Co-parenting amicably with your
ex can give your children stability and close
relationships with both parents–but it's
rarely easy. Putting aside relationship issues
to co-parent agreeably can be fraught with stress.
Despite the many challenges, though, it is possible
to develop a cordial working relationship with
your ex for the sake of your children. With
these tips, you can remain calm, stay consistent,
and avoid or resolve conflict with your ex and
make joint custody work.
after a separation or divorce
Joint custody arrangements, especially after
an acrimonious split, can be exhausting and
infuriating. It can be extremely difficult to
get past the painful history you may have with
your ex and overcome any built-up resentment.
Making shared decisions, interacting with each
another at drop-offs, or just speaking to a
person you’d rather forget all about can
seem like impossible tasks. But while it’s
true that co-parenting isn’t an easy solution,
it is the best way to ensure your children’s
needs are met and they are able to retain close
relationships with both parents.
It may be helpful
to start thinking of your relationship with
your ex as a completely new one—one that
is entirely about the well-being of your children,
and not about either of you. Your marriage may
be over, but your family is not; doing what
is best for your kids is your most important
priority. The first step to being a mature,
responsible co-parent is to always put your
children's needs ahead of your own.
is the best option for your children
Through your parenting partnership, your kids
should recognize that they are more important
than the conflict that ended the marriage—and
understand that your love for them will prevail
despite changing circumstances. Kids whose divorced
parents have a cooperative relationship:
secure. When confident of the love of both parents,
kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce
and have better self-esteem.
from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar
rules, discipline, and rewards between households,
so children know what to expect, and what’s
expected of them.
understand problem solving. Children who see
their parents continuing to work together are
more likely to learn how to effectively and
peacefully solve problems themselves.
a healthy example to follow. By cooperating
with the other parent, you are establishing
a life pattern your children can carry into
tips for divorced parents: Setting hurt and
The key to co-parenting is to focus on your
children—and your children only. Yes,
this can be very difficult. It means that your
own emotions—any anger, resentment, or
hurt—must take a back seat to the needs
of your children. Admittedly, setting aside
such strong feelings may be the hardest part
of learning to work cooperatively with your
ex, but it’s also perhaps the most vital.
Co-parenting is not about your feelings, or
those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your
child’s happiness, stability, and future
feelings from behavior
It’s okay to be hurt and angry, but your
feelings don’t have to dictate your behavior.
Instead, let what’s best for your kids—you
working cooperatively with the other parent—motivate
your feelings out somewhere else. Never vent
to your child. Friends, therapists, or even
a loving pet can all make good listeners when
you need to get negative feelings off your chest.
Exercise can also be a healthy outlet for letting
kid-focused. If you feel angry or resentful,
try to remember why you need to act with purpose
and grace: your child’s best interests
are at stake. If your anger feels overwhelming,
looking at a photograph of your child may help
you calm down.
your body. Consciously putting your shoulders
down, breathing evenly and deeply, and standing
erect can keep you distracted from your anger,
and can have a relaxing effect.
in the middle
You may never completely lose all of your resentment
or bitterness about your break up, but what
you can do is compartmentalize those feelings
and remind yourself that they are your issues,
not your child's. Resolve to keep your issues
with your ex away from your children.
use kids as messengers. When you have your child
tell the other parent something for you, it
puts him or her in the center of your conflict.
The goal is to keep your child out of your relationship
issues, so call or email your ex yourself.
your issues to yourself. Never say negative
things about your ex to your children, or make
them feel like they have to choose. Your child
has a right to a relationship with his or her
other parent that is free of your influence.
tips for divorced parents: Communicating with
Relieving stress in the moment—no
matter who you’re dealing with
It may seem impossible to stay calm when dealing
with a difficult ex-spouse who’s hurt
you in the past or has a real knack for pushing
your buttons. But by practicing quick stress
relief techniques, you can learn to stay in
control when the pressure builds.
and purposeful communication with your ex is
essential to the success of co-parenting—even
though it may seem absolutely impossible. It
all begins with your mindset. Think about communication
with your ex as having the highest purpose:
your child’s well-being. Before contact
with your ex, ask yourself how your talk will
affect your child, and resolve to conduct yourself
with dignity. Make your child the focal point
of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.
with your ex is likely to be a tough task. Remember
that it isn’t always necessary to meet
your ex in person—speaking over the phone
or exchanging texts or emails is fine for the
majority of conversations. The goal is to establish
conflict-free communication, so see which type
of contact works best for you. Whether talking
via email, phone, or in person, the following
methods can help you initiate and maintain effective
a business-like tone. Approach the relationship
with your ex as a business partnership where
your “business” is your children’s
well-being. Speak or write to your ex as you
would a colleague—with cordiality, respect,
and neutrality. Relax and talk slowly.
requests. Instead of making statements, which
can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing
as much as you can as requests. Requests can
begin "Would you be willing to…?"
or “Can we try…?”
Communicating with maturity starts with listening.
Even if you end up disagreeing with the other
parent, you should at least be able to convey
to your ex that you’ve understood his
or her point of view. And listening does not
signify approval, so you won’t lose anything
by allowing your ex to voice his or her opinions.
restraint. Keep in mind that communicating with
one another is going to be necessary for the
length of your children's entire childhood—if
not longer. You can train yourself to not overreact
to your ex, and over time you can become numb
to the buttons he or she tries to push.
to meeting/talking consistently. Frequent communication
with your ex will convey the message to your
children that you and their other parent are
a united front. This may be extremely difficult
in the early stages of your divorce or separation.
conversations kid-focused. You can control the
content of your communication. Never let a discussion
with your ex-partner digress into a conversation
about your needs or his/her needs; it should
always be about your child's needs only.
the relationship with your ex
If you are truly ready to rebuild trust after
a separation or divorce, be sincere about your
efforts. Remember your children’s best
interests as you move forward to improve your
his or her opinion. This fairly simple technique
can effectively jump-start positive communications
between you and your ex. Take an issue that
you don't feel strongly about, and ask for your
ex's input, showing that you value his or her
When you’re sorry about something, take
the time to apologize sincerely—even if
the incident happened a long time ago. Apologizing
can be very powerful in moving your relationship
away from being adversaries.
out. If a special outing with your ex is going
to cut into your time with your child by an
hour, graciously let it be. Remember that it’s
all about what is best for your child; plus,
when you show flexibility, your ex is more likely
to be flexible with you.
tips for divorced parents: Parenting as a team
Parenting is full of decisions you’ll
have to make with your ex, whether you like
each another or not. Cooperating and communicating
without blow-ups or bickering makes decision-making
far easier on everybody. If you shoot for consistency,
geniality, and teamwork with your ex, the details
of child-rearing decisions tend to fall into
It’s healthy for children to be exposed
to different perspectives and to learn to be
flexible, but they also need to know they’re
living under the same basic set of expectations
at each home. Aiming for consistency between
your home and your ex’s avoids confusion
for your children.
Rules don’t have to be exactly the same
between two households, but if you and your
ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines,
your kids won’t have to bounce back and
forth between two radically different disciplinary
environments. Important lifestyle rules like
homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities
should be followed in both households.
Try to follow similar systems of consequences
for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t
happen under your roof. So, if your kids have
lost TV privileges while at your ex’s
house, follow through with the restriction.
The same can be done for rewarding good behavior.
Where you can, aim for some consistency in your
children’s schedules. Making meals, homework,
and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward
your child’s adjustment to having two
Major decisions need to be made by both you
and your ex. Being open, honest, and straightforward
about important issues is crucial to both your
relationship with your ex and your children’s
needs. Effective co-parenting can help parents
focus on the best medical care for the child,
and can help reduce anxiety for everyone. Whether
you decide to designate one parent to communicate
primarily with health care professionals or
attend medical appointments together, keep one
another in the loop.
School plays a major role in maintaining a stable
environment for your kids, so be sure to let
them know about changes in your child’s
living situation. Speak with your ex ahead of
time about class schedules, extra-curricular
activities, and parent-teacher conferences,
and be polite to him or her at school or sports
issues. The cost of maintaining two separate
households can strain your attempts to be effective
co-parents. Set a realistic budget and keep
accurate records for shared expenses. Be gracious
if your ex provides opportunities for your children
that you cannot provide.
As you co-parent, you and your ex are bound
to disagree over certain issues. Keep the following
in mind as you try to come to consensus with
can go a long way. Simple manners are often
neglected between co-parents, even though they
should be the foundation for co-parenting. Being
considerate and respectful includes letting
your ex know about school events, being flexible
about your schedule when possible, and taking
his or her opinion seriously.
talking. It might sound tedious, but if you
disagree about something important, you will
need to continue to communicate about the topic.
Never discuss your differences of opinions with
or in front of your child. If you still can’t
agree, you may need to talk to a third party,
like a therapist or mediator.
sweat the small stuff. If you disagree about
important issues like a medical surgery or choice
of school for your child, by all means keep
the discussion going. But if you want your child
in bed by 7:30 and your ex says 8:00, try to
let it go and save your energy for the bigger
Yes, you will need to come around to your ex
spouse’s point of view as often as he
or she comes around to yours. It may not always
be your first choice, but compromise allows
you both to “win” and makes both
of you more likely to be flexible in the future.
tips for divorced parents: Making transitions
The actual move from one household to another,
whether it happens every few days or just on
weekends, can be a very hard time for children.
Transitions represent a major change in your
children's reality. Every reunion with one parent
is also a separation with the other; each “hello”
is also a “goodbye.” In joint custody
arrangements, transition time is inevitable,
but there are many things you can do to help
make exchanges and transitions easier, both
when your children leave and return.
your child leaves
As kids prepare to leave your house for your
ex’s, try to stay positive and deliver
them on time. You can use the following strategies
to help make transitions easier:
children anticipate change. Remind kids they’ll
be leaving for the other parent’s house
a day or two before the visit.
in advance. Depending on their age, help children
pack their bags well before they leave so that
they don’t forget anything they’ll
miss. Encourage packing familiar reminders like
a special stuffed toy or photograph.
drop off—never pick up the child on "switch
day." It’s a good idea to avoid "taking"
your child from the other parent so that you
don’t risk interrupting or curtailing
a special moment. Drop off your child at the
other parent’s house instead.
your child returns
The beginning of your children’s return
to your home can be awkward or even rocky. You
can try the following to help your child adjust:
things low-key. When children first enter your
home, try to have some down time together—read
a book or do some other quiet activity.
up. To make packing simpler and make kids feel
more comfortable when they are at the other
parent's house, have kids keep certain basics—toothbrush,
hairbrush, pajamas—at both houses.
the child space. Children often need a little
time to adjust to the transition. If they seem
to need some space, do something else nearby.
In time, things will get back to normal.
a special routine. Play a game or serve the
same special meal each time your child returns.
Kids thrive on routine—if they know exactly
what to expect when they return to you it can
help the transition.
with visitation refusal
Sometimes kids refuse to leave one parent to
be with the other. Although this can be a difficult
situation, it is also common for children in
the cause. The problem may be one that is easy
to resolve, like paying more attention to your
child, making a change in discipline style,
or having more toys or other entertainment.
Or it may be that an emotional reason is at
hand, such as conflict or misunderstanding.
Talk to your child about his or her refusal
with the flow. Whether you have detected the
reason for the refusal or not, try to give your
child the space and time that he or she obviously
needs. It may have nothing to do with you at
all. And take heart: most cases of visitation
refusal are temporary.
to your ex. A heart-to-heart with your ex about
the refusal may be challenging and emotional,
but can help you figure out what the problem
is. Try to be sensitive and understanding to
your ex as you discuss this touchy subject.
Resources & References
Divorce – A four-page booklet
that includes a checklist of what to include
in a co-parenting plan and descriptions of different
types of custody arrangements. (Montana State
of Co-Parenting – A list
of co-parenting basics. (Co-Parenting 101)
Divorce – Discusses how
to move beyond a hostile or conflicted relationship
so that your children can benefit from ex-spouses
parenting cooperatively. (Phillip M. Stahl,
Parenting After Divorce –
Tips for the parent who does not have custody
or who lives a long distance away, and can’t
be involved with the children every day. (Montana