Co-Parenting After Separation and Divorce: 7 Important Do's and Don'ts

Successful co-parenting requires patience, empathy, and good communication. 

Lamentably, those are often the qualities lacking between partners in marriages that end up in divorce. Yet, here you find yourself: divorced and compelled to cooperate.

You may really dislike your ex-spouse. You may carry lingering anger, hurt, and resentment. Those feelings may be justified.  But none of it matters when it comes to your children. You have to put it all aside. You must act emotionally mature because co-parenting is about putting your children’s best interests first!

The fact that your marriage didn’t work out isn’t their fault. They shouldn’t have to pay more for it than they already have. So, what should you keep in mind to create a co-parenting plan that will really work?

The Do’s and Don’ts of Co-Parenting

1. Do remember to focus on your children

From the day you tell your children that you are separating, everything you say and do matters.   Be prepared to be stable and available to them.  

You and your ex-spouse must strive to set your differences aside and think about the effect your actions may have on your children. Any adjustments or sacrifices you make for the well-being of your children are worth it. You’re not making them because your ex-spouse demands it. You’re making them for the well-being of your children.

If you don’t have a good relationship with your ex, consider your roles as co-parents a working business arrangement. Approach all matters from an objective point of view, identifying what should be done, and then making strategic choices.

2. Don’t undermine your children’s relationship with their other parent

You may very well feel justified in throwing your ex-spouse under the bus and exposing their wrong-doing to your children, but any satisfaction you gain will be short-lived.  Children love their parents, even the not-so-good ones. Destroying their faith in the other parent can leave long-lasting emotional damage.  Resist that urge.  

Don't use your children to gain information, manipulate, or hurt your ex-spouse. Don't burden your children by putting them in the middle of a conflict between you. 

Don't put them in a position of having to take sides. It will only cause your children to feel insecure. If you need to let out any negative emotions, find another release.

3. Do agree on how to provide structure and discipline

Sit down with your ex-spouse and together make a plan about how to meet your children’s needs. What they need most is to feel safe, secure, and loved and cared for by both parents. A predictable routine, structure, and discipline can create a much-needed sense of security and stability.

Any rules and boundaries you agree upon should be consistently applied in both households. Resist trying to be the fun parent and bend the rules. It will only cause struggle and rebellion that does not help you or your children.

Differences in parenting style might have been a contributing factor to the failure of your marriage, so the ability to compromise will come into play in this area.  

5. Do have an extended family plan

Just as children rely on being loved and cared for by both parents, extended family members who have been involved in their lives should continue to do so.  Make sure grandparents, aunts and uncles continue to see your children. Their continued presence assures your child that their world remains a stable and safe place.  

Discuss the best way to handle holidays, visitations, or other special events. Consider guidelines for what role and access extended family will have when your children are under your care. Keep to this plan as closely as possible. It will help build cooperation and trust.

6. Don’t convert your guilt to overindulgence

Though you may feel guilt for not being in your children’s lives full time, don’t compensate with overindulgence. Satisfying their every wish and desire without limits is never a good idea. It can cause your children to become self-centered and manipulative, trying to bend rules to get things they ordinarily wouldn’t. It can also nurture feelings of entitlement and promote a lack of empathy.

Children rely on parents to maintain boundaries and keep them safe from harm. You're still the parent.  Don't try to be your child's best friend. That is not your role. 

7. Do keep an open line of communication with your ex-spouse

Co-parenting has to be an open dialogue, especially when difficulties arise. Communicate regularly in whatever form you prefer and keep each other informed about your needs and priorities, as well as any changes in your lives. Never rely on your children as the main source for this information. 

Co-parenting after separation and divorce will almost assuredly be a challenge. Approach it with as much mutual respect as possible. Everyone – especially your children – will benefit greatly from your wholehearted efforts.

Put the Children First.  It's the Right thing to Do.