Co-parenting can be challenging. Couples don’t always part in the most amicable of ways. It’s normal to feel some underlying dissatisfaction with your ex, or to not feel as though you’ve completely forgiven them for the things you perceived as misgivings throughout your relationship.
The good news: your child has absolutely nothing to do with your ex. They are an independent person, growing and learning to exist within the world. You and your partner have created a beautiful life with a bright future, full of dreams and passion and potential. All you need to do is nurture that spirit.
Keeping your eyes on what’s really important will make many of the issues you have with your child’s other parent seem trivial in comparison. Even if you don’t share the same love for each other, you still have the same love for your child. Every issue that might get in the way of a smooth co-parenting process can simply melt away when you’re both focused on what matters the most.
With that in mind, here are some of the most common issues and concerns that arise in co-parenting, and ideas for solutions to get rid of these potential conflicts.
Lack of Communication Between Parents
A lack of communication or unsuccessful communication skills don’t always stem from some kind of malicious intent or an outright refusal to speak with each other. You may both have very full lives or work opposite hours, and those circumstances can make communication between any two people more difficult to navigate.
Solution: Send updates and keep important information accessible by both parents at all times.
Sending updates between parents is an important first step in improving communication. You may not have the right timing for a phone call, but you can always shoot over a text or an email that covers everything you want to ask or communicate to your ex. They can read it when they have time.
Keeping active and updated logs of important things that can be viewed by both parents is also important. Starting a shared virtual calendar for schedules and events will help you coordinate logistics. Sometimes directly communicating through phone or text can be uncomfortable but there are tools designed specifically for families to equitably manage caregiving communication.
An app like Communikind can help co-parents and family caregivers share care responsibilities, and jointly support their child's health and well-being in an intuitive, secure, and effective manner. You can control privacy settings in your Care Family so that your co-parent can see certain updates for your child but not your personal health information
Differences in Parenting Styles and Values
Differences in parenting styles and values can be a tricky situation to navigate. It’s not always something that can be thoroughly discussed before a child is brought into the world. Some people aren’t even sure what their parenting style is until it comes time to actually parent or deal with changes in your kids’ behaviors. You may have radically different ideas on how to raise your kid.
Solution: Learn the art of the compromise -- for all three of you.
It’s okay to have slightly different rules between each household. One may have a “no devices after 8 PM rule” and one house may be a “shoes off” house. One parent may be a bigger fanatic about healthy eating while the other cherishes their weekly pizza night.
These small differences are okay. When co-parenting, you need to learn where to compromise.
Some things that are crucial to your child’s routine should, however, be universal. Keeping the same bedtime and hygiene routines are important from household to household. Making sure that you child adheres to their schedule of doctors appointments and medications must be a priority. It’s important to remember that both parents won’t always get their way. You’re going to win some and you’re going to lose some. Pick your battles, and turn the battles into productive discussions.
If you’re not sure what to do about other things, the solution can be easy. Ask your kid. They know what they want to do. While it may not always be within reason to fulfill their every whim (i.e. wanting to quit school to become a firefighter-ballerina-acrobat), there’s always room for a compromise (i.e. taking ballet classes after school, learning fire safety habits, and buying a trampoline). Even if your child isn’t an expert on what’s best for them, they can have a really good idea of what works for them.
Talking Down About the Other Parent
Speaking critically, negatively, or disrespectfully about your child’s other parent is never okay. You’re talking about their mother or father. It’s just as disrespectful to your child as it is to your ex. It’s okay to acknowledge that you disagree about things, but don’t do it in a way that demeans your ex. Your child looks to you as a role model, and they need to see that you can still be kind, polite, and respectful even if you don’t always agree with someone.
Solution: Set a better example.
If your child is the only person you have to talk to, this is symptomatic of a larger problem. Your child cannot productively contribute to a venting session about your ex. It’s only going to harm their relationship with their parents and make them feel as though they have to divide their loyalties. Don’t make them miserable. None of this is their fault or their problem. Save the smack talk for later.
Be polite and civil when you talk to the other parent — you can let your child know that you and your ex don’t get along sometimes, and you can even be transparent when your ex makes you angry, but you should do everything you can to show that there is a right and a wrong way to treat someone even if you’re upset at them or something they did.
Not Being Able to Make Schedules Sync
This is a problem that even people with the greatest of intentions often experience. You might have a fantastically strong friendship with your ex, but your lives are pulling you in two completely different directions. It can be tricky to make schedules sync, and it may not be possible all the time.
Solution: Be flexible and plan ahead.
As soon as you know what’s going on, your child’s other parent should know. Give as much notice in advance as possible. You’re going to have to accept the fact that one parent may not always be able to get out of work, or that another parent has physical therapy appointments twice a week.
As long as there’s one parent available to take your son to his martial arts classes and one parent available to take him to his doctor appointments, your child won’t suffer due to challenging schedules. Make sure you communicate plans and changes to any plans clearly with your kid.
The Child is Being Used to Manipulate the Other Parent
If one parent uses the child to extort money from the other parent, or tries to use the child to get the other parent back into a romantic relationship, this is an example of manipulation. Withholding the child from the parent until conditions or demands are being met falls under this category.
Using the child as a messenger is also a tactic of manipulation. This doesn’t count in terms of “Mom said she hopes your job interview goes well,” but in terms of “Dad says I can’t have any toys this Christmas because you stole all his money and he says you have to pay us,” the situation becomes dangerous.
Solution: Treat this situation as abusive.
If someone is of the mindset that it’s okay to use an innocent child to manipulate you, they aren’t going to respond to a rational situation. If it appears as though the child is being abused or maltreated physically or emotionally as a result of this manipulation, the child needs to be removed from the abusive parent.
Use a social worker or a court-appointed professional to navigate this situation. Attempting to handle it on your own can make things worse.
When things escalate to the point of abusive manipulation, use any method you can to document the situation. Have your child log their feelings and moods in the Communikind app, take screenshots of abusive text messages — save copies of anything and everything that serves as proof of the manipulative intent.
One Parent Constantly Breaks Custody Agreements
Breaking a custody agreement can go two ways. Whether a parent regularly keeps the child longer than they’re supposed to or fails to assume responsibility for the child during a designated time, both scenarios end in the upset of your child’s routine.
Solution: Try to talk it out before you involve the court.
The first thing to do is have a serious discussion about why this is happening. One parent might be reluctant to take the child for the weekend because of a tense or uncomfortable situation at home that they don’t want to expose the child to. It could be because they’re struggling financially and cannot afford to feed the child. There could be reasons at play outside of just shirking parental responsibilities. Rule those factors out first by having a serious conversation with your co-parent.
It may be helpful to document in detail every time a custody agreement is not met. Note the date, time, what the agreement should have been, what happened instead, and how you made efforts to try and resolve the conflict with the other parent. If there are text messages, voicemails, or even emails that can serve as evidence of the broken agreement, save copies along with your documentation.
If the failure to adhere to custody agreements comes from irresponsibility or selfishness and you’ve made efforts to try and confront the other parents, it may be time to involve the court.
Final Tips for Co-Parenting
You don’t have to go get coffee with your ex. You don’t have to like their new partner. You don’t have to send them a Christmas card or even care if they had a good day at work. You might need time to heal from a messy breakup before you feel ready to do that, and that’s okay. Don’t push yourself to be friendlier than you’re ready to be. It may come with time. Or it may not, which is okay too. There is no one-size fits all definition of coparenting.
However, what you do have to do is frequently communicate for the wellbeing of your child. It’s not about you. It’s not about your ex. It’s about your child. Both of your worlds permanently changed the moment that your child arrived, and you would do anything for that child. Show your child how much you love them by creating what harmony you can between both households.