Melissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S
A Closer Look At: Co-Parenting
Updated: Jan 27, 2022
“The best security blanket a child can have is parents who respect each other.” ― Jane Blaustone
The dictionary defines a co-parent as: “a divorced or separated parent who shares equally with the other parent in the custody and care of a child.”
Co-parenting is difficult. Especially when you no longer like your ex, after all there is a reason you’re no longer together, right? Rosalind Sedacca, the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, recommends that you ask yourself, “Do I love my children more than I hate my ex?” This will help you remember that it needs to be about the kids, not about you or your hurt feelings due to the separation. Before making any decision you should also ask yourself, “Would I be making this same decision the same way if we were still married?” Are you using the circumstance and situation to somehow get back at your ex? If the answer is yes, then you need to remember that your child and their needs should come first. If you and the other parent always have your children’s best interest at heart instead of using them as pawns for a game of revenge, your children will continue to thrive and will be minimally impacted by your divorce or separation.
Here are some tips to help you:
1. First and foremost, stay focused on your children’s needs for peace, stability, and minimal loss.
2. Never start a sentence with, “You tell your dad/mom…” That’s not their job. That’s your job! Pick up the phone and call or text them. Your kid is not the messenger so if you find yourself starting a sentence that way, just stop and pick up your phone instead.
3. Please, please, please, do not talk negatively about the other parent in front of your child. When you talk poorly about the other parent you’re talking poorly about your child. After all, 50% of their genetics comes from the other parent! Keep that in mind the next time you want to talk negatively about your ex to your child. Just because your ex was not a great partner doesn’t mean they aren’t a great parent.
4. When your child comes home from a visit with the other parent you can definitely ask how their time with mom/dad was but do not interrogate them. I once had a child who internalized his parent’s hatred for one another so deeply that he began to make up allegations of abuse (from both of them!) upon returning from visits because he thought that was what the other parent would want to hear. This is an extreme example, but you don’t need to know everything that happens at the other parent’s house. “Did you have a nice time at your dad’s/mom’s?” will suffice.
5. No matter what, always present a united front. This will be especially important during adolescent years when kids can be manipulative and will use your conflict as leverage to get what they want. It is important to set rules and consequences that you can both live with shortly after your separation and to stick to them and reinforce what each other says. If your teenager came home after curfew at dad’s knowing they will go to mom’s house tomorrow, mom should enforce the same punishment at her house as well.
While some parents have no problem interacting with one another in person, by phone, text, or email, others do. It is possible to be great parents with minimal interaction. This is called parallel parenting. It is a way to protect the relationship between the child and each parent while shielding them from conflict. A great resource for co-parents that minimizes the time they spend interacting negatively with one another is www.twohappyhomes.com. There is a basic membership that is free and a premium membership that is $14.98 per month or $7.49 per parent. Depending on the option you choose, some features the website offers includes: a place to share calendars and activities, notes, photos, financial information, family contact information, medical records, and any other important files. You can also send messages to one another through this website as well. In addition to these services, Two Happy Homes offers expert advice and articles for you to read to improve your co-parenting skills.
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