If you have recently ended a relationship with your child’s other parent, you may be feeling like the possibility of a good co-parenting relationship is not fathomable at this time. Wounds may still be fresh and if you’re one of those couples who did not have an amicable separation, it will take a lot more effort, patience and time to come to a mutual understanding on how to parent your kids.
Throughout your negotiation, all your differences will be magnified and it’s a real possibility that there could be a tug of war on certain issues. Perhaps your differences in parenting style is what created the friction in your relationship, but nonetheless, you’re here now to work out a solution and situation that’s best for all of you.
Having to juggle kids between two households will not be easy but if both parents can show their children that they can work together to provide a healthy, loving environment, they will reap the benefit of emotional stability.
Assuming both parents have already agreed on the frequency, duration with each parent and pick up / drop off times with the kids, here are a few other tips to help you create a healthy, emotionally supportive environment for you and your kids as you co-parent successfully.
Establishing the Baseline
At the very basic level, you will need to come to a consensus on the basic rules of engagement with your ex-spouse. Some key co-parenting topics to consider in establishing a baseline include:
- Parenting involvement
- Bed time ritual
- Eating schedules and Food Management
- House Chores
Wounds may still be fresh and if you’re one of those couples who did not have an amicable separation, it will take a lot more effort, patience and time to come to a mutual understanding on how to parent your kids.
1) Parenting Involvement
When the kids are with one parent, does the other parent want no external influence or communication with the other parent? Are there certain topics that the other parent is more knowledgeable about and general tends to manage these scenarios with the kids (ie. dance classes, hockey practice, school subjects etc.). With some parents naturally more involved in some of these topics more so than the other parent, it’s natural then when situations related to these topics come up, kids may be on a call with that parent taking away some quality time with the parent he / she is visited with.
You and your spouse need to be clear on what your feel should be the boundaries when the other parent is constantly going to be communicating with the children about those specific topics. Some parents, make it a rule that when the kids are at their homes that host parent is responsible for everything the child needs. While other parents feel this disruption and inconsistent parenting style could create confusion with respect to rules and communication between the child and others involved like teachers, coaches etc.
2) Bed Time Ritual
If your children are young, it’s a good idea to establish discipline about bed time and maintain consistent rules in both households. Kids need good sleep to be active and healthy. It’s a good idea to enforce a specific bed time and schedule that is consistent with the other parent’s household rules. This will prevent opportunities for the child to negotiate bed times because once a child has an opportunity to successfully negotiate with one parent, he or she will try the same tactic with the other parent.
This will create friction with both households. So, if there are changes to bed time rituals and bed time rules, it might be a good idea to discuss acceptable boundaries with the other parent so that there are no unexpected surprises when the kids return to the other household. Some related topics to consider:
- What time should the kids go to bed?
- If they have friends over, could we extend their bed time?
- What ritual do we need to do consistently?
- Are there needs they have that need to be administered (ie. medicine etc)?
3) Eating Schedules and Food Management
Just as you need a bed time ritual and established time, you should also consider establishing the eating schedules and what types of food are out of bounds. If one parent is bigger on the junk food side and the other is healthy conscious, that would be two extremes hard to reconcile for the child(ren).
If kids are used to eating at 6pm then as much as possible, try to keep that consistent schedule at both households. This will ensure that kids, especially growing kids, are getting the proper nutrition and energy they need to fuel their day. If there are certain types of food that are permissible as a reward for good work, for example, make sure it’s the type of food that both you and your ex-spouse would agree to offer.
Some things to consider in creating rules:
- Do they have any food allergies that should not be offered?
- What types of food are acceptable as rewards (ie. candy, chips, chocolates) etc?
- what time do they eat breakfast, lunch and dinner?
- what are the rules at the table when eating?
4) House Chores
If the kids are old enough to have house chores delegated to them, assign them tasks that are age appropriate. For example, you don’t want to ask your 2 year old to be vacuuming the house but perhaps your teenager would find this a more manageable task. Giving them house chores in both homes gives them a sense of responsibility and pride. Some tasks that can be delegated include:
- Vacuuming the house
- Washing dishes
- Setting the table for meals
- Cooking certain meals
- Cleaning their rooms and other rooms
- Dusting the furniture
- Mowing the lawn
- Putting away their toys
Sometimes it takes a little incentive to get chores done around the house. Giving kids money for allowance for their tasks is not a bad idea. Some parents may believe that allowance and chores don’t necessarily need to be tied together while other parents feel it’s a necessity and a good way to train kids for the work force. Whether or not you decide to pay your kids for work they do around the house, consider the following things when creating rules with their other parent:
- Are we giving the kids allowance for their chores?
- Which chores do we reward with money?
- How much are we giving them each week?
- How are we splitting the cost?
- Who gives them the allowance?
If you are still feeling the pain of the divorce or separation, communication with the other parent could be difficult and emotionally destabilizing. If this is the case, seek help in managing your feelings so that you are able to work together with co-parenting your children.
You may want to limit your conversations to topics about the children to prevent any potential conflicts. When your conversations take a bad turn and becomes hostile, walk away from the situation and keep the exchange focused on finding a productive amicable outcome.
If you need to have a mediator to communicate with each other about the children, then seek an intermediary who will act as the voice of reason. There will be moments when the hostility and annoyance of your ex-spouse can remind you of those difficult times, but try to remember that your decision to co-parent was an agreement you both made to provide the children with the opportunity to be raised by both of you. There will be topics that will come up every now and again that may not even be things you have ever thought of, like:
- How will we communicate weekly school updates?
- How will we handle doctor’s visits?
- How will we conduct ourselves with extended family?
- Who will be the point of contact for school activities?
Co-parenting is the harder road to take after a marriage has dissolved. You will have to manage communication, schedules, rules and more with your ex-spouse over the next few years. But remember that you both have decided that this was the best situation for your kids so set aside your difference, keep your communication and contact focused on topics related to your kids and try to establish consistency with managing the household. A good co-parenting relationship will provide the kids with the loving support they need to be better adjusted adults.