Co-Parenting Ground Rules
If you are committed to co-parenting successfully, you and your co-parent are a team in the game of raising a healthy, happy child.
A team only wins if its players work together. Vince Lombardi, widely regarded as one of the greatest sports coaches of all time, said it best: “People who work together will win, whether it be against complex football defenses or the problems of modern society.”
Rules exist to keep everyone on the team on the same page, moving toward the same common goal.
Rule #1: Have a Unanimous Focus
Research overwhelmingly shows that having two loving parents who are actively involved in the lives of their children, no matter what their marital status, is the number one predictor of success for children.
Raising healthy, happy children is your common goal and why you follow the rules of the game. It no longer matters why the marriage didn’t work or whose fault it was. Your unanimous focus is on the kids you share and what is in their best interests.
Rule #2: Have a Plan
No team has ever won a game without a plan. A plan helps each player know what he or she needs to do to make sure the team achieves its goals. You have a Parenting Plan.
A Parenting Plan is a child custody plan that is negotiated by the parents and approved by the court. It sets clear guidelines and expectations for each parent about everything from living arrangements and childcare to pick-up and drop-off routines, extracurricular activities, education, and healthcare decisions.
Rule #3: Communicate
There are schedules to address, academic reports to share, behavioral issues to discuss, healthcare issues to review, and so much more. Decide with your co-parent how you will communicate about these and other important topics. Is it a recurring appointment? Is it a scheduled phone call? Is it in the presence of a mediator? Is it through an app like Talking Parents?
Remember, communication about your children should not happen in front of your children. Custody, child support, and courts are heavy, scary topics for young minds to grasp. These should be adult-only discussions.
How you will handle last-minute schedule changes is an especially important topic when it comes to communication. Last-minute changes, interruptions, and complications are a part of life, but they take on new significance when they interrupt a parent’s scheduled time with their child. Be sensitive to this and strive for as much consistency as possible.
Rule #4: Consistency
Speaking of consistency, strive for consistency between households. It’s an incredibly common co-parenting rule. Children thrive on routines and feel much more secure when they know what to expect. Work together to establish as much consistency in the children’s schedules and routines as possible.
Try to maintain consistency in areas such as bedtime rituals, wake-up routines, when the kids do their homework, mealtimes, what are the rules around screen time, what are the consequences of misbehavior, and how and when transitions between households take place.
Rule #5: Show Respect
This one is critical. Toxic fighting between parents – name-calling, insults, threats, physical aggression, walking out – dramatically impact a child’s mental health, resulting in everything from decreased cognitive performance to physical sickness to high rates of substance abuse and eating disorders.
Agree that you will not disparage one another in front of the kids, you will not allow other family members or friends to disparage your co-parent in front of the kids, and you will not allow your children to speak disrespectfully about either parent. Belittling or insulting a co-parent can happen in subtle ways, so be aware of some of these common ways you may not be showing respect.
- Always refer to your child’s other parent as his or her “mother” or “father” in conversation, not “my ex.”
- Don’t ignore your co-parent at school meetings or sporting events or sit on opposite sides of the room.
- Don’t say things like “we can’t afford this because your dad didn’t give us enough money this month.”
- Don’t use your children as messengers to pass information back and forth, and that includes putting notes in their bags.
- Don’t use your children as spies, questioning them about a co-parent’s personal life or activities they are involved in.
- Don’t interrupt time between your child and co-parent by showing up unexpectedly to pick them up or scheduling outings during scheduled visitation times.
Following these common co-parenting rules will help you achieve your win of raising healthy, happy children.
As Vince Lombardi also said, “The objective is to win: fairly, squarely, decently, win by the rules, but still win.”