this is not often the case.
At least not in the beginning.
Now, don’t get me wrong… that can change.
In fact, I have a story.
A story of a close friend who suffered through an awful breakup.
And we’re not just talking about two people who didn’t get along.
My friend… we’ll call her Gabby… met and fell in love with a man named Rick.
They never married.
They dated on and off for years… lived together at one point… had some great times, partied hard.
Well… he partied hard.
Occasional alcohol and drug use turned into daily use.
The hard stuff.
Then they got pregnant.
Rick got clean.
Or so she thought.
They were back together.
Marriage was now a possibility in her mind.
So Gabby got pregnant again.
Two kids together now.
Still not married.
Yes, Rick went to prison for distribution.
This went on for years.
Their oldest child, a girl, started lashing out at Gabby.
Missing her father.
The youngest, a boy, was too young to know any better.
And then one day, Rick went off and got clean…
Soon after, he got himself a new job…
And a new woman.
A good woman.
A good woman who wasn’t Gabby.
Sure, Gabby was pretty upset at first… livid at times.
Why not me?
Why couldn’t he get clean for me?
For our kids?
She loved him.
A part of her always would.
The anger consumed her for awhile… until one day, it didn’t.
She looked at him interacting with his children and realized that he did get clean for them.
The kids were his purpose.
And for the sake of the children, she put all of that negativity aside.
Gabby moved on.
They agreed to co-parent.
Rick and his lovely girlfriend, Maggie, would take the kids most weekends so that Gabby could work.
Or have some time to herself.
Rick would help out after school if Gabby needed him too.
They shared holidays, dropping the kids off so they could see both of their families.
It was working.
Gabby eventually met a wonderful guy named Chad.
He understood the dynamic he was getting involved with… and embraced it.
Embraced a life with her.
Within a year of meeting, they were married… Rick and Maggie were invited to the ceremony.
And, today, they are one big Modern Family.
Rick, Maggie, Gabby, Chad and the kids spend some holidays together… have even vacationed together.
They help each other out in a pinch.
They make decisions together.
They are friends.
Good friends, actually.
For the kids.
And the kids are happier for it.
When you ask their daughter, who is now a sophomore in high school, how she likes having “four parents”… she says he considers herself lucky.
She has four people who love her.
Who never gave up on her when she challenged them.
And she did challenge them… countless times.
She is witness to the values of strength, compromise, maturity and understanding… on a daily basis.
Gabby and Rick made the decision to co-parent for the kids… but in the end, it actually helped them find their way as well.
And they are both happier people for it.
And happy parents make for happy kids.
On the contrary…
Unlike with my friend, there are still countless instances of couples ending a relationship with so much resentment and anger, that it’s almost impossible for them to fathom ever looking at each other again… let alone communicating on a regular basis.
The bitter breakup.
The kind where only feelings of hurt, hatred, disgust and disappointment remain.
But know this…
Finding a way to keep the children feeling safe and loved has to trump all of those awful and dark feelings.
You have to find a way… for them.
But we’ll talk more about that in a minute.
Let’s wrap this part up, shall we?
Step #3: Seek out help. Accept help.
The internet is a great place to start when it comes to learning more about co-parenting.
Whether it’s testimonials from actual couples, or advice from attorneys or field psychologists… there are resources available to help you get started.
Also don’t be afraid to reach out to family and friends for support… even your ex’s family and friends.
Which brings us to our next topic.
Dealing with the Toxic Ex
As promised, I’m going to shed some light on how to co-parent after a bitter breakup.
You see, finding ways to get along with an ex can be hard… even when they’re somewhat decent human beings.
Now, imagine if they’re toxic.
Toxic to you.
Toxic to your kids.
Toxic to almost everyone around them… even their own family and friends.
Negativity tends to radiate from these types of people… and impacts everyone they come in contact with.
When you’re involved in a relationship with a person like that, the very thought of being in the same room with them brings you down.
Makes you feel at your worst.
And brings out the worst in you.
At times, you don’t even recognize who you are.
That’s why you split up.
Not just for your sake, but for the kids’.
So what can you do?
What should you do?
I mean, it’s not as if they are just a coworker you can distance yourself from… you were in a relationship and had a child with this person.
It’s an entirely different animal.
Like it or not, you’re stuck with them for the long haul… your children bind you.
But how do you safely allow them into your child’s world after separation?
How do you convince yourself that having he or she be an active co-parent is a good idea?
It’s not easy, but it can be done.
Dr. Karen Finn, a renowned divorce coach and author, provides some great information for dealing with a toxic ex on her website. She even offers personal consultations.
For starters, here are some tips:
- Never, under any circumstance, badmouth your ex to your child.
- Figure out your top priorities in your new role as a single co-parent.
- Encourage your child to talk to and spend time with your ex.
- Limit conversations with your ex to matters dealing with the children.
- Figure out what sets your ex off, what triggers his or her mood swings.
- Your child doesn’t need to know the details of your separation.
- Respect and value the relationship your child has with your ex.
- Keep your cool and never engage in negativity.
Now… you may worry that your ex isn’t playing by the same rules.
Are they going to badmouth me to the kids?
Are they going to threaten replacing me?
These are valid concerns, but shouldn’t stop you from engaging in a co-parent relationship.
There are ways to get around this.
There are various books on this very topic, many of which can be found on amazon, and can be extremely helpful.
Still, it’s unlikely that anybody knows your ex better than you.
So at the end of the day, if you feel they are just too toxic (or abusive) to engage in effective co-parenting arrangements, there are professionals trained to help.
A therapist or mediator is capable of outlining a successful co-parenting plan for you. One that ensures the following guidelines are met:
Either of these professionals will typically serve as the primary point of contact, the liaison, between you and your ex.
If need be, they will draft a written co-parenting plan for you that can be used in court… should things become ugly. There are tons of templates available online to help with this.
Mediation can provide a safe place for you and your ex to sit down and hash things out.
There are countless websites, apps, online classes, books, meetup/support groups… all dealing with how to co-parent.
Once your identify your relationship with your ex, you may want to check some of these out.
Top Co-parenting Websites & Apps
Our Family Wizard – The OurFamilyWizard® website is designed to reduce the stress of managing communication and family plans across separate households. Equipped with a shared calendar, message board, expense log, journal and info bank. App available for: iPhone®, Android®, KindleFire®, Blackberry® . The cost is $99 per parent per year, and child accounts are free.
Coparently – Coparently offers online and mobile communication tools to help co-parents improve calendaring issues, communicate more clearly, track shared expenses, and store accurate, up-to-date contact information. The solution costs $99 per year, per parent, or $9.99 per month. Again, that's per-parent pricing, which adds up. On the plus side, the solution's clear interface may mean that you'll both be more likely to use it on a regular basis. Offers a 30-day free trial. Children can be added. Phone apps are available.
Cozi – Cozi is a free online calendar program that's ideal for co-parenting communication. In addition to shared calendar pages, it also offers free mobile options, shopping lists, meal planning, to do lists, and more. Create a separate “kids” calendar. Track homework and long term assignments. You can upgrade to the ad free version for $19.99 per year.
Talking Parents – Talking Parents is a different type of online communication tool for co-parents… and perhaps the best choice for those dealing with a toxic ex. Talking Parents will generate a secure system-of-record for all of your communications, in the event that either you or your ex need to supply proof of correspondence to the courts. The tool is free to use, but downloading a record of your communications costs $3.99 per download or $4.99 per month. It also offers a location-based search tool for parents looking for a family lawyer, should that be necessary.
Online Co-Parent Classes
This Life in Progress – The site’s Total Coparenting Transformation Class is taught by the site’s founder and co-parenting expert, Kate Chapman.
The online course includes: downloadable resources, a workbook, 11 videos and research materials. There is also a 30-day 100% money back guarantee. You can elect to purchase lifetime access to the site and its contents for $199, or else make 3 payments of $79 each.
Keep this in mind: There are times when the court may order one or both persons to complete parenting classes, where a completion certificate is required, before they are able to enter into a co-parenting arrangement.
These classes can provide some great information and insight that you may find helpful, even if not required, so could be worth checking out as well.
ParentingClassOnline.Net – These parenting classes are written by a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Board Certified Professional Counselor, Certified Parenting Instructor and Parenting Coordinator. Dr. Kathy S. Garber, an LMFT, has been offering successful online programs since 2002 and is respected by the court system. Prices start at $29.95 for a 4 hour class.
UptoParents – A free site offering online classes and personal tutorials, dedicated to showing separated and divorced parents how to build their best futures by focusing on meeting their children's needs. Certificates can be printed or mailed.
Putting Kids First – Site offers both online and mail out classes. Prices are $60 for online and $70 by mail. Court approved.
Online Parenting Programs – Offering 2, 4, 6, 8, and 12 hour class options, with prices starting at $29.99. It does vary by state and county, so it’s important to check out the “recognized counties” feature before committing to a program. The site also offers remote mediation for a fee, with a free consultation available.
Best Seller Books on Co-Parenting
Blend by Mashonda Tifrere
Mindful Co-Parenting by Jeremy S. Gaies, Psy.D
The Co-parenting Handbook by Karen Bonnell and Kristin Little
The Co-Parents’ Handbook by Karen Bonnell
15 Ways to Improve Your Co-parenting by Brette Sember
As we mentioned at the start… you are not alone.
Sadly, many people are facing a similar situation to yours… standing in your shoes… every single day.
Getting in touch with some of those people can be really comforting in this trying time.
Sure, friends and family can help you through… but do they truly know what you’re going through? Really?
Try checking out some of these for moral support:
- Facebook – Co-parenting Support Page offering tips, advice and daily affirmations.
- Meetup – Find a group to meet up with in your area… or start your own!
- Single & Parenting – Religion-based groups, designed to incorporate faith into parenting. Just type in your zip code and distance radius to find a meeting near you.
I’ve always been a fan of starting my own group… it’s a great way to meet people on your terms.
Plus, getting involved with a project can help keep your mind off of the emotional rollercoaster you’ve been riding.
Some Final Thoughts on Co-Parenting
Parenting is one of the most exciting… and scariest… adventures you will ever embark upon.
At the very moment your child was born, your life changed direction.
Think of it as making a u-turn off Carefree Road onto Dependency Highway.
A baby needs his parents.
And you need each other to get through the challenges that child will bring.
Problems in school…
Their choice in friends…
The list goes on.
And while these things are not always catastrophic or “doom and gloom” incidents… they can feel daunting at the time.
Every child is different.
You need a partner to share ideas and emotions with.
The highs and lows.
Co-parenting is no different.
It’s still parenting… but with a twist.
After all, just because you aren’t in love anymore doesn’t mean you don’t love that child.
And that love breeds familiarity.
Familiarity with the child.
With each other.
With how you want to raise them.
You both want your child to be happy, healthy, independent, safe and successful.
That’s the goal, isn’t it?
And if you keep that goal in mind… keep the focus on what you want for the child, instead of yourselves, you’ll be ok.
You will be able to meet on common ground and lay a new foundation for their future.
A future where mom and dad don’t live together anymore, but still make every effort to keep a sense of family in tact.
The children the priority.
It will likely take some time to perfect your new relationship with your ex, but your children will definitely appreciate the sacrifices you made to get there… and be all the better off for it.
They will be ok.
You will be ok.
It will all be ok.
Just remember these rules for successful co-parenting:
- Never talk badly about one another in front of the children
- Check your egos, personal grudges and emotions at the door
- Keep communications with your ex solely about the children
- Set a schedule and don’t divert from it, consistency is key
- Be cooperative and flexible
- Be on the same page when it comes to discipline and reward
- Divide up responsibilities fairly, be conscious of each other’s schedules and limitations
- Be honest with each other if you don’t agree with or like something
Co-parenting is not rocket science.
It’s merely two people learning how to work together to get a job done.
Two people that may not particularly care for one another… but know that the end game is worth every bit of effort they can muster.
That is what every parent wants.
They want to see their child smile.
Work hard. Be considerate of others.
These things are fostered in the home.
And nobody says home has to include two happily married parents… it’s the “two” part that matters.
Two parents are better than one.
You can do this!
Nicole Krause has been writing both personally and professionally for over 20 years. She holds a dual B.A. in English and Film Studies. Her work has appeared in some of the country’s top publications, major news outlets, online publications and blogs. As a happily married (and extremely busy) mother of four… her articles primarily focus on parenting, marriage, family, finance, organization and product reviews.