Healthy and Positive Co-Parenting Rules

How to Create Boundaries and Keep the Peace for Your Kids

Co-parenting. Break it down and it’s cooperative parenting. It sounds nice, but it can be contentious. Creating Positive and healthy co-parenting rules will help you and your parenting partner find your way.

I think co-parenting includes a number of things. Not only co-operation, but co-mpromise and co-mmunication as well. You can’t forget the co-mmitment from both parents for it to succeed.

Co-parenting isn’t something that only comes from the disillusion of marriage. Co-parents exist from a number of situations as do the emotions that stem from it.

Recognize that emotions are complex. There will be a time of adjustment after the end of a relationship that needs to be navigated. The truth is, despite your best efforts and intentions, it may not be a smooth process.

The more volatile the relationship, the more impossible any resolution to peace may feel.

There may be some situations that can not find a positive path forward. That’s when you leave it to the courts and the legal system. They will be the best option for ensuring your children are appropriately cared for.

But, over and above what the courts may outline, you are both still responsible for the emotional well-being of your children. With that in mind, it’s crucial to find a way to come together.

The advice here assumes an amicable parting. For more challenging relationships, it is a good idea to see a family therapist as you transition to co-parenting. Find a therapist that can see you separately as well as as a group.

Co-Parenting and Setting Boundaries

Single parenthood is a struggle, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The key to successful co-parenting is to create some guidelines.

Boundaries can include many things. How you speak to each other, how you talk to the kids, how/ when you introduce new romantic relationships and so much more.

In a perfect world, it’s helpful to discuss your parenting goals, values and limitations before having kids. Yes, things may change once you have them, but having an idea about where you stand can foreshadow what’s to come.

Ideally, it would be good for you to both come to a resolution together. However, in many situations it’s not possible. When all else fails, be clear about your needs. What you need from them and what you’re willing to offer as well.

Draft an agreement. As hard as it may be, try and remove the emotion from the situation.

While rare, some people find a way to co-parent within the same household. An arrangement like this would take another level of respect, cooperation and compromise. However, it could be ideal for the kids, as they have full access to both parents at will.

But, if you are at the stage where the relationship is ending, make sure your parenting plan goes beyond what may be mandated by the courts.

Co-parenting is more than who has the kids and when. It’s about all the moments in between.

If you’re dealing with a toxic situation, it’s best to consider the most effective method of communication between you. You may need some time before face-to-face discussions. Talk over the phone via voice or text or use email if those are better options.

Photo by: Andranik Hakobyan, Getty Images

Creating a Co-Parenting Plan

Use your parenting plan as a framework, but allow for future adjustments if needed.

  1. Parenting schedule: With your kids in mind, come up with a custody plan that maximizes the time shared with your kids. There’s a lot to consider here, so set jealousy and animosity aside and do what’s best for the kids.
  1. Get it in writing: Write down anything you agree on and discuss. In black and white, it’s not open for interpretation on either side. Do the same with any changes to the plan as well.
  1. Management meeting: You’re in the business of parenting. Not all conversations are for little ears. If need be, call a management meeting with the other partner to discuss things away from the kids.
  1. Neutral ground: If you are dealing with blurred expectations and high emotions, meeting on neutral ground for child exchanges is a good idea.
  1. Mediator: If it’s hard to see your ex in person, ask a friend or family member to help facilitate child exchanges. Do what you can to keep the peace and avoid explosive outbursts in front of the kids.
  1. Get therapy: Therapy is a great idea for everyone when transitioning to co-parenting. The right therapist can help the adults and kids come to terms with your new normal in a safe and supportive environment.
  1. Respect: Although it may be difficult, try to respect the other parent’s role as a parent. Mutual respect as parents as well as the love for your kids is a good place to grow from.
  1. Open communication: Nothing will be resolved for your kids if you shut each other out. Keep each other informed of what you see and hear so your child is supported no matter who they are staying with.
Co-parenting rules, man and woman sitting on a couch having an argument. Man is talking and women is leaning away from him.
Photo by: Katleho Seisa, Getty Images Signature

Co-parenting Ground Rules

Set ground rules as soon as possible. Try to keep your kids out of limbo.

Negative feelings may be acted out in unhealthy ways on both sides. Truthfully, respect is hard to come by when trust has been broken and the pain is still fresh.

The only thing you can control is your own reactions and interactions.

  • Keep/ Start family meetings for big decisions or situations (include parents and kids)
  • Do not make the kids choose between you. It’s not fair and it’s not a contest.
  • Don’t let the kids play you against each other (you are still a parenting team)
  • Create a shared email account for child related information so you are both informed
  • Be flexible. Adjust custody for an unexpected event (family reunion, etc.)
  • Remember your kid is not your therapist; do not discuss your adult issues with them
  • Don’t barter with your kids; your children are not pawns
  • Do not talk through your kids
  • Try not to keep score
  • Manage your families. Don’t allow your parents, siblings to speak poorly of your child’s other parent
  • Introduce your new partner to your co-parent before the kids meet them (avoid surprises)
  • Determine role of a new, bonus or step parent with the kids (ex. discipline, decisions, etc.)
  • You’re the adult; act like one

How to Co-parent with Someone You Still Love

This is a hard one. Love can truly be all consuming. Not all breakups are mutual. When you don’t have a choice, it’s hard not to be bitter.

In those situations, maintaining a close, yet distant relationship with the other parent can be painful. However, it is still possible.

Keep the focus on the children so you aren’t confused by any kind gestures that may be offered. It’s no longer about your romantic connection, it’s about your parental one.

If you’re having trouble controlling your feelings, you may want to use a neutral party as the go-between the two of you. Hopefully, with time, your feelings will be resolved so you are more comfortable with your parenting situation.

Not all co-parenting situations arise from a breakup.

You could be in a “virtual” or distant co-parenting situation while still in a relationship as well. Due to professional obligations (ex. miliatry, extensive work travel), the other parent could be primarily absent from your child’s day-to-day life.

This can bring up feelings of resentment as well. Involving the other parent may require a little creativity and compromise.

Final Thoughts: Co-Parenting Rules

Successful co-parenting will come with time and effort. Putting positive and healthy co-parenting rules in place helps smooth the process.

By creating rules and boundaries to follow, you will have a framework to follow that’s outside of any emotion.

As cold as it may sound, think of it as transactional. Your job, together, is to positively parent your children.

Let’s operate on the assumption that you are both working toward harmony for your children. Lead with the love you share for your kids and draw your intention from there.

Work toward being able to attend and enjoy family events together. Because, even though the romance is over, you remain a family.

Don’t put your kids in a position to be disappointed by your absence. If you can’t be friendly, you can find a way to be civil.

It’s alright if things aren’t easy in the beginning. Big life changes require time for adjustment. Getting some ground rules in place will give you the guidance you need to move in a positive direction.

Even though it’s hard, do it for the kids.

Are you co-parenting? How is it working out? Share your struggles and triumphs in the comments below.

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