Many people feel more comfortable working with their former spouses when they have co-parenting rules in place.
Co-parenting with your ex isn’t always easy to do, but if you’re like most parents, your children are your main concern. When you and your ex have decided to co-parent – meaning, you’ve agreed to work together to raise your children – you’ve made a great choice for your kids.
Sometimes it’s rough, but if you and your ex-spouse can follow these co-parenting rules, it’ll be easier on all of you.
13 Co-Parenting Rules to Live By
Setting boundaries for each other as co-parents takes away some of the stress many co-parents face. These co-parenting rules aren’t hard-and-fast, but they’re guidelines that you and your ex may want to follow:
- Remember that it’s not about you.
- Commit to good communication.
- Make a plan.
- Be flexible.
- Be forgiving.
- Don’t forget that your kids are watching (and learning).
- Leave the kids out of it.
- Watch what you say around (or to) the kids.
- Don’t fight.
- Be consistent.
- Respect each other’s time with your kids.
- Work hard to agree on big issues.
- Don’t use the kids as messengers.
Let’s take a closer look at each of these.
Co-Parenting Rule #1: Remember that it’s not about you.
You’re co-parenting for your kids’ benefit, so remember, it’s all about them. If your ex is being argumentative, try to remind yourself that the primary focus is on your little ones – and discuss only things relating to them.
Keep each other in the loop. Choose a communication method that works best for everyone and stick to it… and push yourself to be a good communicator. Sometimes the best method of communication is through text or by email, because it allows you to think things through before you respond – and it provides a paper trail in case you ever need it.
Co-Parenting Rule #3: Make a plan.
Determine what’s most important in raising your children by discussing your goals with your ex. You two, together, can make a plan that covers most of the major issues divorced parents face. What will you do if your children act out? How will you deal with homework, chores, sports and school events? What about your kids’ privileges? If you address these things with your ex now, co-parenting will be easier in the future.
Related: How to develop a parenting plan
Co-Parenting Rule #4: Be flexible.
You and your ex most likely have a parenting time agreement in place, but you both need to be flexible when things come up. Appointments, special activities, illness – there are dozens of reasons you or your ex may need to shift your plans, but as long as you communicate (see Rule #2), nobody will come out worse for wear.
Co-Parenting Rule #5: Be forgiving.
Nobody’s perfect, and we all make mistakes. Don’t hold a grudge, because doing so will derail your ability to communicate with each other. Even worse, it’ll limit your ability to co-parent effectively because your emotions will get in the way of making the best possible decisions for your children.
The old saying “Little pitchers have big ears” is just as true today as it was a century ago. Kids hear and see everything – even if you think they’re not paying attention. They’re learning from you both, and the way you deal with each other makes a big impact on what they see as normal and right.
Related: Divorce with kids
Co-Parenting Rule #7: Leave the kids out of it.
Never, ever make your kids feel like they’re in the middle of a tug-of-war. Kids want to love and respect both of you, but when you put them in the middle, they’re automatically going to gravitate toward one side (and if you’re the parent adding stress, it might not be your side they take).
Co-Parenting Rule #8: Watch what you say around (or to) the kids.
Little comments like, “We can’t buy that because Dad doesn’t pay his child support on time” or “I can’t believe she’s always late picking you up – what is she doing?” can be harmful to your kids and to your co-parenting relationship. Be careful what you say while they’re within earshot, too (see Rule #6).
Co-Parenting Rule #9: Don’t fight.
When you and your ex have a parenting plan you can turn to in the event of a dispute, you’ll disagree less. But still, your ex is your ex for a reason – and it’s easy to get sucked into an argument. It happens to everyone! Your job, though, is to keep it away from the kids. Don’t fight or argue in front of them. (Fair warning: This might be one of the hardest rules to follow.)
Co-Parenting Rule #10: Be consistent.
Try to keep the big stuff the same in both houses, like bedtime and basic chores. All the rules don’t have to match up, because sometimes that’s just not feasible. However, you do have to set rules in your home and stick to them. Kids thrive in environments with limits, as long as they know exactly what those limits are.
You both deserve quality time with your kids, but more importantly, your kids deserve quality time with both of you. Don’t make plans that interfere with your ex’s time with the children without making sure it’s okay first, and certainly don’t call and text constantly while your kids are with their other parent.
Co-Parenting Rule #12: Work hard to agree on big issues.
You can’t address everything in your parenting plan because parenting isn’t cut-and-dry – and new issues will pop up as your children grow. Try to agree on big issues, like when your kids are allowed to date, what to do when they break curfew or how to handle new (and challenging) behaviors. If you can’t agree, find an expert – like a mediator, counselor or therapist – who can help you both.
Co-Parenting Rule #13: Don’t use the kids as messengers.
Your kids want to be free to love you both, but if you’re using them as messengers, they’re in the middle of adult problems. It’s fine to say “Tell your dad I said hello” or “Dad asked if you can send my dress shoes next time,” but anything bigger than that needs to be communicated directly to your ex.
The bottom line is that most people are fully capable of co-parenting after a divorce. It’s hard, but it’s possible – and with the right ground rules in place, you can pull it off.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About Divorce or Child Custody?
We’ve helped many people through divorce, and we can help you, too. As family law attorneys serving Stockton and the surrounding communities, we have extensive experience dealing with parenting plans and other divorce issues.
Call us at (209) 546-6870 to let us know what you’re going through. We’ll begin developing a strategy that gets you and your children the best possible outcome—and we’ll give you all the support you need during this difficult time.