How to Set Co-parenting Boundaries

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Good fences make good neighbors. While the proverb may date back to the mid 17th century, it's still excellent advice for today. The lesson behind the adage is that people who respect one another's property lines, or boundaries, are far more likely to get along for the long haul.

While not as apparent as a white picket fence, people have boundaries too. Psychology Today therapist Mariana Bockarova, Ph.D., describes personal boundaries as the limits we set with other people about the types of behavior we will accept or not accept in a relationship.

What are boundaries?

It is challenging to set boundaries when many of us are not quite sure what they are or what they should be. Therapist Aid provides a Boundaries Info Sheet that provides an excellent description of the various types of personal boundaries we all likely set in our minds. Whether or not we are fully aware of them, or truly enforce them, is a different story.
An example most parents can relate to are physical boundaries, as we teach this to our children early on. What is appropriate or not appropriate when it comes to physical contact? We teach children to recognize these boundaries to keep them safe. 
Boundaries are equally as important for adults. They keep us safe from physical and mental harm and, in the case of a co-parenting relationship, safe from anger, resentment or bitterness toward one another.
A quick summary of the boundaries described by Therapist Aid:
  • Intellectual: Having respect for one another's thoughts and ideas.
  • Emotional: Having respect for one another's feelings.
  • Sexual: Having respect for the limitations and desires between sexual partners.
  • Material: Having respect for one another's material possessions.
  • Time: Having respect for one another's use of time.

How do you determine your boundaries?

When you feel disrespected, offended, or just plain uncomfortable with the other person's actions, it may be because they have crossed a boundary for you.
However, boundaries are often tricky because our limits are all different, and what is upsetting to one person may be perfectly acceptable to another. No one can understand your boundaries unless you communicate them.
Boundaries, rules, and parenting plans are all words that are common in the co-parenting vernacular. Ultimately, they all require open communication to ensure both co-parents know which behaviors are acceptable.
The Arizona Chapter of the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AzAFCC) has created an entire Co-parenting Communication Guide to help co-parents share information successfully with one another.

Common co-parent boundaries

The Law Office of Marla Zide, LLC offers these tips regarding common co-parenting boundaries:
  • A detailed parenting plan – Your parenting plan is a legally binding document approved by a court of law and able to be upheld by a court of law. The more detailed your plan, the less room there is for conflict. Learn more about the types of items to specify in your parenting plan.
  • Keep your communications focused only on the children – Don't talk about what your plans are for the weekend or with whom you are going out.
  • Avoid social media – Don't post personal information about what you are doing and do not follow your co-parent to see what they are doing.
  • Never put your kids in the middle – Do not ask them to keep secrets or to give you information about your co-parent.
Touchstone Associates, a group of family clinicians in Portland, Maine, sums up boundaries in co-parenting:
"No longer is one parent's personal life, emotions, perspectives on the past the business of the other parent. The only common business is the children."
It helps many co-parents to think of the endeavor, like a business relationship. You may not like your boss, but you must communicate with your boss, and you must be respectful when you do so, or you may soon find yourself out of a job.
Other boundaries co-parents, like Michelle from Confessions of Parenting, find helpful for maintaining a successful co-parenting relationship include:
  • Never discussing any co-parenting issues during pick-up and drop-off times.
  • Let your co-parent know about school functions, extracurricular activities, and special events that involve your children.
  • It is okay to have separate activities with your kids–different birthday parties or celebrations of holidays are fine and can help minimize potentially tense situations.
If you and your co-parent are having difficulties agreeing on appropriate boundaries, talk to the Clerk of Court's office for recommendations on bringing in a neutral third-party to help you resolve conflicts. They can recommend resources such as local volunteer attorneys, mediation counselors, or self-help programs that may help you and your co-parent find common ground.

The right tool for the job

If you believe that your co-parent is likely to cross boundaries by inquiring about your personal life, insulting or belittling you, or consistently showing up late or early for child exchanges, then consider using a service like Talking Parents to assist with communication. It helps enforce boundaries through built-in accountability and Records.
  • Accountable CallingSM allows you to make recorded calls to your co-parent without disclosing your phone number.
  • Secure & Easy Messaging allows you to send messages and file attachments to your co-parent, as well as timestamps for when the message was sent and when it is read.
  • A Shared Calendar allows you to coordinate events with your co-parent without having to meet or speak in-person.

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

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