No matter the status of your relationship with the other parent of your child (married, dating, separated, or divorced) your child will greatly benefit from your positive co-parenting relationship.
To raise your child, both parents need to work together and support each other's decisions. After all, parenting needs to be a partnership. When this takes place, you’ll have a child who feels comfortable and secure in their relationship with both parents. Also, they’ll be less stressed. And, as co-parents, if you share the responsibility of parenthood, such as making decisions and balancing the obligations of parenting, you’ll also have fewer stresses.
In addition, when you have a healthy and effective co-parenting relationship, you are modeling to your children how to handle disappointments and setbacks.
To get you thinking about what your own shared parenting looks like, and how to improve, here are five common traits of healthy co-parenting.
1. Your conversation flows in a non-defensive manner.
Almost everyone gets defensive at times. It’s our natural mechanism for protecting ourselves if we feel like we’re been criticized. Normally, this happens when we have difficult conversations with co-workers, bosses, spouses, and certainly your ex.
But, here’s the problem. When we get defensive, your counterpart is likely to get defensive as well. Not only is this frustrating and exhausting, but it’s also ineffective. When both parties are defensive, the conversation doesn’t progress toward the resolution your child(ren) needs.
Here are three easy steps to get out of this stalemate and have a conversation that flows in a non-defensive manner;
Comment on what you've observed. Start the conversation in a non-defensive way by avoiding blame. Please refrain from personal attacks or generalizations. A better approach is to focus on what you have actually seen and heard. Using "I" statements is also helpful, as they are less critical. In addition, the listener feels less defensive with these statements.
Give a description of how you feel. After that, describe how you felt after witnessing the behavior. It is important to put the other person's point of view into context and relate with them better. Make sure to provide more than one-word responses as well.
Specify the behavior you would like. In a non-confrontational conversation, the most critical element is to ask for a change in the future. In this way, you demonstrate that you don't intend to complain or harbor ill feelings against the other person. Instead, you are trying to find a constructive solution.
As an example, let’s say that your ex has been late a couple of times dropping your child off during a transition from one home to the other.. Instead of proclaiming, “You make me so angry because you’re always late.” You could reframe this as “I’ve noticed that you’ve been five minutes late with drop-offs. I am frustrated because this interferes with getting them to soccer practice on time. Can you please be on time going forward?”
2. You express gratitude for the other parent and step-parent.
“How can an ‘attitude of gratitude’ help your co-parenting relationship?, asks Lisa Gabardi Ph.D.
“It might help you offer a thank you or express appreciation. Whenever you feel critical of the other parent, remember something they do right. “Only seeing the negative about the other parent makes it harder to show respect, be kind, and work together.”
Even when facing stress and conflict, noticing the positive reinforces the virtue of maintaining a balanced view. There are some things about the other parent you might dislike, but they're not all bad, she adds.
Consider seeing the other parent from your child's perspective. You can start by asking questions like;
What do they value?
What might they wish you appreciated more?
“Try noticing positive traits, looks, or qualities passed along to your children, things he/she teaches them, ways in which they are a good parent, or helpful ways he/she has interacted with you,” Dr. Gabardi suggests. “How wonderful would it be if your children heard you say ‘you’re just like your father’ and you meant it as a compliment?”
Consider looking for the positive in the other parent regularly as part of a general practice of gratitude. It is possible that a kinder, gentler version of you will show up when you interact next. “That’s good for building an effective working relationship with your co-parent, which is good for your children,” she adds.
3. You are inclusive of their opinion and voice.
A key element of any healthy relationship is being honest, transparent, and not keeping the other party out of the loop. In other words, you share information freely with them (e.g. medical and educational material).
There may not be agreement on every issue. But co-parents must first listen to each other's questions and concerns. Both also need to be flexible. And, most importantly, eventually agree on major concerns, such as health, education, and discipline.
If both parents agree on important issues, it will go a long way toward avoiding disagreements, easing tensions at events, and letting the child know what is expected of them.
Additionally, avoid manipulating each other or controlling children's allegiances or putting them in the middle of any differences between you and the other parent..
4. You reinforce the importance of their parenting role.
Rather than jumping to conclusions, you seek to understand any challenges in the co-parenting relationship. For instance, maybe your ex doesn’t enjoy cooking. And, to make matters worse, they’ve been working overtime. Because of this, the meals they eat aren’t always the healthiest.
Instead of flying off the handle, offer to help. If you enjoy cooking, you could offer them a few frozen home-made meals at drop-off. On the flip side, since they enjoy soccer more than you, you are more than willing to have them take your child to practice and attend games even when it’s not always their scheduled time.
5. You share traditions with one another.
Traditions are extremely important. They provide comfort and foster a sense of belonging. What’s more, traditions reinforce values, create lasting memories, and give us a chance to celebrate what truly matters.
With that in mind, don’t exclude your ex from traditions that your family has previously established. Examples would be tricking or treating together or having the child buy gifts for other parent and their other children or stepparent during the holidays.
If maintaining the tradition feels overwhelming to you, be creative and find ways to support the tradition nonetheless.