Co-parenting is no walk in the park. Disagreements about discipline, schedules and bed times can unravel even the most level-headed parent ― and when kids play their parents against one another, all hell threatens to break loose.
Below, experts share the issues that come up most frequently for co-parents and how to manage them.
1. Talking badly about the other parent.
“When you put down their other parent, your children are likely to interpret it as a put-down of part of them. When both parents are guilty of this behavior, it can create a sense of unworthiness and low self-esteem. It makes them question how much they can trust you and your opinions ― or trust themselves. When you have a problem with your ex, take it directly to them, and not to or through the children. Keep a conscious diligence on your commentary and your ex is more likely to follow suit as well. If he or she doesn’t, your kids will naturally pick up on the different energy and gravitate toward the parent taking the high road.” ― Rosalind Sedacca, the founder of the Child-Centered Divorce Network, a resource for parents facing, moving through or transitioning after divorce
2. Bed times.
“If the kids go to bed at 10pm with dad and 8pm with mom, that is not ideal. Yet it is much healthier for kids than watching you fight about bedtime. It can teach kids flexibility to recognize that the rules are different in different environments. While trying to encourage consistent routines is admirable, they should not come at the expense of kids overhearing stressful conflict.” ― Samantha Rodman, a clinical psychologist and dating coach
3. Schedule changes.
“For parents who struggle with last-minute requests to change their children’s schedule, the clearest solution involves honest reflection about what is best for the kids. This often corresponds with what the children want to do, but not always. For example, they may want to go to a concert on a school night; however, depending on their age, their workload and the band, this may or may not be an optimal plan.” ― Elisabeth LaMotte, a psychotherapist and founder of the DC Counseling and Psychotherapy Center
4. Relinquishing control.
“It can be difficult for parents to let go of having constant control over their children, especially if you were the main caregiver while you were married. While it’s important to try to provide consistent rules and structure between two households, it’s inevitable that two parents will have their differences. Try to focus on what you can control in your time with your children, and let the rest go. Try to communicate without getting emotional. It is usually much easier to treat a coparenting relationship like a business deal. Discuss expectations, needs and try to solve problems diplomatically, without letting emotion get involved.” ― Chelli Pumphrey, a therapist and love and dating coach
5. Uncooperative exes.
“Keep your side of the street clean. Your ex is going to do what they’re going to do. You can’t control them now any more than you could when you were together. What you can control is you! Do what you say you’re going to do, and do it with a smile. Be as pleasant as you would to the cashier at the grocery store or the UPS delivery guy. Be professional, courteous and keep your conversations and exchanges brief.” ― Honorée Corder, a personal transformation expert and an author of several divorce books
6. A lack of consistency.
“When one home becomes two, it’s common for there to be a lack of consistency between the two homes, even though consistency is best for children. Many parents are just trying to hold down one home, let alone co-manage two. Yet consistency paves the way for a smooth transition. Ask your ex a good time to talk about the inconsistency between the homes and how it might be affecting the children. Go in with a ‘we’ attitude so that you both are coming from the same place and are on the same page. Look for strengths between the two homes and build on them. Each parent can always discuss with their children about the inconsistencies, acknowledge them, but remain consistent in their home. Eventually, with consistency, most children come around and adjust.” ― Kristin Davin, a clinical psychologist and mediator with her own private practice
7. Listening without judgement.
“Accept and be open to hearing about your child’s experiences with the other parent. If you are not open to hearing about their life they will still live it but you just won’t hear about it. Listening without judgement is especially hard but it will pay off as you will get to know your child fully.” ― Deborah Mecklinger, a mediator and therapist