Co-parenting with an ex-spouse presents big challenges when it comes to ensuring children have the support they need. How do you help them stay balanced and healthy, rather than feeling “passed around” between two households?
Clarify your personal standards
Before thinking about how to co-parent, take time to understand what’s important to you. When it comes to raising your children, what are your “must haves”? What are your “would be nice to haves”? To identify these, imagine concrete situations, and work backwards from there. Would you let your kids eat sugary cereal for breakfast? Maybe once in a while, but not every day. Would you let them bike home from school? Only if they did so in good weather and wore their helmets and kneepads. Etc.
First, get familiar with your own concerns. Then you’ll be in a much stronger position to hash things out with the other parent.
Establish shared goals and priorities
Consistent co-parenting begins with a mutual agreement with your ex on your goals and priorities for the kids, along with agreed-upon rules and boundaries to match. This process may require compromise and give-and-take, but the goal here is for both households to have the same rules so the kids always know what to expect.
Present a united front
Once your shared goals are established, you and your ex must be united in enforcing your agreed boundaries so the children don’t feel tempted to play one parent against the other. If bedtime is 10:00 at Mom’s house, for example, it should be 10:00 at Dad’s house. If step-parents or other partners are involved, they need to honor these ground rules, as well.
Attend important events, together if possible
Both parents should be diligent to attend important events like school plays, recitals, soccer games, etc. You don’t necessarily have to sit together, but be in attendance as often as possible, or at the very least provide equal time. The children should never feel like one parent is there for them more consistently than the other.
In an intriguing study published in 2015 in the Journal Of Epidemiology And Community Health, researchers found that “Children… in joint physical custody… report better psychosomatic health than children living mostly or only with one parent.” In other words, perhaps children physically benefit from splitting time.
However, take this research with a grain of salt. It just shows an association. Perhaps something unrelated to co-parenting strategies (e.g. economic status) can explain this apparent health advantage for children.
Co-parenting children between two households is never an easy task, but when you commit to be consistent and present, there’s no reason your kids can’t thrive.