What Is Healthy Co-Parenting?

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What Is Healthy Co-Parenting?

Parenting children is challenging. Co-parenting after divorce can be especially challenging...and anything but healthy.

So what is healthy co-parenting? And how can two people who couldn't get along well enough to stay married be expected to co-parent like adults?

In the past, the norm for child custody was that one parent was the custodial guardian and the other parent had limited visitation rights. They might see their kids every other weekend with extra time during vacations from school or a similar but still limited arrangement.

Today, however, it is common for parents to share custody of the children after divorce. The giant dry-erase board in the kitchen will be filled in according to "Mom’s week", "Dad’s week", and a slew of co-mingling events defined by the kids’ active lives.

Co-parenting is greatly influenced by the reciprocal interactions of each parent.

In other words, if you, as the parents, are inconsistent and not unified in your parenting, your children will be the ones to suffer.

When it comes to communication, if you don’t know enough about or practice healthy co-parenting, the situation will be unnecessarily difficult for everyone involved. It is a commitment that requires empathy, patience, honesty and open communication.

More than anything else, healthy co-parenting is focused on the kids. If you can keep that in mind as you consider your own circumstances, the prospects of continuing to have your ex in your life won’t seem so daunting.

Here are the 12 prominent characteristics and practices of healthy co-parenting and how to do it successfully.

1. Have clear boundaries.

You understand what you have control over and what you don’t.

No matter how right you may think you are about something, the only person you can control is yourself, and the only thing you can control is the example you set.

2. Both parents need to have an open dialogue.

You may really hate the idea of having to talk to your ex. But remember, your involvement is now limited to the kids and their well-being.

If you aren't ready to talk face-to-face or on the phone, utilize the countless other means of communication — email, text, voicemail, or use websites for sharing schedules.

What is important is that you communicate openly and consistently...and with integrity.

3. Be consistent with the rules in both households.

This can be a tough one when you are trying to create new rules for your life without the limitations of your spouse’s opinions.

Children, however, need routine and structure in order to feel a sense of security and predictability. The unified front that is essential in an intact family is just as essential in a divided family — in some ways more so.

This means no effort to be the "fun" or "cool" parent at the other’s expense; no trying to be your child’s friend by allowing him or her to put fun before responsibility; and no making up a separate set of rules for your time with your kids.

4. Have a pre-determined, predictable schedule.

This helps reinforce in the children that they can depend on their parents and make plans in their lives.

5. Be willing to be flexible.

This is only possible if respect for the agreed-to plan is the rule and requests for flexibility are openly communicated in a timely manner.

6. Do not disrespect your ex in front of your children.

Agree to positive talk in the household. You may still wonder how you ever married your ex, but you must remember that your precious children are 50 percent "each of you". Talking badly about the other parent is damaging to your kids and your relationship with them.

You can always find something positive about the other parent to vocalize with your children — something that reinforces for them that they have inherited wonderful qualities from both their parents.

7. Have amicable interactions at school and extra-curricular events.

Focus on your kids. Co-parenting is about showing up for them, not for your own ego or needs.

Children should never have to fear how their parents are going to behave if they are in the same room together.

8. Talk about schedule and plan changes with your ex before the kids.

This is about adults taking care of the adult stuff and sparing the kids chaos and worry.

Again, you are showing a unified front.

9. Frequently update each other.

Communicate directly with your ex about changes in your life. Never communicate with your ex through your kids. Doing so creates feelings of helplessness and fear in them and can put you at risk of information being miscommunicated.

If you are dating someone seriously or have a new job or medical condition, you need to communicate directly with your children’s other parent. Your kids are not messengers.

10. Recognize that both of you are significant influences in your children’s lives.

You can’t possibly be all things to your children and just because you are divorced, doesn’t mean you should.

Children need to experience both parents and to feel safe and supported as they process the influences from both relationships with their parents.

11. Have a basic agreement on the most important things.

Whether or not you and your ex has a written parental plan, you should agree on fundamentals like healthcare, education, discipline, and spiritual upbringing.

Imagine the inherent confusion for a child who has to do homework in one home but not the other.

12. Show your kids that you're getting along.

Think about how emotionally liberating it is for a child not to have to worry about his or her parents fighting! It is even more liberating knowing that they will never be used as a pawn or messenger between parents because they are acting like mature adults.

Even if you and your ex have no intention of laughing over dinner and cocktails together, the consistency of respectful, cordial interaction will be grounding to your children’s security.

Healthy co-parenting is about the kids.

It’s not about the grievances and dissatisfactions that led to your divorce. It’s about the highest good of the greatest thing that came out of your marriage: YOUR KIDS.

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Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach who helps people navigate co-parenting with their ex. Learn more about Karen and her work on her website.

This article was originally published at Dr. Karen Finn's blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.