Whether you can stand the idea of relinquishing control of your children to an ex you dislike, loathe or hate, you likely do not have a choice.
Shared parenting legislation was introduced in more than half of states last year, and as science, media and general common sense infiltrates family court and culture, there has been an incredibly positive movement towards it.
Even if the kids are with you a majority of the time, there is a lot you can do to promote a family culture of equality and harmony.
Working with a therapist (opposed to an expensive lawyer), can help. Online therapists specializing in mediation, divorce, coparenting or couples are a great option for coparents, as the process is very affordable, anonymous, convenient (you connect via video, phone or text), and you don’t have to be in the same room as your ex!
How do you have a healthy coparenting relationship? Keep reading …
1. Establish co-parenting rules
- Respect that each co-parent is equal.
- Both parents are equally responsible for the children, including 50-50 parenting schedules.
- Appreciate that both parents bring unique qualities, friends and family members to the child’s life and development.
- The nature or reason of the parents’ breakup or divorce is irrelevant to the co-parenting relationship.
- Each parent’s extended families are equally important.
- Both partners can manage their romantic lives as they prefer, without input from the coparent.
2. Trust, not control your ex
The big, overarching theme in successful, harmonious co-parenting is that both partners respect the other to be a safe, decent parent when the other is not around.
If you truly believe that your kids’ other parent is unsafe, then you need to take legal action to minimize contact. Otherwise, you are the controlling ex that your co-parent must navigate. Don’t be the controlling ex!
Which brings me to the big point about shared parenting: If a parent is deemed safe to be with the kids 10 percent of the time, they are then safe to be with them 30 or 50 or 80 or even 100 percent of the time.
That means that you do not try to control what happens at the other parent’s house.
Maybe he is the fun weekend dad, all the time, and you prefer children have structure, chores and downtime.
He is a strict vegan and never allows sugar, carbs or produce grown outside of the county. You think kids need animal protein and the occasional cookie.
You have to let that go.
Do not call all the time to check in on the kids, or chat with them. Do not ask to take the kids more in the name of doing something special with them. Honor that his scheduled time belongs to the kids.
The beauty of successful shared parenting is that once you trust each other and learn to communicate, you are more likely to peacefully negotiate differences for the sake of everyone’s best interests and stop being that toxic parent.
“My ex and I started to co-parent amazingly once I let go of trying to control the situation, let him parent the way he wants to parent, be understanding when he was late, and ignore the clothes never being returned. Once you take the pressure off, the tension eases and you can start to bond and connect better.”
3. Shared parenting is about gender equality
Accept that men and women are equal — including that mothers and fathers are equal parents.
Our culture does not support that idea. Women are told since birth that we are the superior parents, and that our greatest calling is to be a mother.
Men are told that their contribution to family life is as the breadwinner.
Family courts support this sexist culture, by overwhelmingly ruling that mothers have primary custody, and men pay child support.
This model perpetuates gender stereotypes.
By equally sharing parenting responsibilities, and the cost of raising children, you are not only doing what is best for your children, you also model healthy coparenting for others who are watching you, changing our culture, our world, and informing family courts for other families.
Healthy co-parenting is activism. Thank you for your work!
4. Protect the kids after divorce or separation
If things are tense between you, keep the focus of any must-have interaction on the kids.
If you are going through divorce now, consider low-conflict options like mediation, collaborative divorce, or file for divorce yourself online. There are a number of quality divorce paper services that will help you file for divorce online.
5. Even after divorce: coparent as a team
Focus on parenting as a team.
Ask his advice about behavior issues.
Do not allow the kids to pit one of you against the other, and never vie for the position as favorite parent.
As one member of my Millionaire Single Moms Facebook group said:
“In parenting, there is no good-cop / bad-cop. Sometimes we are both the bad cop.”
I’ll add: And you both get to be the good cop!
This co-parenting rule includes: Do not ask children to weigh in on adult decisions. This includes time-sharing, resolving any disputes over holiday schedules, or other issues that are for parents. Over-empowering children to make adult decisions in divorced families is the hallmark of parental alienation, which is the most common reason a parent is no not involved with their child.
6. Choose carefully words you use for your kids’ homes, and their dad
The kids have two homes — use pronouns accordingly.
When communicating with him, use ‘your house’ and ‘my house’ … not ‘Home,’ as in ‘When will you bring the kids home?’
It doesn’t matter how much time each parent has with the kids, keep these pronouns neutral.
That goes for the language you use with your kids, too. “Daddy’s house” and “mommy’s house” — not “your dad’s house” and “home.”
Similarly, watch your mouth re: what you call your kids’ dad — even when speaking with other people.
From Maggie: “Change your own thinking by reframing what your relationship is with him in your head. ‘My child’s other parent,’ instead of ‘my ex.'”
7. Have family meetings with your ex
From Erin: “We still occasionally have family meetings. It benefits the kids to see that we are on the same page and then everyone gets everything out at once.”
A quality couples or family therapist can help facilitate the conversation, defuse conflict, and help establish boundaries. Read our Betterhelp review to learn more about our No. 1 online therapy app.
8. Set up a co parenting calendar — download an app
You can do this with Google calendar, or as part of a co-parenting app like Our Family Wizard or Cozi. This can be a life-changing exercise to keep track of visitation schedules, kids’ activities, the millions of half-days off school, and to negotiate schedule changes.
For co-parenting schedules, expense sharing, and more co-parenting apps can be a handy, low-cost (or free!) way to make co-parenting easy, plus create a document to help resolve any conflict quickly.
Coparenting apps help all parties involved streamline the logistical issues that can create confusion and conflict:
- Create and share a single calendar
- Document cost-sharing
- Keep and share contact and other info (grandparents, pediatrician, and babysitter contacts, medical info) in one convenient place
- Creating systems for changing visits, coordinating extracurriculars, school days off and all the other complications (and joys!) of raising children
- Share all this info with other caregivers like relatives, neighbors, coaches, nannies and babysitters, and the kids themselves!
9. Consider co-parenting counseling
If you and your ex are having trouble getting along, consider co-parent counseling. This is just what it sounds like: getting a trained therapist to help the two of you become the best parents you can be — even if you're not in a romantic relationship.
This is great for your kids, obviously. But it’s also good for the two of you. Life is too short to hang on to anger, or to grief. Counseling can help you move on.
Similar to family meetings, many parents who live separately find it helpful to meet with an objective, professional third-party to work though co-parenting challenges, as well as everyday parenting woes. Does your kid struggle with anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, social or academic challenges? Is your ex passive-aggressive, toxic, abusive or otherwise uncooperative?
Online therapy is a great option for coparents. These platforms are anonymous, much lower-cost than in-person counseling, and because you connect via phone, video, text or email, you don’t have to be in the same room as your ex!
10. Consider co-parenting classes
Your family courts system likely offers co-parenting classes for free or an affordable rate. Even if you are not required by your parenting plan or a judge to take a co-parenting course, even an online class for parents dealing with divorce or high-conflict have reported enormous benefits to their relationship with each other, and better outcomes for their kids.
Positive Parenting Solutions offers very affordable online co-parenting classes, as well as those for families with kids and divorce, as well as high-conflict relationships. Get $20 off with code WSM20 >>
11. Recognize your own role in conflict
How do you respond when your ex irritates you? Are you always prompt in responding to your kids’ other parent? Do you bring up old fights? Try to resolve past hurts? Punish him?
Do you grill your kids about their visit when they return from their other parent’s home? Fish around for information about a new boyfriend or girlfriend? Internally, do you compare your new, post-divorce life to your ex’s? Measure who is “doing better?”
Do you — even once in a while, passive-aggressively — make negative comments about your kids’ mom/dad? Their other grandparents?
The good news is that you are not alone, and you are a normal human.
No co-parent is perfect, and if someone tells you that they are not guilty of at least a few transgressions, they are liars / in total denial.
The other good news is that you can heal the past wounds that have led you here. In fact, take these co-parenting mistakes as an opportunity to recognize where you may have room to grow.
You may be surprised to find that when you focus on your own part of any co-parenting conflict, the whole relationship changes. This may include changing your own behavior, as well as setting stronger boundaries and not accepting the other person’s poor behavior.
You are powerful!
12. Keep coparenting communication open and frequent
Some basic rules:
- Stick to the facts.
- Respond promptly. You can respond to a text within 12 hours. If you need to think about something, do research or otherwise need to figure something out, let your kids’ other parent know that you are working on their request and when they can expect an answer.
Routinely involve him in decisions about the kids’ child care, school, health, activities — even if he doesn’t attend events and appointments, or pretend to care. Just share anyway.
Respond to his or her text right away. If you don’t have the answer to a question, still respond to confirm you received the request, and tell them when they can expect an answer.
Also: Include in any coparenting agreement a time limit for responding to schedule change requests and other communication, be it 24 or 72 hours. Include in the agreement that if there is no response, the requesting party will assume an affirmative response.
For example, if Jessica asks Omar if he will swap weekends, he will have 48 hours (or whatever their agreement states) to respond. If Omar does not respond, Jessica can safely assume that she is free to change the visitation schedule on the coparenting app or shared Google calendar.
13. Invite your ex to birthday parties
Invite him to birthday or graduation parties you throw for the kids.
You can also ask him to participate in the planning, to bring the cake or otherwise be involved.
14. Stay involved with your ex-in-laws
Stay connected to his family and friends.
Send them holiday cards and invite them to school, sports and birthday events.
Better yet, in the case of a dispute, just let him take the kids for the holiday.
15. Tell your kids happy stories about their dad
Share positive stories about the other parent with the kids.
Tell them about how you met, or trips you took, or positive qualities about their dad.
This communicates to your children something positive about a person they love, and reconditions you to think differently, and better about your ex.
This shift will infiltrate your energy, vibration, and interaction with him.
When she was 4, my daughter was obsessed with family stories. “Mommy, tell me a story about when I was a baby,” she’ll ask, and I’d tell her about how once, as a sleeping infant, her laugh broke the pin-drop silence of one of New York Public Library’s reading rooms, eliciting a symphony of chuckles. “Tell me a story about when you were a little girl,” she’d say. And I tell her about being 5 and cutting the acres of lawn on my grandparents’ farm with a riding mower.
I could see her putting together the pieces of my history, the family history, and how the elements come together to help her understand herself.
Then she took it up a notch: “Mommy, tell me a story about you and daddy before you were married.”
I took a deep breath. I spend a lot of energy on not being bitter about things. I pay attention to where I put my energy — I don’t want to be one of those women still grumbling about some argument with their ex, 30 years after the fact. Sometimes I worry I swing too far in the opposite direction and tuck away memories altogether, afraid that should I pull one — even a funny or sweet or tender one — all the bad ones will come bursting out in a flood of emotion.
But there are so, so many good memories. And I want my children to know those stories because they are also their stories. But more than that, I want them to have a sense of the love that brought their dad and me together, because that is also their love.
And so I told Helena about a road trip her dad and I took when we were dating. We drove from Phoenix to San Diego and on the way home decided it would be fun to play Name That Tune. The key was each of was to whistle a song, and the other would guess. The catch was that I can’t whistle. I’ve heard there is a genetic defect that makes this so, and I don’t know, but no whistling Dixie for me.
But that didn’t stop us, and so for most of the six-hour drive, we took turns whistling Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” or David Gray’s “The Other Side” or Ray Charles’s “I’ve Gotta Woman” and when it was my turn Emmanuel would listen very, verrrry carefully and try to guess as I earnestly huffed out a hollow whisper of a melody until we couldn’t take it anymore and would burst out laughing. And then we would start again.
Helena totally understood the hilarity of the story, and teased me about not being able to whistle (incidentally, she learned when she was 2). Then she sat back on the sofa with a satisfied look on her face, and I knew that she really got it — the whole big story is really about her, and that that story is indeed full of love.
16. Cooperate with your ex on holidays
Buy him a holiday and birthday gift on behalf of the kids. Be generous with the holiday coparenting schedule.
17. Support your ex’s new girlfriend or wife
Be positive about any romantic partners in his life — both to the kids and to him.
It doesn’t matter if you like your kids’ new stepmom or whether she was the affair partner.
18. Respect your co-parent
When he makes a suggestion or request about parenting, listen and follow it unless you actually really object.
19. Support your kids’ dad’s parenting
Think about what you can do to help the other parent win at parenting.
These might include daily reminders, scheduling and planning emails, or follow-up phone calls.
Do it from a place of love and unity, and without being condescending!
However, this can be a fine line. If your other parent over-depends on you, establish those boundaries, inform your co-parent of what you are willing to do, and not do, and then stick to your word.
20. Let him fail.
There is a fine line between being supportive and co-dependent.
Ultimately, he is responsible for being the best father he can.
I have heard moms say they schedule fun activities for their kids’ dad to do with “because I love my kids and want them to have fun weekends.”
That is actually controlling and co-dependent and doesn’t work in a coparenting relationship.
21. Celebrate the kids with him
Share the kids’ successes with him: Screenshot good grades on homework or cute craft projects and send him, send pics or videos from sports events he misses – and not in a passive-aggressive way to punish him for not being there.
22. Say yes more than you say no (if you can)
Say ‘yes’ as very often as you possibly can when he asks for flexibility in the schedule.
23. Please and thank you
Thank him when he is flexible with you, no matter how much more of the work you know you do.
24. Don’t keep score of stuff
Let go of the, ‘I bought those clothes so they stay at my house.’
If you’re running short on certain items, just ask that enough be returned when you are running low, and pay back that favor.
25. Let the kids see you speaking well of one another — to one another
Give him a compliment. Do it in front of the kids.
It is so important for your kids to hear nice things about YOU — if your ex is not the person, find someone who is:
In the past few weeks I had really sweet experiences with friends’ paying lovely compliments to me via my kids.
Like last night when my neighbors came for dinner with their new baby, and over stew and winter salad Helena complained how her mom (that would be me) yelled at her in the mornings. “Well,” my friend said. “When I see how bright and funny and well-behaved you and your brother are, I think what a great mom you and Lucas have.” Which shut my kid up real quick-like.
Or a few weeks ago, my oldest friend Amanda visited from St. Louis. While she, the kids and I ate banana apple muffins in the living room on Saturday morning, Amanda told my daughter what a great mom she has, how she has an interesting career and takes them on cool trips and some other stuff I forget because I was just so touched and grateful for her friendship, but also that there was someone other than me pointing out my finer points to my kids. Marketing experts know that promotion is far more powerful when coming from a credible third party — in this case, someone who is not naggingly demanding respect and gratitude all the live-long day (that would be me).
Which brings up a big question for single moms: For all you do for your kids, who do you have in your life to point out those things to your kid? In a perfect world, each of us might have a spouse or partner who genuinely adores you, and organically displays that adoration through myriad words and gestures. In the absence of such a partner, who puts into perspective for your kids what a great cook, or hard worker, or loving parent you are?
Often, I feel like my kid’s don’t appreciate me as much as I think they should (what can I say, I have an ego — it needs stroking from those I love most!). But then I realize that they are listening all the time. I hear Helena telling her friends: “My mom is a VERY GOOD writer! And she has a radio show and is on TV!” I realize that she listens when my friends come over and we talk business, and she pays attention when I tell her about my day.
And Lucas goes beyond in his over-exaggerated way to be positive, will say: “Mommy, those muffins are looking GOOD!” or “Thank you for making movie night.” Maybe it his naturally sunny disposition, or my nightly drilling of gratitude practices or constant “What do you say …?” (Acceptable answers: a) Please, b) Thank-you). Or maybe I have nagged my kid into a gratitude stupor that extends to his mother.
26. Careful with your new boyfriend on social media
Refrain from posting social media pics of your new boyfriend with the kids, with the exception of when everyone is really getting along awesome and it truly is NBD.
Otherwise, that is not only counter-productive for co-parenting, but it is mean and targets his manhood on the most primal level.
27. Move on after divorce
Co-parenting advice from single mom Laura: “Change your own mindset about the past/divorce/your heartache.”
LET IT GO.
You are coparents now, and it doesn’t matter how you got here, or whose fault it is. He’s your coparent and children’s dad first, opposed to focusing on the fact he is your ex.
His girlfriend or new wife is just that, not his mistress/affair partner. Learn to respect their relationship, even if you don’t like it, or it still hurts.
Staying in a positive mindset about the now is critical for healthy coparenting.
28. Always always be the bigger person.
When you feel the rage coming on, STOP.
It’s not about you.
Save your energy for the battles that really matter in the long-term.
29. Accept that you don’t have to force the relationship.
You may not want to spend the holidays together or sit on the same bleachers at the kids’ volleyball match.
That is OK.
30. Be patient.
Take it from me: people change and grow and forgive and mellow.
Over time, handoffs at the police station can cease and be replaced by shared holiday meals.
Explosive texting can stop and words of support and encouragement can reign. Life is long.
31. Get your ex involved, if he isn’t
If your ex isn't currently involved in your child's life and you’d like him to be, realize there’s a chance you may not be able to change his mind. But a good first step is to talk with him about why his involvement in your child’s life is important.
Anandhi Narasimhan, a Los Angeles child and adult psychiatrist, suggests finding ways to facilitate interactions, like letting your ex know about upcoming recitals, games, or other activities. Meeting halfway if your ex lives far away can also encourage him to be more involved.
“Ultimately though, there may also have to be some acceptance if the other parent does not engage repeatedly and does not express any interest in doing so,” she says. “Providing the child with other sources of support can be helpful to minimize hurt caused by an absentee parent.”
Check out our post for advice about how to successfully co-parent with an ex.