Families come in all shapes and sizes, but any time they change—as in the event of a separation or divorce—the fracture will inevitably affect the whole family. Co-parenting means working collaboratively to provide your child with an environment where they can feel safe, secure, and encouraged to bond with both parents equally.
Knowing how to co-parent, however, will work differently for every family. Understanding the options for establishing a copacetic, child-first arrangement can help each of you navigate current and future adjustments successfully.
#1 Create A Co-Parenting Plan
An important aspect of having a successful co parenting relationship is having a co parenting plan. While you may have different parenting styles, it’s a good idea to agree on some basic rules for raising your child with consistency between households. The more communicative and aligned you can be as co-parents, the less margin there is for either party to blur lines or cause your child distress.
Whatever your separation circumstances, aim to agree upon:
- Custody and visitation schedules
- Your child’s education and healthcare
- Holidays and extended family involvement
- The best way to stay in touch (e.g. phone calls)
Whether you work it out yourselves or with the guidance of an attorney, having a co parenting agreement plan will help to minimize conflicts and create a sense of security for your child.
#2 Decide On Your Communication Style
A healthy co parenting relationship also involves open communication. Maintaining open communication makes it much easier to confirm care details, make schedule adjustments, or share when your child is having a tough time and needs extra emotional support from caregivers.
That said, not every pair of co-parents can communicate freely without running into conflict. In some cases, boundary-less communication can even cause one or both partners to feel unsafe.
For this reason, be clear on which communication channels work best—and when your co-parent may use them. Whether you schedule semi-weekly calls or prefer to relay messages via email, agreeing on a copacetic communication style is crucial for maintaining transparency about your and your child’s needs.
#3 Set Boundaries
In a similar vein, make a habit of checking in with your own emotional well-being when co-parenting with an ex-partner or spouse. While some partners separate on amicable terms, for others there could be lingering resentment or toxicity.
If certain interactions are causing you distress, there may be ways to set boundaries and find compromises. For example, you might use a therapist or third party to help mediate parenting decision-making. Some co-parents pursue a parallel parenting style to minimize interaction when necessary.
#4 Support Your Child Through Transitions And Beyond
While creating a co parenting arrangement and developing a successful co parenting relationship can seem challenging, it is important for young children so they can feel safe and comfortable at home. Acknowledge your child’s feelings as they navigate the new adjustments in their life, and make sure they know they have a loving home with both parents. Some ways to support your child through these changes include:
- Reminding them it isn’t their fault – It’s common for children to blame themselves for changing family dynamics. As co-parents, learn how to communicate with children and help them understand they aren’t the cause of your separation to quell any feelings of self-blame.
- Keeping them out of your conflicts – Whether you’re going through divorce mediation or butting heads about after-school activities, do your best to keep your child out of your arguments. Minimizing conflicts can also help your child cope with separation.1
- Providing emotional support tools – Big life changes can bring about feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. Whether it’s talking through feelings with a therapist or exploring emotions with a cuddly friend, giving your child judgment-free outlets to communicate is essential for helping them transition with resilience.
When it comes to transitions, one of the most valuable things you can give your child is time. It can take an average of two years for children to fully acclimate to divorce.2 As co-parents, that means acknowledging it may take them time to fully accept and adjust to the changes.
The same is true for micro-transitions. For instance, most children need adequate time to adjust when switching from one parent’s house to another. They may have big feelings turn up in the process, and when they do, let them know you’re a safe person to express them with.
#5 Make Decisions Based On What’s Best For Your Child
One of the keys to healthy parenting and parenting with confidence is trying to do what’s best for your kids. When co-parenting, your child should always be top-priority in making plans and decisions. However, their age can be a crucial criterion to consider when deciding what arrangements will benefit them.
For instance, how can you learn to co-parent a newborn? Newborns are at a critical stage of development where they need to form secure bonds with a caregiver. Maintaining consistency in routines like sleeping and breastfeeding is crucial for their psychological and physiological care.3
No matter how old your child is, having a respectful co-parenting relationship means providing a united front when it comes to making them feel unconditionally loved even if the conditions of your co-parent relationship are in flux. Doing so will help them learn to navigate difficult situations while continuing to build connections with important people in their life.4 At the end of the day, connecting with kids as co-parents can help foster a strong family bond.
Equip Your Child with Emotional Navigational Tools with Slumberkins
Creating a healthy relationship with your ex-partner or spouse is important for your child. Even though your relationship with your partner has come to an end, your relationship with your child hasn’t. Giving them outlets for working through big feelings can help them find an emotional equilibrium and adapt to new dynamics as they evolve.
At Slumberkins, we’re here to support you and your child through big changes with cuddly characters and books about change that encourage kids to work through and express their feelings. Whether it’s learning to navigate change or finding ways to temper anxiety, our Kins and Snugglers help to reinforce healthy emotional attachments and boost confidence through transitions.
- Stolnicu, Alexandra et al. “Healing the Separation in High-Conflict Post-divorce Co-parenting.” Frontiers in psychology vol. 13 913447. 17 Jun. 2022, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2022.913447
- "Healthy divorce: How to make your split as smooth as possible." American Psychological Association. Published 2013. https://www.apa.org/topics/divorce-child-custody/healthy#
- Kruk, Edward. "Co-Parenting Infants and Very Young Children." Psychology Today. 29 March, 2013. https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/co-parenting-after-divorce/201303/co-parenting-infants-and-very-young-children
- Cromwell, Shannon. "Positive Coparenting Strategies." Utah State University Relationships Extension. https://extension.usu.edu/relationships/faq/positive-coparenting-strategies
- Zhao, Fengqing et al. “The Association between Coparenting Behavior and Internalizing/Externalizing Problems of Children and Adolescents: A Meta-Analysis.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 19,16 10346. 19 Aug. 2022, doi:10.3390/ijerph191610346
- "Coparenting." National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse. https://www.fatherhood.gov/for-dads/coparenting