I’m no expert on parenting (other than to say I had two good ones). This topic is timely for me, however, because it seems to be a common thread in my mediation practice.

Co-parenting after divorce can be a slippery slope.  It requires two people who are no longer living together to be tied with one another forever.  Some experts call co-parenting a chronic condition, like diabetes or irritable bowel syndrome.  (Insert eye roll here.)  In my opinion, it’s a do-over.  Your relationship with each other as partners didn’t succeed, but that doesn’t mean your relationship with each other as parents will suffer the same fate.

Your actions are being closely watched by your kids, and often times mirrored by them.  If you want your children to grow up and have successful relationships of their own, and if you want them to become good parents to your future grandchildren, remember that co-parenting with your ex requires three things:  empathy, patience, and open communication.  I know that’s a lot to think about, so let me break it down for you.

Consider this list of things to do:

  • Make a written commitment with your ex to openly communicate – literally write a one-sentence contract for you both to sign
  • Stay positive – set an example
  • Agree on boundaries and guidelines — kids need consistency in both households
  • Include your extended family – grandparents, aunts, and uncles on each side should all be on the same page
  • Keep your co-parent informed

And consider this list of things not to do:

  • Don’t burden the kids about issues with your ex
  • Don’t punish your ex by letting the kids get away with bad behavior at your house
  • Don’t give in to guilt
  • Don’t be an unbalanced parent – either always mean or always fun
  • Don’t jump to conclusions about what’s going on at the other household

The term “co-parenting” means parenting together.  So that means solving parenting problems together as well, which is why your agreement to communicate with each other is of vital importance.  When problems come up, and they will, first off identify them.  Share your observations with your ex by showing your concern about your child.  Exchange information about needs and priorities so that you both are on the same page.  Then offer some thinking time to each other in order to explore possible solutions.

I know this is a lot to remember when you’re in the throes of an argument about whether your daughter should be allowed to spend the night at a friend’s house, or whether your son can ride his bike to school by himself.  In retrospect, these concerns might not be so crucial in the grand scheme of things, but in the moment, your path to resolution is the most important choice you can make.  If you choose to take the high road with each other and put your kids’ needs above your own habits and history, everybody wins.

Mediation is another tool in helping co-parents navigate the journey.