Let’s admit it, coparenting is difficult. Sharing the responsibilities of raising children with someone you may not want to talk to can challenge your patience and your emotions. But at the end of the day, what matters is your kids.
“There can be a lot of hurt feelings between the parents in a coparenting situation,” said Tara Mitchell, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist at Carilion Children’s. “I encourage parents to set their feelings aside and focus on the children and what will be best for them.”
Here are seven tips from Dr. Mitchell that will make coparenting go smoother.
1. When talking to your children’s other parent, try to stay patient and flexible, listen and keep a calm tone, especially if the kids are around. Reacting or arguing in front of kids is not healthy and not helpful.
“It can help to think of it like a business relationship and how you would communicate in the workplace,” said Dr. Mitchell.
Also think about what the best communication method is for you and the other parent. If you’re not able to talk to each other calmly in person or on the phone, it could be better to stick to using text or email.
2. Keep pickups and drop-offs as short as possible. Staying positive and not getting too emotional will make these times easier on the kids. Sometimes it’s easier to meet in a public place but if that’s not the case it could be helpful to drop off at the other person’s house.
“Remember that the kids are always watching, and they’re going to learn from how you behave,” explained Dr. Mitchell. “This could be when they learn valuable lessons about problem solving and resolving conflict.
3. Kids thrive on consistency, so having a regular schedule is important. Keeping a special calendar in the house marked with their time with each parent will help them always know what’s coming. Giving them ample time to pack and get ready when it’s time to leave your house is also helpful.
“If it’s possible, make sure they take as little back and forth as possible,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Double up on items like toothbrushes and pillows so they don’t have to pack those things.”
4. When your children come back to your house, give them some time to decompress and adjust to your house again. That also means avoiding grilling them with lots of questions about what they did with the other parent.
“One good thing is to have a special thing you do with the kids each time they return, maybe taking the dog for a walk or making a special meal or playing a particular game—that will help them transition back to the new environment,” suggested Dr. Mitchell.
5. Keep any issues with the other parent to yourself. Do not involve the children. If the issue is that the other parent is challenging (throwing around empty promises or not following through with things), over time the children will figure it out on their own anyway.
“It can be challenging to keep the kids out of it, but don’t put them in the middle or have them be the messenger,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Remember that for the child, each of you are their parent and it’ll be difficult, they’ll want to protect both of you.”
6. When your kids come home, they might tell you about things that happened while they were away that you don’t like—maybe they stayed up too late or watched a movie you wouldn’t normally let them watch. Keep in mind that younger kids might misperceive things and older kids might try to get away with things or even instigate things between the parents.
“First, clarify with the other parent what actually happened, but do it in a cordial way without judgment until you have all the facts,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Your goal as coparents is to work together to do the right things for your kids.”
7. Some of these tips are easier said than done or take practice. Part of your success as a coparent also comes from taking care of yourself.
“Make sure you have people you can talk to—a friend, counselor, even a pet—get things off your chest with them, not your children or the other parent,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Most importantly, even if you’re feeling hurt or upset, lead by example and stay positive and calm.”
If you are consistently having difficulty getting along with the other parent, look into mediation, collaboration attorneys, therapists who help coparents and coparenting classes in your area.