Healthy co-parenting can seem like uncharted territory after a nasty divorce or many years of an unhealthy dynamic. You might wonder: What does “healthy co-parenting” even look like? How do you navigate it? Is it even possible? And what if it hasn’t been healthy even after the divorce has long been settled? Is changing a damaged relationship realistic?
While not every relationship can be mended, many can be turned civil, if not outright healthy. If your resolution is to create a healthier dynamic, for the sake of your kids and the sake of your sanity, you can make it happen—you just need some ideas of where to start.
But first, let’s break down what healthy co-parenting means.
What Is Healthy Co-Parenting?
To put it simply, healthy co-parenting is all about creating a stable, secure environment for your children despite the split. This requires acting respectful (even when the other party isn’t), communicating openly, and cooperating wherever possible.
Basically, it’s your attempt to focus on your shared responsibility as parents, putting aside personal differences.
However, it’s important to understand that healthy co-parenting doesn’t mean forcing a friendship or pretending that everything is okay. It’s about finding a working relationship that serves the best interest of your child.
And remember, this is a journey, not a destination, so be patient with yourself and your ex-spouse as you navigate this new terrain.
The Importance of Healthy Co-Parenting for Children
When parents continue to fight and disagree after a divorce, it can create an unstable environment that affects a child’s emotional and psychological well-being.
On the other hand, when parents can establish a healthy co-parenting relationship, it provides a sense of security and reduces stress for children.
Children who witness their parents cooperating and respecting each other feel more confident and secure. They learn valuable lessons about problem-solving, compromise, and respectful communication.
Remember, your kids are always watching you, and they mimic your behavior, especially when they’re very young. Your relationship with your spouse will play a huge role in shaping how they approach relationships in the future because it’s the relationship they have the most experience with and insight into.
If the main relationship that they see every week is unhealthy, if they don’t have a good example of how a relationship should look, they’re going to struggle in the future when it’s time for them to have their own relationships.
But it’s more than just modeling behavior for the future—it affects them right here, right now. Maintaining a consistent approach to parenting across both households can provide a sense of routine and normalcy, which is important in helping children adapt to the changes that come with divorce.
Divorce is hard enough on kids as it is, and it will usually have a lasting impact on them, an impact which gets larger and larger the older your kids are when you get divorced. Keeping things civil and being healthy reduces that impact and makes something that’s hard for everyone a little less difficult.
There’s plenty of research out there that proves kids in a home where the approach to parenting is consistent tend to have very few behavior problems and are generally happier and healthier. It’s worth the effort no matter how difficult your divorce has been or how you feel about your ex-spouse.
Deal with Any Feelings That Are Keeping You From Being Civil
The first rule of parenting for every parent—not just divorced parents—is putting your child’s needs first. This means making decisions that are in their best interest, even when they are difficult or inconvenient for you. Prioritizing their well-being above your feelings toward your ex-spouse is paramount.
However, this is easier said than done, especially when your ex-spouse is difficult or you have a lot of resentment or frustration, or if they just rub you the wrong way no matter what you or they do.
Firstly, if you find that your feelings about your spouse and how things ended (or how the marriage went generally) are keeping you from being able to be civil with them, it might be time to consider therapy or support groups.
There are many therapists out there who specialize in helping divorcees, and there are also more than a few divorce-specific support groups where you can talk about your experiences and feelings with people who understand what you’re going through.
Getting rid of that resentment is incredibly important because it allows you to be civil in front of the kids. Note that “being civil” doesn’t mean letting your ex-spouse walk all over you. Boundaries are important, and you need to stand your ground where it matters, but that doesn’t mean the kids have to witness it.
This brings us to our next two issues, which are very closely related: communicating effectively and avoiding open conflict.
Avoid Open Conflict—And Keep Everything in Writing
While it’s important to discuss important issues related to your child and make decisions together, that’s not always possible, and even when it is, there might be some serious disagreements and arguments that happen along the way.
Your goal here should be to be respectful yet firm in your boundaries while working out disagreements out of the sight and hearing of your kids. For many parents, this is best done through an app, which many courts will require.
That way, everything either of you say is recorded and available for your judge to view. Since each party knows they’re being watched, they’re more likely to be respectful and reasonable.
You can work through disagreements without the kids having to be involved in any arguing or fighting, which can be incredibly toxic for them if they were to be exposed to it, either in person or by hearing you fight over the phone.
However, some people just can’t be reasoned with, and some people think they can do whatever they want, that the law doesn’t apply to them. This is why it’s so incredibly important to have a custody agreement in place, especially if your ex-spouse has a history of not playing by the rules or is a flat-out narcissist.
A custody agreement ensures that, as much as possible, all issues and potential issues are addressed. That way, if they try to push the limits of what’s allowed, you can point to the agreement to keep them in line. If you don’t have a custody agreement, there’s no recourse if they do something you’re not happy about.
If the existence of the agreement isn’t enough to make them behave, you’ll at least have clear evidence of them breaking the agreement thanks to the app, which you can then bring to the court.
Few courts these days have any leniency when it comes to ex-spouses who violate custody agreements or think they’re above the law—these agreements can and will be enforced.
This is why you should avoid phone or in-person conversations if you suspect or know your ex-spouse can’t be trusted or if they’re highly manipulative—you need that record. Manipulative people can’t work their magic as effectively when someone else is watching, so requiring everything in writing can sometimes short-circuit their attempts in the first place.
Hopefully, your ex-spouse doesn’t fall into this category, and if this is the case, you can afford to do something that can make co-parenting infinitely easier—be flexible.
Be Flexible Where Possible and Reasonable
Boundaries are lines in the sand that your spouse can never cross, and to an even greater degree, the same can be said for the requirements outlined in your custody agreement.
However, outside of these, there is usually room for flexibility. This assumes, of course, that you’re dealing with an ex-spouse who is acting in good faith. Narcissists, pathological liars, and others who aren’t willing to play fair are not people you can be flexible with—nor should you be.
But with an ex-spouse who is playing by the rules, flexibility can make life easier for everyone. Schedules don’t always work out. Emergencies happen. Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes they might need a little help or leniency—and you might need the same.
This is not to say you should violate your custody agreement—rather, it means working with your spouse to find an equitable arrangement that’s in the best interests of your children.
Maybe that means dropping them off earlier than you normally would or picking them up later. Maybe that means switching some days around or taking them to soccer practice or recital when your ex-spouse normally would. It all depends on what you can do and are willing to do.
This shouldn’t be something regular, but having a little flexibility can go a long way in making your children’s lives easier.
If you’re not sure where or how you can be flexible, speak with your attorney to get a clear idea of what is and isn’t allowed.
Make a Resolution to Be the Best Parent You Can
Healthy co-parenting requires patience, communication, and a commitment to your child’s well-being. While it may be challenging, remember that the benefits for your child are immeasurable. They will feel secure, loved, and will learn valuable lessons about respect and cooperation.
If you’re getting divorced and need help getting a custody agreement in place that will protect your rights and your children, we can help.
Contact us today to set up your initial consultation or call us directly at (214) 646-3253.