Happy teen daughter

6 Tips to Co-Parent With Your Ex Successfully

I’ve done it for more than 15 years: co-parented with my ex. If you’re interested to know what I’ve learned, read on. Here are 6 tips for how to co-parent with your ex successfully.

Background: We’re Not Exactly Friends

The mother of my daughter hates my guts. She doesn’t just dislike me; she loathes me with a passion. And yet, we have no choice but to learn to co-parent together.

To be perfectly honest, she’s not really my favorite person in the world, either. However, strange as it might seem, it is more common than we might want to think in this world that you can share your greatest love with your worst enemy.

1. Put Animosity Aside for Your Child

Tip 1 is to put animosity aside for the benefit of your child.

While her mother and I are barely civil to one another, we have never allowed this to influence how we set ground rules for our daughter. This fact alone has allowed us to navigate the last fifteen years of our daughter’s life with a mutual understanding and respect, while maintaining a safe distance from one another.

I am proud to say that my daughter is a sweet, charming, thoughtful and delightful young lady who graduates high school with honors next month. Her mother’s and my early decision (we separated when our daughter was less than two) to keep our personal feelings for one another out of the parenting equation apparently had good results.

We didn’t have to like each other to keep teaching our child to make good decisions. In a way, we are very fortunate that we were both raised with the same general principles, social mores and taboos, though we often have very differing opinions about them.

And while there are certainly grey areas and some difficult negotiations along the way, we are both coming from basically the same place; we want our child to be happy, and we want to support her growth in learning to think for herself and make choices that will serve her best throughout life.

2. Find a Custody Arrangement that Works for Your Child

The challenge of coming up with a child custody solution is perhaps the main reason why separating parents get caught in long mediation and court processes. It touches on the delicate subject for many parents of how a child’s time should be divided. Tip 2 is to work hard to come up with a workable custody plan.

Custody negotiations depend a great deal on how close parents live to one another. If you, like me, you can stay close to your child’s school, you can look at shared parenting, including arrangements such as 50/50 custody or 60/40 custody.

On the other hand, long travel times means your child really needs to have a custodial parent and a non-custodial parent. In other words, your child lives with the custodial parent and visits the non-custodial parent (usually on weekends). Time with the non-custodial parent might be limited to 30 percent or less, which is no more than four overnights per fortnight.

3. Allow Each Other to Parent in His or Her Own Way

While we worked hard at putting aside our feelings and personal biases in discussing what is best for our kid, we’re polar opposites in the way we manage our personal lives. We both take responsibility for exposing our daughter to both the good and the bad of our own personal choices, so that she might make up her own mind.

For instance, my daughter has been raised religiously non-denominational for the most part. This is not because her mother and I don’t both have our individual beliefs; but that they are not the same beliefs. Rather than force one upon our child, we decided to just let her make her own choices and make ours available to her.

Her mother is a non-practicing Catholic who still celebrates Christmas and Easter; I am a reasonably practicing Jew — which is to say, I observe high holidays and try to at least acknowledge Shabbat.

The fact of our different heritage has another interesting aspect for raising our daughter. Since Catholicism is passed down patrilineally, and Judaism is passed down through matrilineally, our daughter does not belong inherently to either religion. This oddity in our religious backgrounds actually forced her mother and I to take this issue very seriously and were probably some of the longest discussions we ever had concerning her upbringing.

Note that the other big issue for us became medication, as our daughter was diagnosed with ADHD early in her life. It has been an area where we disagreed on appropriate treatment, which in turn forced us to have very passionate dialogues about what was important to us.

While religion could have become a really difficult part of parenting, instead it became perhaps the most important aspect for us in learning how to parent together while separate. Because this particular aspect of raising our daughter was a bridge that could not be crossed, what we had to learn early on was how to share our differences to our daughter without making the other party out to be “wrong”.

Now, in some ways, I have to admit that this particular aspect of my parenting might leave others angry or questioning. Even from members of my own faith, I have experienced a small and subtle backlash in choosing not to push my personal beliefs upon my child. Still, I am fortunate that her mother shares similar views.

So we choose to focus instead on things that we both agree are important. Instead of teaching about Jesus or God (or Buddha, Mohammed, etc.) we talked about sustainability, responsibility, compassion, conservation, philanthropy and other core values we mutually consider important. These are principles that are demonstrable and have proven results.

4. Agree on Important Principles

We are also pretty solidly agreed on our lessons concerning work, school, play, friends, and a host of other subjects, so in the grand scheme of “what our kid needs to know”, religion really is pretty low on the totem. We feel that we can talk about religion when she brings it up.

I believe the only truly morally responsible act to take as separate parents is for both to strive to keep the welfare of the child or children the most significant part of any communication, and to strive to create harmonious outcomes (or at least ones that are fair compromises) concerning consequences and rules.

Whenever possible, you should agree on basic principles and expectations and be consistent in both homes.

  • If a behavior is not allowed at one house, for example, it shouldn’t be tolerated at the other.
  • If a punishment is meted out by one parent, it should be upheld by the other.
  • Curfews should be consistent, as well as what “grounding” means in your home.
  • Don’t try and out-do one another on things like allowance and tooth fairy visits – take turns or divvy them up, but always keep them equal.
  • Compromise on things like healthy eating and the amount of sugar intake, have zero sugar at one house and a veritable treasure trove of gummy bears at the other won’t help anyone.

5. Recognize that Your Child has More Information than You

Your child might seem innocent and you are confident they have been brought up well. But the urge to play one parent off the other, especially when the parents hate each other and can barely communicate with one another, is just to delicious and irresistible to a child who wants something really, really bad.

Manipulation becomes easy and, before you know it, they will master the art of lying and managing affairs to get their own way. Don’t ever underestimate how smart they are. And don’t make the mistake of thinking they aren’t listening and seeing what is going on when you least expect it.

6. Bring New Partners on Board with the Strategy

Tip 6 is to make sure your new partners respect your wishes with your ex, and are on board with your plans in being consistent. It isn’t a competition.

If you aren’t in agreement with your ex, and your new partner supports you in that decision, you can escalate very quickly to a situation that is not manageable. Cooperating with your ex is essential to avoid being in a constant state of anger and frustration, or heading back down the very expensive road of court costs.

You don’t have to like your ex, but you have to work together where the kids are concerned. After all, you made them together, right? Well, now you have the responsibility of raising your kids together… and that means getting on the same page when it comes to parenting, even if in no other aspect of your relationship. You owe it to your kids.

Happy children: twin boys

Why Shared Parenting is Important for Children

If anyone has any doubts about the value of shared parenting, I suggest you read Andrew Lancaster’s 50/50 Custody Benefits: Why Shared Parenting is Important. The analysis leaves readers in no doubt that shared parenting (or “joint physical custody”) is extremely beneficial for children.

Too often, people place caveats and conditions on when 50/50 custody is appropriate. After reading the Lancaster piece, I’m more convinced than ever that we should be looking at things differently. We should to try to get shared parenting in place as the default and find solutions to any barriers whenever possible.

Let’s quickly go through the list of benefits from shared parenting. Anyone who has tried a 50/50 joint custody plan might be aware of many or all of these advantages.

1. Children benefit from having both parents in their lives

For everyone who believes that children are best raised in a loving home with both their parents, the same principles applies when parents live apart. Children want and need to know their mother and father well. 50/50 custody is the best way to achieve that.

Having a close relationship with both parents allows a child to benefit from the strengths of each parent. They are also less likely to be damaged by the individual flaws of each. Furthermore, children appear to have a deep need to have both parents present in their lives, as evidenced by the often poor statistical outcomes for children raised without fathers.

2. Shared parenting boosts the average quality of parent-child time

A big advantage of shared parenting is that each parent has a better chance of being at their best when with the child or children. 50/50 custody for example means half a parent’s time is spent resting and recovering from child caring duties.

When each visit comes around, a co-parent should be feeling prepared, energetic and eager to see their child. That’s much better than, as may happen with sole custody, a parent is often feeling tired and burnt out.

A child in a shared parenting arrangement must surely feel at least as loved as one who sees the same parents routinely day in and day out. The child’s experience may be of seeing parents who always seem happy to have him or her around.

3. Advantage of having 2 homes

The children of separated parents are a little privileged in the sense that they have 2 homes. That means they have 2 bedrooms, twice as many living rooms, 2 neighborhoods, maybe a pool at one home and a games room at the other. They also live with more people.

Hopefully, separated parents aren’t impoverished by expensive family law proceedings. It also helps if parents re-partner with people who can help contribute financially. But, generally speaking, a child with co-parents will normally be better off living across their 2 homes than a child living in sole custody in one.

4. Benefit of parents who try harder

Mother with two young children

Just about every parent hopes to fulfill their role as a mother or father to the best of their ability. But some competitive incentives can still help. Another advantage of shared parenting is that parents compete with one another to provide the best experience for their child or children.

Why does this competition exist? In short, because children are regularly moving between homes. Neither parent wants to be in a position where your child is consistently a little disappointed to be arriving at your place and happy to be leaving.

5. Shared parenting boosts living standards

Shared parenting boosts child living standards by giving a child exposure to the lifestyles of both parents. As well, joint physical custody allows both parents to work full-time.

If anyone thinks child support is a good financial alternative to shared parenting, they need their head read. Child support creates a race to the bottom. By setting up an unhealthy financial relationship, you get behavior such as parents reducing incomes and fighting to dominate custody.

Children with shared residence tended to have more resources than those living with one custodial parent. This is in line with some previous studies.

Fransson et al

Another thing about shared parenting is that you guarantee that a child spends a good amount of time with the higher-earning parent. That is usually not the case with sole custody, especially since custodial parents often find it difficult to work full-time.

6. Children continue to benefit after they grow up

Shared parenting provides a lifelong advantage compared to sole custody. A “child” is likely continue benefit from the financial resources of both parents after reaching adulthood. An involved father, for example, is more likely to help their son or daughter with things like college expenses and a first-home deposit.

Furthermore, shared parenting helps ensure a child builds and maintains strong relationships with both sides of their family. Family connections matter and shared parenting, especially when combined with cooperative parenting, is clearly the best way to support them after parents separate or divorce.

Man contemplating do don't

Cooperative Parenting: The Number One Parenting Skill

Here is a list of many of the do’s and don’t’s of cooperative parenting.

DO encourage your child to spend time with the other parent.

DON’T deny access to the other parent for no good reason.

DO come up with a co-parenting agreement that allows the child to have a close relationship with both their mother and their father.

DO let the other parent spend time with the child when you are not available.

DON’T purposely schedule the child to be elsewhere when you are not available and you know the other parent is.

DO be flexible in making changes in the schedule. Children grow and change on a daily, monthly and yearly basis. Be responsive to their changing needs.

DON’T tell the other parent that the child cannot come to the telephone when you know he or she can.

DO encourage your child to telephone the other parent when he or she is with you. The other parent will return the favor when the child is with him or her.

DO talk to the other parent and work together to facilitate both parents’ time with the child. Be especially cooperative during holidays and special times such as birthdays. Remember you are creating lasting memories for your child; help ensure they are good memories.

DON’T fight over scheduling in front of the child.

DO speak positively about the other parent in front of the child; you can always find a positive aspect of the other parent.

DON’T bad-mouth the other parent in front of the child; no matter what personal animosity you have about the other parent. Children have an annoying habit of loving BOTH of their parents! Your efforts to alienate the child from the other parent may backfire on you when the child realizes what has been done to his or her relationship with one of the two most important people in his or her life. When you denigrate a child’s parent, you are denigrating the child, who is a product of both parents.

DO tell your child you love and cherish him or her, and reassure him or her that this has not changed due to the divorce.

DO praise your child when he or she does well or behaves well. Do so in front of the child and the other parent.

DON’T allow your child to denigrate the other parent. Encourage him or her to speak positively about the other parent. If he or she is having a problem with the other parent, help your child solve the problem.

DON’T discuss financial issues with or in front of the children. Do not allow them to see court documents or overhear you discussing the legal case.

DON’T leave messages for the other parent on his or her answering machine that might upset the child. Children often overhear messages, or may have access to voice mail.

DO make an effort to stay geographically close to the child’s other parent, existing schools, neighborhoods and extended family.

DO keep a set of clothing, school books and supplies, and your child’s favorite things at each home. Facilitate the child’s transfer of items between homes when necessary.

DON’T be petty or possessive about things you have purchased for the child. If you have given an item to your child, let him or her take it to the other parent’s home.

DON’T keep score on every little thing you pay for. Not every financial contribution needs to be reimbursed or matched by the other parent.

DO exchange school records and information with the other parent. If possible, ask the school to send duplicate information to each parent.

DO attend school conferences together, if possible. Teachers are usually very pleased to see divorced parents attend the same conference. Make an effort to attend as many conferences as possible. Talk to the teachers about your child’s progress, and frequently discuss this with the other parent.

DO coordinate the child’s school work and projects with the other parent.

DO remain in close contact with the child’s teachers, counselors and medical providers, and keep the other parent informed of any information. Try to coordinate appointments so at least one parent can accompany the child.

DO make an effort to meet your child’s friends and their parents. It is important to keep up on your child’s activities, especially when the child lives in two different homes. Let other parents know you are an active and involved parent.

DO talk to the other parent about problems the child may be experiencing or difficulties between you and the child. Children can be very adept at taking advantage of conflict and lack of communication between parents.

DO be accessible to the other parent. Give him or her your work and home numbers, pagers, voice mail, etc. If you don’t like to talk to the other parent, use letters, faxes or e-mails. Provide a list of emergency contacts for the other parent and the child.

DON’T engage in game-playing in contacting or responding to the other parent. Respond promptly when necessary. Be open and up front about issues that need to be discussed.

DO encourage the child’s relationship with extended family, on both parents’ sides. Be pleasant and cordial to the other parent’s extended family.

DO involve each parent’s spouse or significant other in issues relating to the children. Step-parents are important members of your child’s family: they serve as an authority figure, role model, and friend for your child. And don’t get hung up on labels. If your child begins to call a step-parent “mom” or “dad,” don’t be offended. Be pleased that your child can form emotional attachments to other people and that there are more people in the world who love and care for him or her.

DO coordinate with the other parent on discipline issues. Decide in advance on acceptable methods of discipline, and which methods both parents will use. Be consistent in both households. Present a united front.

DON’T undermine the other parent’s authority with the child. If the other parent has imposed reasonable restrictions or discipline on the child, continue those measures at your residence. Let the child know he or she cannot escape consequences of his or her actions by seeking shelter at the other parent’s home.

DO decide in advance on what extra-curricular activities the child will be allowed to participate in. Both parents should support mutually agreed activities. Both parents should attend the child’s events and show mutual support for the child.

DO decide in advance on how you and the other parent will deal with alcohol, drugs, curfews, dating, driving, clothing choices, allowances, home safety and security (latch-keys) and the child’s independence and privacy. Don’t argue over these issues in front of the child; agree on the boundaries in advance and stick to them. Agree to revisit them periodically, in special meetings with both parents and step-parents. Older adolescents should be involved in setting and re-setting limits.

DON’T discuss residual issues relating to the divorce, or dwell on anger or disappointments either parent suffered. Focus on the common ground of raising a healthy, well-adjusted child to adulthood.

DO discuss issues civilly and reasonably. Be cordial. Treat the other parent with kindness and respect. If the other parent is not ready to do this, reach out to him or her. Be the first to offer an olive branch. Children learn by example. Be aware of what messages you are sending to your child about dealing with other people.

DON’T make exchanges of the child a negative event. Don’t simply drop the child off at the curb in front of the other parent’s house and speed away. Make an effort to go to the door, exchange friendly words with the other parent, and wish your child a warm goodbye. Don’t telegraph real or imagined agony over leaving the child with the other parent. Your child should never be made to feel guilty about spending time there.

DO listen to yourself. Examine what you are saying and how this could affect the other parent.

DO listen to the other parent. Try to understand where he or she is coming from.

DO perform unsolicited good deeds for the other parent. You will receive return dividends 10-fold. Occasionally exchange gifts, even if token, at Christmas or other special times. The good will you create could last a lifetime.

DO practice the Golden Rule: If you have majority time, don’t abuse the position. Treat the other parent the way you would want to be treated if you were the non-majority parent. You may experience that role before your child reaches age 18. Think carefully how you would want to be treated by the other parent, and how it would affect your relationship with your child.