A Guide To Successful Co-Parenting With Your Ex

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I started my co-parenting journey 5 years ago. My ex and I separated when our son was 7 months old and our daughter was 2.5 years old. It was scary, overwhelming, and honestly one of the hardest decisions that we as parents had to make, but it made the most sense for our children and for ourselves.

We had agreed from the offset that we would parent them together, that big decisions would be made as a family, and that our feelings and emotions would always be secondary to our children. It hasn’t always been easy, and we have had disagreements on numerous situations in the past, but overall we have managed to embrace co-parenting life and our children have thrived because of this.

What Is Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting is a relationship you have with your ex in which you are no longer intimately involved, but everything pertaining to your children is shared. This includes school, healthcare, life changes and extra-curricular activities. You work as a team and communicate on all aspects involving your children, sharing all the highs and lows of parenthood.

What Are The Three Types Of Co-Parenting?

High Conflict Co-Parenting

This type of co-parenting involves active interaction with your ex. It is highly emotional and least favorable when wanting your children to grow up unaffected by your separation. A lot of the time, the communication with your ex ends in arguments and anger. This in turn can have an adverse effect on your children. If you believe this is your situation, I would avoid interaction with your ex and focus primarily on your children. I have seen first-hand how damaging this can be for children and the effect this has on their development. So if you can, try and move to a healthier style of parenting such as parallel parenting.

Parallel Co-Parenting

This form of co-parenting involves you and your ex parenting separately. Most forms of communication are business-like and discussions with your co-parent are only about the children not personal matters. With this type of parenting there is usually a plan in place, and this is followed strictly. Equally, functions such as sports days, school plays, etc. are attended separately. This was initially how my ex and I began our co-parenting journey and it just didn’t work for either of us. We both wanted to be involved in all aspects of our children’s lives, so we moved on to cooperative and collaborative co-parenting.

Cooperative and Collaborative Co-Parenting

This type of co-parenting (my favorite!) involves a level of respect, trust, and open communication. It can only happen if the both of you equally want to achieve this, which in theory sounds wonderful but in practice can be hard if one of you isn’t on board. However, the benefits of low conflict and collaborative parents are happy children. This form of co-parenting can take years to get to and for us it has really only come into full force over the past 3 years.

mom and dad coparenting toddler in front of beach waves
Courtesy of Rafael Garcin (via Pexels)

What Are Healthy Co-Parenting Behaviors?

1. Open communication

Regardless of which type of co-parenting you fall into, communication is by far the most important behavior. Ensure you have a way in which your co-parent can contact you, whether that be email, text, calls, or face-to-face.

2. Boundaries

Encourage rules and boundaries that are consistent in both households. If there is disparity, children will get confused and research has shown that children need structure and routine.

3. Positivity

There is nothing worse than one of your parents talking negatively about your other parent. Ensure you are promoting positive communication when discussing your ex.

4. Unity

Show your children that you are united in everything pertaining to them. Not only do they need to see this, but you also need this in order for your rules and boundaries not to be questioned.

5. Perspective

View situations from the other parent’s perspective. This for me is so important as it allows you to take a step back and review areas that may cause conflict.

What Are Toxic Co-Parenting Behaviors?

1. Withholding Information

If you want to co-parent effectively, you need to be able to share all the information so that your co-parent can approach the situation knowing all the facts.

2. Bad Mouthing

This links to speaking positively about one another. Your child loves both of their parents and it can cause them much distress if they hear negative words coming from your mouth about their mum or dad.

3. Ignoring Rules and Boundaries

This is usually used to sway the child so that they prefer the other parent more. However, it can not only cause issues for the other parent but also you.

4. Using the Children

This is a big NO from me. In no way should you ever use your children to attempt to get a one up on your ex. They are not a bargaining chip nor are they an emotional punching bag for you to unload on.

Exes arguing in bedroom with hands over faces
Courtesy of Alex Green (via Unsplash)

What Are Some Tips For New Co-Parents?

1. Give Yourself Time

This is a huge chapter that is ending in your life; there is no rule book on how you should approach it. You are allowed to decompress and evaluate what you want your life and relationship with your ex to look like for the future.

2. Forgiveness

This is a hard one to muster in some situations. It took me a long time to be able to forgive and move forward. However, when you are ready, forgiving your ex and yourself allows you to move forward.

3. Talk

Whether that is to a friend, your parents, or a therapist, I am a strong advocate that talking helps healing.

4. Focus On Your Children

Remember that they are the most important part as to why you want to co-parent effectively. The one thing you and your ex can agree on is how much you love them.

I truly hope this helps regardless of whether you are starting your co-parenting journey or are slap bang in the middle. It’s not easy, it’s hard and it can be messy, but it can also be so rewarding when you manage to get co-parenting right. I’m always happy to listen and support anyone on this journey.

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hannah Willisson-Hill of Southampton, UK. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

Read more from Hannah here:

‘I’d FaceTime him constantly, needing to know my kids were OK. I felt so out of control.’: Daughter of divorce shares personal journey to peaceful coparenting

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