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4 Rockstar Tips on How to Effectively Co-Parent

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Editor's Note

If you or a loved one is affected by addiction, the following post could be triggering. You can contact SAMHSA’s hotline at 1-800-662-4357.

Co-parenting refers to a parenting situation where the responsibilities of parenting a child are shared by the adults. The original meaning of the term referred to united families caring for a child. These families that could include two mothers, two fathers, a parent and a grandparent, and so forth. The definition was extended, within the last 20 years, to include parents that were separated or divorced. Effective co-parenting is tricky in the sense that it requires that the adults that are taking on the responsibilities of parenting the child are willing to put the child’s best interests before their own. It sounds like a given that both parents could and would be open to doing this. But, when you’ve recently separated or been divorced, emotions are raw. You may unintentionally behave in ways that hinder a healthy co-parenting relationship from forming. The following are several tips on how to effectively co-parent after a separation or divorce:

1. Focus on what you’re doing.

How are you working towards ensuring your kids are balanced emotionally, physically, and socially? I was guilty of obsessing over what level of parenting was taking place when the kids were at their dad’s house. I’d spend the first 15 minutes, once the kids returned home from a weekend at dads, in interrogation mode: What did they eat? What time did they go to bed? Did dad drink beer? French fries. Late. Always. Then, I’d call my ex up and say annoying things like, “the kids said you drank beer over the weekend. I asked you not to drink alcohol in front of them.” Can you say “controlling?” So, how does one focus on herself? First, you focus, in the literal sense. You’ll find that when you’re concerned with his parenting style, your style is all over the place. When I stopped analyzing his parenting style and looked closer at my own, I realized that my behavior involving my kids wasn’t always parallel to their best interests. One behavior at a time I started to change. I stopped interrogating my kids after their weekend with dad and only asked them if they enjoyed their weekend. I stopped calling my ex judgmental statements and kept my phone calls to relaying positive messages about the kids like if our son had an excellent day at school.

2. Release all hostility.

I have days where I hate him for bringing addiction into our lives. When we first separated, I’d block his number for days so he couldn’t reach the kids. “I’ll show him,” I thought. But, the only ones I affected were my kids who wondered why daddy hadn’t called. I had days – especially when his father and I first separated — when my son said he’d rather live with his daddy than with me. In my mind, I had a dated script of all the times daddy never came home or couldn’t go to work because he was “dope sick.” But, instead I’d look at my son and say, “Daddy loves you very much and you’ll see him this weekend.” No one is affected by one parent’s hostility towards the other more than the kids. They feel it. The negative energy. The way you avoid looking at their father when you drop them off for the weekend. Harboring hostility is exhausting. It’s non-productive. So, let it go. “It’s not that easy,” you say? It is THAT easy. You control how you interpret an event and the meaning you give to it. Based on your interpretation, you develop a feeling attached to the event, and you behave accordingly. What’s the common element in the previous sentence – you. You are in complete control. You can choose to forgive your ex, not for their sake, but for the sake of building a relationship with the other parent that supports co-parenting.

3. Be consistent.

Setting boundaries with your kids is a crucial piece to effective co-parenting. Kids want and need consistency, even if they rebel against it. Boundaries give kids a sense of security. For instance, establish rules for your home that your kids are expected to follow. Maybe they must be in bed by 9 on a school night or finish their homework before they can have screen time. It’s the responsibility of the other parent to establish their own rules in relation to their home. It’s not your responsibility to establish rules for both households and demand that the kids act the same way at dad’s house as they do at your home. Remember – focus on what you’re doing. The key is for both parents to be consistent in the rules they set for their household. In addition, they should be clear with the kids on what those rules consist of and the consequences of violating those rules.

4. Work at it.

How effectively you and your ex co-parent influences your kids’ emotional development. Motherhood is possibly the most challenging job you’ll ever have. And, yes, I do think it’s a job. I’ve heard people say it’s not a job, but a blessing. I don’t see why the one can’t exist alongside the other. It’s as if mothers have been socialized to not use the word job in the same sentence as motherhood. Like “job” is a dirty word. I love my job! Motherhood is something that requires skill, much like a job, and commitment, much like a job, and perseverance (job). And, it even has a continuing education component where you’re always learning how to be a better parent to your kids. As I perceive it, co-parenting is a subcategory of motherhood. You can do it, but if you don’t do it well, it can harm the kids. It’s like feeding your kids. You can feed them crappy food, and say they’ve been “fed,” but then you risk their development of poor nutritional habits.

The meaning of co is “mutual” or “common.” The words cooperation, communication, and compromise are all words which begin with co. All these words lend themselves to establishing an effective co-parenting relationship. It’s a lot of work. But, learning to effectively co-parent after a separation or divorce will be one of the greatest gifts you give to your children.

A version of this story originally appeared on

Photo credit: LittleBee80/Getty Images

Originally published: February 16, 2021
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