Four Best Practices in Co-Parenting

Family greets daughter during pick up.

Ending a relationship is never easy, and strong emotions tend to follow a significant life transition such as a breakup. It's not hard for any person to get caught up in their feelings during a time like this. Having children in the picture only raises the stakes and can heighten emotions during a divorce and even well after it has been finalised.

Even on a good day, co-parenting can be tough. Yet as challenging as it can sometimes seem to keep your shared parenting goals in mind, utilising certain best practices in your co-parenting can help you to maintain a healthy focus and keep your family moving forward.

The term "best practices" may sound familiar to many as a way to describe the latest and greatest in methods or techniques for handling commercial or professional matters. Here, we take a different spin on this term and consider what strategies are most useful for divorced or separated parents to keep in mind. These four co-parenting best practices can help keep things running smoothly in your day-to-day shared parenting.

Above All, Your Kids Come First

As basic as this rule may seem, it's one worth repeating. A divorce or separation can leave even the most peaceful of co-parents feeling agitated and with little desire to anything to do with their former spouse or partner. In this situation, no matter how you may be feeling, it's crucial that you always keep your children and their needs first and foremost in your priorities and actions relating to your family. Show your love and support for your kids every day in your words and your actions.

Commit to Respect

Recognising your co-parent's role in your child's life is a critical best practice in co-parenting. To your child, your co-parent may be someone whom they look up to, listen to, and go to for protection and guidance. If you and your co-parent share parental responsibilities for your child, then your co-parent is an equal authority to them. If you are not respecting and upholding that authority, then your child may be receiving mixed messages on which parent they should be listening to.

Make it a best practice in your co-parent to commit to respecting one another. You may still have your differences, yet when it comes to your child, maintaining a degree of respect is vital. Consider these tips that can help you attain and protect that respect for one another in co-parenting:

  • Recognize your co-parent's authority to your child, even if you don't agree with every decision they make. As long as their authority is not putting your child's safety at risk, respect the fact that your co-parent has the best interests of your child at heart in the decisions they make.
  • Respect each other's parenting time. Allow your child to spend quality time with their other parent without disturbing it in such a way that could ruin it.
  • Support your child's relationship with your co-parent. Speak respectfully of your co-parent in your child's presence. Again, if your child's safety is not at risk, allow your child to build a loving, personal relationship with both of you.

Commit to Cooperation

Although you and your co-parent may not be living in the same house anymore, you still share many of the same parenting responsibilities that you did when you were all in one home. That said, it's true that the thought of building a team with this other person at this point could seem less than attractive.

Commitment to working together to raise your children as best you both can is a positive best practice in co-parenting. However, commitment to cooperating with your co-parent can look different for different families in different situations. Some co-parents may be able to commit to an open, regular dialog relating to co-parenting, while others may need to take a step back from constant communication to solely focus on the children such as is often the case in parallel parenting.

Wherever you're at now in your shared parenting, making that commitment to cooperate in upholding your child's best interests in a positive step forward. Think about these points as you commit to cooperation:

  • Show your children that you and your co-parent are a team working together to do what's best for them. Even though your differences as individuals, you and your co-parent should work hard to demonstrate to your kids that you're both in it for them.
  • Stay open to the idea of compromise and being flexible. As you build up your relationship as partners in co-parenting, this may become easier. As choices arise, always keep in mind what's best for your children, and let that guide your decision.

Commit to Communication

Communication is not always easy to maintain after a breakup, especially if poor communication contributed to the end of the relationship. Yet for co-parents, a degree of information sharing and discussion on the well-being of your children is something that must happen.

Whether you're actively co-parenting or in more of a parallel parenting arrangement, some level of communication must be sustained for the sake of your children. This means sharing crucial medical information, school and extracurricular schedules, details about significant incidents in your child's daily life, and other critical facts relating to each of your children.

The way in which you choose to communicate is just as meaningful as the act of communicating itself, as the method you choose can impact how well your exchanges are. In a situation where open communication is rather tricky, email and text messaging could open the door to conflict and miscommunication. Instead of long-winded messages or vague texts, using a system of communication that goes as far as to provide ways of communicating without messaging could be a huge help.

Online communication tools explicitly built for shared parenting communication can prove to be a useful alternative to email and text messaging. Many provide tools that help to get parents into a clear and unambiguous narrative when discussing matters concerning their children. However, not all of these tools offer the same degrees of documentation, security, and access to features. It's hugely important to carefully consider the co-parenting communication tool you choose and make the best decision to help you effectively manage your situation.

As a best practice in co-parenting, committing to communication is much more than choosing the right method. Here are a few additional tips for committing to communication:

  • Be consistent. Share information promptly, and don't withhold anything that could prove to be vital to your children's well-being when with either of you. It's key for both you and your co-parent to have the details you need when you need them most. 
  • Be clear. Cut your communications down to the important facts so that there is less room for confusion over what you're asking for or what you're sharing. Miscommunication and ambiguity can be stepping stones that lead to conflict, so avoid communicating as such as best you can.

Unlike with technology, these best practices in co-parenting aren't ones that will fall off in a matter of months. Respect, cooperation, and communication are three critical factors to upholding positive shared parenting, so protecting these in your co-parenting is vital. And above all, put your children and their well-being able all else. Making decisions based on their needs is what's always important.