5 Co-Parenting Tips for Newly Divorced Parents

Father and son sitting on kitchen counterAny divorcing parent knows that one of the hardest parts of a marital ending is feeling forced to stay connected to someone you don’t particularly want to see or spend time with. Not all co-parenting situations are toxic—in fact, many couples find parenting is easier after they have separated—but the adjustment to parenting separately can be tricky for anyone.

Children can be one of the biggest stressors on a marriage, and even when that marriage ends, the co-parenting relationship maintains its own level of stress. Once your custody has been set, you may be faced with all sorts of issues and circumstances that challenge you to reflect on your parenting strategies. Among your considerations: how best to cope with your ex as you figure out what this new relationship means and how it’s supposed to go.

Productive co-parenting isn’t about following any particular formula. Each couple has their own unique dynamic, story, and situation that needs to be worked out in a way that serves the context of that family. However, there are techniques, strategies, and practices that can improve both the co-parenting dynamic and each partner’s experience of that relationship.

In my work with divorce, my focus is almost always on what each individual can work on within themselves. I encourage couples and individuals to refrain from trying to change or control their partners, and to focus on their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors instead. Based on that philosophy, here are five strategies you can use to improve your co-parenting relationship that are completely within your control.

1. Use Empathy and Your Child’s Perspective

Having compassion for an ex can be hard when there has been betrayal, hurt, or rejection, but this is an essential component to co-parenting well. Seeing the situation through your child’s eyes will help you drop down into your heart, and it may give you a different perspective as you deal with your ex. Children simply want to feel loved, safe, and to spend time with their parents, so if you can make your main intention to help them in these respects, you’ll be co-parenting from a compassionate place. As you co-parent, remember it’s more about your child than you, and stepping into that place of empathy will be a good reminder. No matter how much you struggle with your ex, your children are always the priority.

2. Set Clear Boundaries and Maintain Structure

From the minute your marriage ended, your marital relationship shifted into something different, but you may still be engaging in old dynamics. Many of the ways you interacted with your ex in marriage are no longer appropriate or necessary, and a lack of good boundaries may make it even harder to transition into a new way of relating. Becoming clear about what works for you as you move forward untangling the relationship may help you set healthy boundaries. This includes how your children are picked up, whether your ex has a key to the house, and what kind of contact there is when you have the kids. Your boundaries may be violated, but it’s still important to communicate them.

3. Relinquish Control and Accept What’s Happening

There may be things you don’t approve of when it comes to your ex’s parenting style, or how they spend time with the kids. You may also feel differently about introducing a new partner or dating when it comes to parenting time. The reality is that more often than not you have no say over how your ex decides to live. Unless the situation is dangerous or neglectful, you need to learn to accept and let go of your need to control what happens in your absence. Instead of trying to control or change what’s happening, learn to let go, accept, and work with it as best you can. This is one of the hardest consequences of co-parenting, but also the one thing that can really reduce unnecessary stress.

4. Maintain Your Values and Live from Integrity

No matter how frustrated or annoyed you feel about co-parenting with your ex, maintaining your integrity and sticking to your values is essential. It’s easy to get pulled into ugly dynamics or engage in bad behavior when your buttons are pushed, but keeping your cool and staying true to yourself will feel better than reacting. It can help to make a list of the traits and qualities you want to uphold as you co-parent. These might include patience, kindness, respect, and/or grace. These are hard to stick to when you are dealing with someone who doesn’t have the same agenda, but rising above and taking the high road will be better for you and your kids.

5. Enjoy Your Time Off

Many parents spend the whole time they don’t have their children worrying and waiting for them to come back. It’s hard to not see your children half the time, but this alone time can be considered a silver lining. The more you take care of yourself by using that time to reboot and replenish, the better you’ll be for your children when you have them. Try practicing self-care, spending time with friends, exercising, or just having quiet time. All of these forms of self-support may lead to a greater sense of happiness, and you’ll have more space for caregiving and for dealing with your ex.

Learning to co-parent well is a growth-promoting process. You gain skills in negotiating, compromising, as well as stretching your internal capacities for compassion, patience, and empathy. All aspects of divorce can be used to transform the self, so making co-parenting another arena for becoming a better person may shift your focus and intention as you manage this challenging part of the process.

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Andra Brosh, PhD

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Gilda

    April 21st, 2016 at 8:15 AM

    I know that when my ex and I had joint custody O worried about all of the time that I no longer had with the kids. It took me a long time to understand that it was likely that he was feeling the same kind of loss and guilt as well. I didn’t choose to see things from that perspective for a while but once I did things became a little easier and I was more open to being a better co parent with him.

  • Joe

    April 21st, 2016 at 11:36 AM

    Yep these are great but there will still be times when you want to just scream with emotion because they are choosing to do something really dumb and not in the best interest of the kids at all. I don’t think that any of these tips can possibly overrule just downright stupidity.

  • SD

    April 22nd, 2016 at 12:26 PM

    i hate my X.
    hes no good to me or my kids. not good dad no matter what

  • Laurel

    April 22nd, 2016 at 12:50 PM

    I wish that there were more parents who would take how their children feel into account instead of reacting o only what hurts them. We as parents have to do more to think about our kids, because we have to remember that divorce is very hard on them too

  • Warren

    April 23rd, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    Live life for you, don’t worry all that much about the other person’s behavior/\They are the ones who will eventually have to answer for that, not you.

  • Eddie

    April 23rd, 2016 at 3:48 PM

    I still don’t get why couples think that arranging all of these fancy and complicated custody schedules will be the answer that they have been looking for to maintaining harmony. When what I really believe is that the more we as parents can discover a way to simply still get along and want the best for our children is the very best thing that we can do to have happiness be a part of our lives and those of our children that we had together.

  • Marilyn

    October 21st, 2016 at 5:07 PM

    Emotional intelligence often plays a strong role in divorce. Divorce does not necessarily mean that one grows in emotional maturity or intelligence.
    Some people need clear boundaries with these matters after a divorce.

  • Brayden

    April 24th, 2016 at 2:06 PM

    You start to wish that these couples would have just made the decision not to have children in the first place

  • Ron

    April 25th, 2016 at 7:22 AM

    Rise above it

  • amelia

    April 25th, 2016 at 11:21 AM

    There are some parents who have the ability to do this very well together and then there are others who have to have a mediator if they have to be in the same space together for any given amount of time. Those are the ones that I just want to give a little smack and tell them to grow up, this is not solely about them now.

  • Claude

    April 26th, 2016 at 10:20 AM

    I do tend to feel pretty guilty when I don’t have the kids and I am doing something that I know that they would enjoy. Sometimes I try to hold out until their next visit with me but schedules and stuff, sometimes that can be hard. So yeah, the guilt is something that is always pretty persistent for me.

  • dane

    April 28th, 2016 at 7:44 AM

    I was so bitter after our divorce that I know that I was not a very pleasant person to work with or to be aorund. Sad but true. I am slowly coming around to getting my head on straight but i can be so hard when you have to go through this like me that I didn’t even want in the first place and now here I am having to make all of these accommodations that I don’t feel like I should have to make. I guess she just had the better lawyer.

  • Ernest

    April 30th, 2016 at 1:11 PM

    If you have an ex who is just as committed to working on this as a continuing extension of the relationship that the two of you once had together that will make the transition so much easier for you as well as the children.

  • Francis

    August 23rd, 2016 at 8:43 PM

    I agree with you, maintaining my integrity is really important specially when kids are involved. This one has been difficult to me due to the pain I feel everyday, but I have 3 kids and I have to behave in front of them, so it can be easier for them to tolerate their parents divorce. I’ve had the best child support lawyer. I don’t know what I’ve done without them.

  • Marilyn

    October 21st, 2016 at 5:09 PM

    Low emotional intelligence often plays a huge role in divorce. Divorce itself does not mean the one grows in emotional maturity or intelligence. Often clear boundaries are needed.

  • Naomi E

    November 23rd, 2016 at 1:17 PM

    Great article. As unfortunate as it is, this is relevant to many parents today! I think sticking to a schedule is solid advice. That way, no one can get upset. Thanks for sharing!


  • Martina C

    January 23rd, 2017 at 10:11 PM

    I don’t think that any of these tips can possibly overrule just downright stupidity. The decision to divorce is never an easy one, and especially if there are children involved.

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