Co-parenting is no easy feat. It can help when you have a clear blueprint to move forward.
There’s much to think about regarding what’s best for your child.
Whether a calm dissolution or a high-conflict one, healthy boundaries can help you move forward with grace. We asked two therapists for tips on how to cope.
Boundaries with your ex can be personal or mutual. They involve limits you hold for yourself on:
- language used
- send and respond time of day
- emotional investment
- child drop-off and pick-up meetings
- respecting parenting time or custody timeshare
- involving your child in your personal feelings
Boundaries allow your child’s welfare to be the primary goal, says Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher, a licensed psychotherapist in North Providence, Rhode Island.
For example, she explains that you and your former partner can work together to handle your child being bullied at school without talking about your current thoughts and feelings toward each other.
Setting healthy boundaries can also be a protective measure, she explains. “Safety matters. Boundaries allow both parents to feel as safe as possible interacting for the sake of the child,” says Weaver-Breitenbecher.
No two parenting plans will look the same, but these tips can offer a place to start.
Try to communicate from a place of calm
Co-parenting takes enormous patience and compromise, says Dr. Lauren Napolitano, a licensed psychologist in Philadelphia.
“Co-parenting with an ex-spouse can be hard. If there were sufficient love and respect in the relationship, you’d probably still be married, right?” she says.
For this reason, you may find it helpful to learn self-soothing techniques and respond versus react. This may include:
- journaling your feelings
- practice deep breathing
- vent to a trusted confidant
- work with a therapist
Respond? React? What’s the difference?
To respond means to say something in return or answer a query.
Reacting is defined as reciprocating, counteracting, or acting in opposition to an influence.
Not every slight from an ex — or anyone else — warrants a reaction. Here’s how to respond to rude comments.
Consider the help of an app
Co-parenting apps and websites may be helpful, says Napolitano.
“Our Family Wizard can help to track appointments, after-school activities, and holidays,” she says. “If both parents agree to use an app like this, it can cut down significantly on arguments and overstepping.”
Try to keep everything in writing
Putting all communication in writing is important, particularly if tensions are running high between you and your ex. Conversations over the phone can turn heated very quickly, says Napolitano.
“Not only because it gives you a record of what was agreed upon, but also because acrimonious couples tend to struggle to keep verbal communication civil and related to the topic at hand,” she says.
Try to stay consistent
You may find it helpful to figure out what system works for you and stick with it, as boundaries can become difficult to follow when they aren’t consistent, says Weaver-Breitenbecher.
“For example, if you only communicate about pick up and drop off via text, then always make sure pickup and drop off are discussed via text,” she says.
Try a parenting email address
If a parent toils with respecting boundaries, try designating a specific email address for parenting-related matters, says Weaver-Breitenbecher.
“It’s OK to tell another parent: You cannot text me unless our child is hurt or in danger. Otherwise, send all correspondence about our child to this email address,” she says.
Curb your triggers
A helpful strategy to avoid the triggers of your exes’ new (or your former) home, new relationship, or family is to employ what’s dubbed a “curbside pickup.”
Just as it sounds, you and the other parent might agree to pull up to the curb and allow your child to exit your vehicle and enter the receiving parent’s home autonomously. This can:
- alleviate any possible face-to-face tension
- minimize dropoffs as being a heavy ordeal
- reduce the possibility of remarks or aggressions that can escalate
- model to your kid(s) respect for boundaries and privacy of the receiving parent
Try to find a neutral third party
If you can’t get in front of a therapist, you may find it helpful to identify a mutual member of the family who can communicate with you, says Weaver-Breitenbecher.
Try not to make parenting decisions based on how you feel about the breakup, says Weaver-Breitenbecher.
“We get it, you’re human, and you’re potentially experiencing hurtful feelings. Your feelings matter — but not here, in co-parenting,” she explains. “You do not get to make decisions that would harm the other parent simply because you want to.”
With your child, it’s important not to:
- bad mouth the other parent
- guilt them for spending time elsewhere
- pass messages through them to the other parent
- try to fish for information about the other parent
- rehash the marriage problems
A study from 2020 shows that co-parenting can be more difficult in dissolving relationships with former spouses who feel:
In this case, you may find it helpful to bring in a neutral professional, as research suggests that co-parenting counseling can help, says Napolitano.
“For acrimonious couples who [labor] even with email communication, there are co-parenting counselors who can act like referees — they will help decide what time Thanksgiving starts this year or how to navigate custody transitions,” she says.
To get started with this, consider using our search tools to find professional support.
Co-parenting can be a challenge, even on the best of days.
You may find it helpful to:
- keep communication in writing
- stay consistent
- use helpful planning apps
- practice self-soothing techniques to keep your feelings in check
You don’t have to go through this alone. You may also find it useful to work not only with an individual therapist but a co-parenting counselor as well.