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More Effective Co-Parenting: Working With Your Ex

Even with the best of intentions, it can be difficult to learn to work with your ex. Any problems you had making decisions together while you were married are magnified, especially immediately following the divorce.

As you grow further apart, your lifestyles may change, making it even more difficult to develop effective co-parenting strategies. Whether you’re still drawing up the divorce agreement or have been working on co-parenting with a former spouse for years, there are some things you can do to make it easier to work with your child’s other parent.

Start With Your Child’s Best Interests

The most effective co-parenting relationships start with this one simple principle. Both parents should agree that they are less interested in what’s best for them (or in “sticking it” to the other parent) and more interested in the most positive outcome possible for the child or children involved in the situation. This is an agreement that you need to make with your former spouse as soon as possible in the divorce process. You may have nothing else in common, but you can both agree that you want your child to have the best life possible. Focusing on their needs, not just their wants, can make it easier to decide:

  • How to set child support or who is responsible for paying for unexpected expenses
  • How parenting time will be handled
  • What possessions a child needs to have at both homes and what possessions can travel between the two homes
  • How to set rules together

Wanting what’s best for your child also means that you don’t badmouth the other parent in front of them. Even if you’ve had a huge argument over a late child support check or a commitment that your ex “flaked” on, that’s not something that needs to be shared with your child. Instead, find a close friend or family member to confide in, preferably when the child is out of the house or in bed for the evening.

Maintain Continuity

Every rule doesn’t have to be the same between both houses. You might have different rules about shoes on the furniture, when exactly homework has to be completed, and whether or not dinner can be eaten in front of the television. Other things, however, require continuity between your homes. For example:

Eating habits matter. If your child is allowed to eat junk food at one parent’s house indiscriminately but must eat healthy food at the other, there may be a serious difference between their behavior patterns and overall health, not to mention the way they feel.

Bedtimes should be similar. A child whose bedtime is constantly changing will have a hard time getting good, solid rest. While some allowances can be made for weekends and vacations, it’s important to maintain a similar schedule, no matter where the child is.

Key values need to be discussed. This might include insisting that homework be completed in a timely manner, making sure younger siblings are never bullied, and avoiding materials that you and your former spouse agree are inappropriate for a child. You shouldn’t have to worry that your ex will take your child to see that movie you’ve forbidden in your home.

Punishment sticks from one house to the other. Be fair about your punishments, but realistic. If the child is grounded from texting at one house, that shouldn’t lift just because they’ve traveled to the other parent’s, although exceptions should be made for texting the parent they aren’t with, regardless of the punishment. Work together to come up with punishments that won’t disrupt the other parent’s schedule or household when necessary.

When you focus on the best interests of the child and on a sense of continuity, it’s easier to make co-parenting decisions that will benefit your child, first and foremost. Looking for more tips on learning to survive parenting together after a divorce? Untangle The Knot has lots of helpful information to help you get through your divorce!

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