Co-parent like a pro

Co-parenting is the future, and the future is now.

Science is 100 percent behind collaborative co-parenting.

It is not divorce or separated families that harms children — but conflict between parents, which studies have found leads to fathers being marginalized in the family, and distancing themselves partly or completely from the kids' lives.

Related: What to tell your kid when their dad is not involved

Together, we can work to stop that from happening, and promote shared parenting — no matter how many hours each parent has with the kids.

A full 55 peer-reviewed and published studies on shared parenting find that children fare better when separated, and divorced co-parents share parenting time and decisions approximately equally (courts and academics consider at least 40 percent time with each parent to be considered shared parenting, a.k.a. co-parenting).

This is also true for high-conflict situations.

29 ways to make co-parenting work

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 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, co-parenting or couples are a great option for co-parents, 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!

1. Trust, not control

The big, over-arching 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.

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.

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.

Says Elizabeth:

“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.”

2. It's about gender equality

Accept that men and women are equal.

That includes that mothers and fathers are equal parents.

3. Protect the kids

If things are tense between you, keep the focus of any must-have interaction on the kids. 

4. The two of you are a parenting 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 very 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!

5. 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.

6. Have family meetings

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.”

7. Respect his time with the kids

Do not call all the time to check in on the kids, or chat with them.

Related: I don't live for my kids, and that my greatest gift to them

8. Involve him in matters large and small

Routinely involve him in decisions about the kids' child care, school, health, activities. 

9. Boundaries

IGNORE when he gets pissy.

DO NOT ENGAGE.

Emily's tactic:

“It took me a while to release the angry texting habit I adopted once he moved out, criticizing him every time he was late, or his stories sounded fishy about a plan change.

Now I say to myself: ‘And that is why I divorced him,' and breathe an actual sigh of relief.

I text ‘OK thanks,' like a robot and get on with my life.”

10. Let go of the heartbreak

From single mom Laura: “Change your own mindset about the past/divorce/your heartache.

LET IT GO.

You are co-parents now, and it doesn’t matter how you got here, or whose fault it is. He’s your co-parent and children’s dad — not your ex.

His girlfriend or new wife is just that, not his mistress/affair partner.

Staying in a positive mindset about the now is critical.

11. Careful what you call your ex

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.'”

12. Invite your ex to 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.

13. Stay involved with your ex-inlaws

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. 

14. Tell you 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 different, and better about your ex.

This shift will infiltrate your energy, vibration, and interaction with him.

Here is a post I wrote about various funny, happy stories from my marriage I share with my kids. 

15. Be thoughtful of him on the holidays.

Buy him a holiday and birthday gift on behalf of the kids.

17. Be supportive of his 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 her or whether she was the affair partner.

18. Respect him

When he makes a suggestion or request about parenting, listen and follow it unless you actually really object.

19. Support his 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!

Related: How to raise boys as a single mom

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 co-parenting relationship.

21. Celebrate the kids with him

Share the kids' successes with him: Screen shot 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.

26. Careful with your new BF and social

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. 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.

28. 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 fine.

29. 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.

Having a hard time letting old stuff go? My quick tip for forgiving your ex

Common co-parenting problems — and how to deal with them

1. “My ex cancels all the time”

This is uncool at best, but really abusive. Failure to adhere to a visitation schedule expresses to the children that they are not important, and disrespects the other parent's time, and causes stress, chaos and breaks down any trust.

More on what to do when your ex cancels visits last minute.

2. “My ex is upset about my new boyfriend and trying to prevent me from introducing him to the kids,” or: “I'm upset my kids' dad introduced them to his new girlfriend after a short period / without telling me.”

Sorry this is upsetting, but everyone is an adult and entitled to their own romantic lives — including deciding when to incorporate a new person into their home life.

More on why you don't have to get your ex's permission to introduce the kids to a new man or woman — even if it is in your divorce degree.

3. “Aren't women naturally better parents?”

No. Science proves kids need both parents equally. More on why women exercising the golden uterus complex, a.k.a. maternal gatekeeping, hurts kids, co-parenting relationships, and gender equality.

4. “But my ex and I hate each other and it is impossible to co-parent.”

My post-divorce road with my ex has been rocky. We’re six years into this co-parenting business, and we’re far from hitting a permanent groove. In the early days, aside from screaming matches in front of the kids and neighbors alike, there were in fact calls to police and a restraining order. Weeks would go by without seeing him, and last-minute cancellations were commonplace.

Whatever nasty thing you can imagine saying to the another person were in fact said. I’m guilty.

It seems inconceivable that our relationship would be anything other than an East Coast version of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, minus the fake tits, drugs and millions of dollars.

Every day I hear from people in the midst of co-parenting hell: Dads who check out, moms who block visitation, parents who cancel visits while the kids are waiting by the door, parents who call police when the other is one minute past the court-ordered time, screaming matches and one or the other spending nights in jail — for no good reason.

Fast-forward to today, and my ex and I hardly have it figured  all out, and ups-and-downs ensue. What I could not have imagined has come to pass: More or less regular visits and smooth communication. Spontaneous meals together with the kids, whether at my place or restaurants. Rides shared in one or the other’s Subaru to soccer games. Gifts exchanged on behalf of the kids to the other parent on birthdays and holidays. Chit chats and the occasional hug after a big argument or birthday party co-hosted successfully at the local bowling alley.

As I told him recently in a therapy session: I love him. I’ve known  him for more than 15 years and have two kids with him. He’s a good person. I’m a good person. We both love the kids. At some point everything more or less calmed down, the divorce was finalized and life moved forward. Battles picked. The immediate trauma of divorce subsided.

I wish I could say we are perfectly civilized like the lovely Brandie Weikle, my friend who heads the excellent blog and podcast TheNewFamily.com, and who lives next door to her ex and his new wife, and are the shining model for what a healthy co-parenting relationship can look like — but that would be a lie (though we did discuss vacationing together — until we got into a fight about it, but nevermind.)

Instead I am here to tell you that it can get better. That one day while you’re both at the soccer game expecting the usual arctic glacier to stand between you on either side of the sidelines, you will find that you need help passing out rice crispy treats for the team in order to make it to the team manager meeting for  your other kid across the park. And you will say, ‘Hey, can you handle this for me?’ and he will be so glad to thaw the boreal tension that he will chirp, ‘Sure!’ and suddenly there is a bit of a rapport, a hint of cozy relations that suggest the potential for more of good vibes and less of teeth-grinding hostility, and it feels good. It feels good to you, and it feels good to him, too. And after a while you forget why you were so freaking angry at him all the time, because being angry just sucks and being nice and getting along is so much better. Even if it isn’t fair or logical, you let go. You forgive. He forgives. You see this has been hard for him, too. You see that he does love the kids, and that is a lot. You offer him a ride home. He offers to help you replace your windshield wiper blade.

You get on with it. Steel yourself not for friendship or even a sense of family. At least not yet. Instead, you open yourself to a relationship that you have not yet defined, but will explore. And everything is better.

That, I want you to know — need you to know — is possible.

Related documentary and books on shared parenting:

Recommended shared parenting documentary: Divorce Corp

Kickass Single Mom, Be Financially Independent, Discover Your Sexiest Self, and Raise Fabulous, Happy Children, By: Emma Johnson

Blend, The Secret to Co-Parenting and Creating a Balanced Family, By: Mashonda Tifrere

Co-parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to Do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, By: by Amy J. L. Baker, PhD and Paul R Fine, LCSW

Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing, By: Dr. Richard A. Warshak

About Emma Johnson

Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

19 Comments

  1. Sarah on May 29, 2019 at 7:45 am

    In an ideal world I agree. But as stated when someone is a narcissist and sociopath it is very hard to co-parent and in California where everything is 50/50 you try not to engage with the other parent so the child doesn’t get dragged into it. But that’s even hard.

  2. Simone on May 2, 2019 at 3:20 pm

    This post is helpful. I’m a FTM and single mother of a 1 yr old… I have been struggling w/ co-parenting because it just wasn’t what I want. A family was my dream & since that’s not happening, I find myself trying to control . It’s became so bad that the father has stopped all communication because after 1-2 days of being nice , an argument starts because I’m upset that he doesn’t want to spend more time w/ the child. IF our child never hears from him again , I blame myself completely for being pushy, controlling and over doing it. I appreciate the tips – its helpful and shows that I have a lot I need to work on for sure. Its well worth it.

  3. Larrissia Tarver on January 7, 2019 at 7:46 pm

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I appreciated your transparency and I hope one day I can successfully co-parent with my children’s dad. Thank you!

  4. Katie Fox on October 30, 2018 at 3:02 pm

    I really enjoyed this post! Thank you for sharing.

  5. Laneic Lavalle on July 16, 2018 at 11:07 pm

    These are great tips. I’m so thankful that despite all our ups and downs my son’s father and I have been able to stay cordial with one another in his presence. I never want to get to a point where we can’t walk our son to each other’s door. It’s taken a lot of work and I have to admit, a lot of it required me to take a deep look at if I was letting my personal feelings seep into our co-parenting relationship. Certainly a journey of insight and growth. I’ll have to keep being mindful of 23 though ;P

  6. Kristi Davis on May 21, 2018 at 11:01 am

    I have been reading your site religiously for more than a year. This post brought about much change in my ability to co-parent better. I have done many things suggested above and feel like I am reaping the benefits. BUT, I do have to tell you something funny.

    I am doing these things and keep telling myself it doesn’t matter if it is reciprocal or not. This year, I have invited his girlfriend and her children to my kids’ birthday celebrations. I also invited my ex-inlaws and hosted a large dinner in my home for everyone (girlfriend too). I’m a big girl, trying to co-parent like a boss! I even bought a thoughtful birthday gift for my children’s other parent ;) .

    Yesterday, my children’s other parent sent me an email with a link to photos. He had paid to have our children photographed for Mother’s Day. How sweet, right?!?!?! I opened the link and the photo shoot was my kids and my ex! He’s in about 90% of the photos in coordinating colors. And my gift is that I can pay for any photo I would like from their session. WTH!!! I got so angry I started getting teary and then had to talk myself off the ledge.

    This “gift” is one of the key reasons we are divorced! Yet, from the outside, you couldn’t ask for a kinder, more thoughtful co-parent, right?! What man gets everyone dressed in matching outfits and dresses himself without a woman behind that griping at everyone? He did. For my mother’s day present.

    Today, I am starting to laugh about it and thought it might give you a giggle too. I appreciate this blog and share it with many divorced girlfriends. You are very good at what you do!

  7. Anonymous on February 26, 2018 at 8:28 am

    It is not possible to co-parent with an abusive or personality disordered person. In such a case, experts agree that parallel parenting should be the goal. Also, regardless of whether you truly believe that your kids’ other parent is unsafe, the legal bar for minimizing contact with the unsafe parent is so high that same may not be possible. Children literally die because courts do not intervene against unsafe parents or because they intervene against the protective parent.

    • Tony on March 26, 2019 at 8:04 pm

      Does the to 6 for a child being killed by the ex wife or ex husband are very very low. It does happen though and I’ve noticed that when it does happen a majority of the time it happens to be the ex wife that does it. Not saying that the ex husband doesn’t do it because it does happen. But there are not a lot of cases to look at. And about being abusive or harassed or verbal I abused, I think 80 to 90% of women that go to courts try to use that as a means to get custody taken away from the dad. I do not care about how good or badd my ex and I get along carried which we don’t get a long. But that relationship between me and her should have nothing to do with her relationship with the children or my relationship with the children which both of us have a very strong relationship with our kids. I think women need to realize in understand that dads want to be dads. They love their kids they want to take care of them they want to see them they want to help raise them they want to support them in whatever way that they can. I think women really do need to stop playing that game that tries to take custody away from the dad. Because in the long run you’re not just hurting your exhusband you are creating a lot of Hurt your children as well. Please just let dad be dad. He loves your kids More then any other person in the world besides you. And believe me I’m sure that the lady who wrote this awesome article understands that there are exceptions to the rule. There always is. But that exception to the rule goes both ways to the ex wife and to the ex husband.

    • Roben on April 7, 2019 at 1:15 am

      This is so true. My ex is a narcissist and I suffered narcissistic abuse for over five years. Now, since the birth of our son, it has been impossible to co-parent as my ex has chosen to see our son less than five times and he refuses to offer any support. I decided to share my story via blogging (thecoalescentfeminine.com) in hopes to encourage other women in abusive relationships.

  8. Marco Brown on February 15, 2018 at 8:53 pm

    I couldn’t disagree with a single point in your blog in fact this is all I’ve asked from my 2 kids moms! More so from my youngst sons mom whom I’m still married to but haven’t been together for 5 years now. My older son and his mom live in Las Vegas while I live in Vancouver Washington so it would be a major task to share 50/50 custody. I feel that the best and “ONLY” interest for a child is to be raised equally by both parents regardless of the hate that you 2 might have for each other. That needs to be put to the side and your child or children have to come first period. The way I see it is that as soon as you bring that precious life into this world your life now becomes his or hers and you should be dedicating anything and everything you can to raise your child properly together as parents but also being able to maintain your life as well.

    Now with that being said how can we change people who don’t care about other people’s or children’s feelings and the damage they bring upon them because the only thing they care about is themselves and everything revolves around them and has to be done there way. You can only put up with it for so long and then the hate comes out.

    You can’t beat hate with more hate you can only beat hate with love. Now love doesn’t always beat hate but it does do something. Now think about your own personal life. Think about a person that hates you and you hate them. From now on just show that person nothing but love. Now I’m not saying for a second that, that person will start loving you they will probably still hate you but one thing will happen, eventually everyone will see them as the asshole. Don’t be the asshole.

    Have respect for one another, not for yourself, for your children. It’s not your child’s fault so there is absolutely no reason they should be raised in that kind of environment or unstable household. So please, your adults, put your differences aside and raise your child together with the love, respect, and dignity that your child deserves

    I’ve been through a lot as a father and having 2 kids with 2 different women 1 of which lives 1000 miles away not by my choice either and nothing kills me more then seeing the pain in his face everytime we have to leave each other. All the crying we’ve done in the airport before he goes or his little brother holding on to his leg crying because he doesn’t want him to go. It’s just not worth it to see your children go through the pain because there parents can’t be adults and do what’s right for the children.

  9. C Had on January 15, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    Not to offend you Emma, but truly written for the deadbeat dad in case. I am a good father and am highly engaged in my kids lives even during the time my soon to be ex was having the affair. The court system is in the favor of the mom and even something like having an affair with family, doesn’t render fairness. Apparently what is important is knowing how much money was put under your child’s pillow when he lost his 1st tooth 6 years ago, or what street he was on when he rode his bike solo for the 1st time. A little bitterness here because I was ordered to leave the house, pay child support and only get to see them every other weekend. I plan on fighting for fairness till the end. I am working on some of your tips however. I have a long way to go….

  10. Holly Griggs on January 11, 2018 at 1:34 pm

    This article is a SLAM DUNK, Emma! You are so on point with all items mentioned! All of these may not be possible immediately, but this should be the goal of all parents who are divorced. Thank you!

    • Emma on January 18, 2018 at 7:44 am

      Yes! Not all are possible immediately (certainly not in my case!) … but life IS long and change can happen.

  11. Sandy on January 10, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    Much of this is irrelevant if the co-parent has a history of emotional, psychological, mental & financial abuse. (Which have no visible signs and are therefore ignored by courts.). In those cases, yes, there is a huge difference between 10% and 50% of the time. Also, don’t assume that practitioners of the “caring” professions e.g. mental health professionals, physicians, clergy etc. are not abusive. Again, a situation thoroughly ignored by the courts. Sometimes it is necessary to co-parent by text message only and to have honest, age-appropriate discussions with your children about abuse in all its forms so they can protect themselves.

  12. Jennifer L.W. Fink on January 10, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    You hit it out of the park with this one, Emma.

    • Emma on January 18, 2018 at 7:43 am

      Thanks Jennifer :)

  13. Djay on January 5, 2018 at 11:33 pm

    #1 says it all Emma. In my situation it isn’t about a matter of safety though. My ex wife has deemed me as unessential since her Csection when we were married. My opinions were dismissed and all the parenting I eagerly provided, later downplayed in divorce proceedings. Illinois courts had her back, end of story. Now she sits on a hill of power thinking her divisiveness will be upheld by the newly appointed GAL in my first quest to right the wrong bestowed upon my daughter.
    One day I truly hope to exhibit all 29 items. For now, I’m in court and it’s very difficult to think anything positive about the ex. I only do what my daughter needs to grow up healthy and happy with the 10 measly days a month I get.
    God I hope the GAL does right for my daughter.

    • Emma on January 18, 2018 at 7:43 am

      I am so sorry to hear of your challenges. Too common. Hang in there – your daughter will know you are fighting for her.

    • Jb on May 9, 2019 at 2:04 pm

      The GAL doesn’t care. You will find out quickly the court system in Illinois is designed to do one thing…take all your money. House bill 4113 was struck down. It would have given parents equal or close to equal parenting time. All the bar associations are against it..takes away their pay. In my case, parental alienation occured while married and continues…no one cares. Psychological manipulation of our child is ongoing…no one cares. I see my child 4 days a month. Decision making is a joke…don’t count on the parenting agreement being enforced if your ex wife violates it…be very aware, if you make one mistake, the court will be all over it. Bias is very common in illinois as mothers are favored over fathers without justification. In my case…if I want to see my child more I must pay more…my ex agrees to nothing…its been that way for years yet the court doesn’t care. Be careful too, I was coerced into signing a parenting agreement I disagreed with. I was told “sign it or you will not get joint custody.” My court costs are well over 100 thousand dollars…I’m a teacher…I’m not a danger…court continues to this day. My ex agrees to nothing. I have friends who gave up trying…the court favors mothers. One friend doesn’t get to see his daughter at all…the court doesn’t support his influence for no reason…he isn’t harmful nor violent. I wish you luck, but you may want to consider leaving your child and starting a family some place else…mine has no financial future…I did a great job putting the children of attorneys to college…mine will struggle…the money is gone. Best interest means you are going to get screwed…that’s what it means in illinois. My daughter is old enough now that she recognizes her mother’s manipulation…our daughter’s psychologist has been well informed…court continues to favor my ex regardless.

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