7 Co-Parenting Habits For Successful Relationships
Co-parenting successfully is no easy feat. While there is likely a good reason that you and your co-parent are not parenting under one roof together, you can (and should) make every effort to co-parent well together. Understanding what co-parenting habits for successful relationships look like can go a long way toward streamlining this process.
"To co-parent effectively, communication is key. Parents should remember the mantra that both parents are important to their child or children," attorney Sheryl J. Seiden tells Romper.
Children benefit greatly from successful co-parenting relationships. As a mom to a son whose father doesn't live with us and a stepmom to two children who spend time going between two homes, I can personally attest that strong co-parenting skills take consistent effort on the part of both parents. Still, the benefits far outweigh the potential struggles. The older your kids get, the more they will benefit from co-parents who can communicate effectively, provide consistency across multiple households, and keep their priorities straight. It's not always easy, of course: Staying on the same page takes lots of compromise and commitment, and a willingness to put negative emotions on the backburner when necessary. Keeping these seven co-parenting habits in mind can help you accomplish just that.
1. Keep Your Child The Main Focus
"You have to love your child more than you hate your ex," Judge Lauren Lake of Lauren Lake's Paternity Court tells Romper. Judge Lake has brought over 700 families closure and relationship support on her show, and has a myriad of experience helping families navigate through any issues they may have with co-parenting. "Make your child the priority and work on finding a communication strategy that works for you both."
If you glean nothing else from this list of co-parenting habits, this top tip pretty much sums everything up. I've been co-parenting with my oldest son's father for more than six years, and although we've had our share of ups and downs, when we keep our son our number one priority, we're overall pretty successful as co-parents.
2. Stay On Top Of Scheduling
A child's life is full of things that must be scheduled —extracurricular activities, tutoring, playdates, doctor's appointments. Parents themselves also have their own schedules to keep up with, and despite a court-ordered schedule for parenting time, things will come up.
Modern technology can be a wonderful co-parenting tool when it comes to juggling schedules. Priya Rajendran is the CEO and co-founder of the family app S'moresUp that works to help parents with this very issue. A software engineer and technology veteran in Silicon Valley, she once lead the PayPal Wallet team, and has a tween daughter and has been co-parenting for several years.
"Here’s where a good calendaring system comes into the equation; you’ll want to have an excellent, organized system where appointments are automatically synced so that nothing drops off your plate; with a great alert system so that no one ever 'forgets' or your child has to wait outside of a classroom after school," Rajendran tells Romper. "Because this is so important, this is one element that I baked into my app — the ability to schedule, and have things pop into your calendar; an alert system is absolutely critical. This also takes away any misunderstanding that comes along with missed/forgotten communication between the co-parents."
3. Be Mindfully Flexible
Building flexibility into your co-parenting plan will help when the inevitable calendar conflict comes up. When your focus remains on your child and the quality time they get to spend with each parent, you can be flexible without feeling like you're forfeiting precious time with your child.
"Children need to spend time with both of their parents without feeling like they have to choose. I always say on Paternity Court, we have to learn to have these conversations in the living room so you don’t have to have them in the courtroom. Although a very rigid, defined schedule may be appropriate under some circumstances, it’s important to remain fluid and open to compromise," Judge Lake tells Romper.
Seiden recommends considering both of the parent's and the child's schedules when divvying up parenting time. "It is important for both co-parents to be practical about the children’s schedules and their respective schedules when deciding a parenting time schedule. If you know your co-parent has a late meeting every Wednesday, don’t insist that he or she have time with the child on Wednesday nights," Seiden says. "In terms of the children’s schedules, don’t insist that your co-parent only have parenting time when the children are engaged in activities. If your children have a lot of extracurricular activities or sports on the weekends, offer time after school when your children are not in extracurricular activities or sports as well as time on the weekends so that each parent has free time as well as scheduled activities with the children."
4. Provide Consistent Boundaries
By providing your child with consistency in both homes, you're re-affirming the fact that they can receive the support that they need to grow in multiple places.
"It is important to have the same set of rules like screen time, chores to be done, curfews, etc. in both the households to have consistency and continuity for the kids," Rajendran says. "This creates an 'efficient loop' where both parents go into the 'boundary creation' stage with the child, together and as a strong team. If the child doesn’t sense agreement or a strong team where everything has already been agreed upon, it will create loopholes in the long run, and the child will think that they can push boundaries as much as they want."
Having the exact same set of all rules in both households may not work for all families, but being supportive of the other household's rules at a minimum can also be beneficial. "Although you do not need to have one rule for everything, the more important rules about school work, dating, driving, curfews, and punishments should be consistent in both homes. Both parties may need to be flexible in terms of compromising if one particular rule is more important to the other parent," Seiden tells Romper. "As for the other rules, if you and your co-parent do not share the same mind-set, then at the very least, you should support your co-parent’s rules when discussing those rules with the children or enforcing the rules when the children are with the other parent (should the occasion arise)."
5. Respect Your Child's Time With Their Other Parent
In order to foster a solid relationship with your child and your co-parent, respecting their time together is non-negotiable. Seiden recommends that parents follow several basic standards when respecting one another's time. Making sure you are not late for exchanges and that your child has all of their belongings when going back and forth can go a long way to ensuring that your child's time with their other parent is respected.
Scheduling activities can also play into respecting time. "Do not schedule extracurricular activities during the other parents’ parenting time without discussing it first with your co-parent," Seiden tells Romper. "Unless you have a true shared parenting time schedule or close thereto, your co-parent has less time with the children than you so be mindful that your co-parent deserves to decide how his or her time spent with the children is allocated."
Additionally, ensuring that you keep some boundaries regarding communication with your child can also be helpful. "Keep your telephone time with your children to a minimum. You have the right, unless your agreement says otherwise, to speak with your children when they are with your co-parent, but remember to keep it brief so that the children are not spending their time with your co-parent on the phone with you," Seiden says. "Let the children enjoy time with the other parent without being interrogated about their time spent afterwards. Encourage the parenting time and try to enjoy your downtime."
6. Be Mindful Of How You Communicate
Each person has different communication styles, but finding a way to communicate with your co-parent that works for you both is key to successfully navigating co-parenting issues. Seiden recommends that parents "give frequent but purposeful updates about your child’s or children’s wellbeing, be considerate and polite, and consider using technology to assist with communication." Above all, keeping your child's best interests at the center of your conversation and letting cool heads prevail will help keep communication streamlined.
"Do not have co-parenting discussions in front of your children, instead find time to speak privately," Judge Lake tells Romper. "Try your best to speak in person. Intentions can be misinterpreted via text and email. After the discussion, confirm your decisions in writing via text or email so there is no confusion."
Rajendran recommends that parents "create a favored way of speaking" to one another. "Otherwise, if you have 14 lines of communication open, no one will use anything, and communication will get stuck. For example, designate Whatsapp as your 'official' co-parenting communication channel, and stick to it."
7. Keep Communication Lines Open
Rajendran says that for her family, as well as families in the S'moresUp community, "a sense of free and open communication with two simple rules" has worked well — "Open and flexible and 'always on office hours,' but still with some structure." While not every family will be able to be as open and flexible with their communication schedule, being able to communicate regularly and consistently with your co-parent about your child is crucial.
"Knowing that you can always count on being able to talk to your co-parent about something — whether it’s a concern or an element of planning — is always very reassuring and incredibly useful. Both parties should feel that their voices will be heard by the other party, and nothing is too insignificant or annoying to talk about," Rajendran says. "Have a 'standing meeting' with your fellow co-parent — a quick phone call that’s always on your calendar. This talking, even though nothing may be wrong, proactively helps nip any potential future problems in the bud. This might be once a week or once a month. No matter when you schedule it, it should always be honored."
Sheryl J. Seiden, founding partner of Seiden Family Law, LLC in Cranford, New Jersey, chair of the Family Law Section (FLEC) of the New Jersey State Bar Association
Judge Lauren Lake of Lauren Lake's Paternity Court
Priya Rajendran, CEO and co-founder of S'moresUp