Staying Connected to Your Children and Coparent
Rose M. Allen, Joanne L. Musich, and Minnell L. Tralle, Extension Educators — Family Resiliency; and Ellie M. McCann, Extension Educator — Family Resiliency
How do you and your ex-spouse make joint custody work after divorce? How can both of you be the best parent possible when you’re not living together anymore? Here are some strategies for successful coparenting after divorce or separation.
Be someone your children can count on. Whatever your parenting time schedule looks like, stick to it. Your children depend on you to be there when you say you will. What you consider a “schedule” is a promise to your children.
Know what your children are typically doing on days you aren’t together. Know your children’s day-to-day routine. This helps you understand what their daily lives are like when you’re not with them.
Communicate with your children when you aren’t together. As coparents with joint custody, your parenting plan should support regular parent-child communication. Each of you should stay in touch with your children even when apart. Call your children on the phone and write emails or text messages on days they’re staying at the other parent’s home so they’ll know you’re thinking of them and want to hear what’s going on in their lives.
Be flexible and don’t take things personally. For various reasons, children sometimes need to spend more time with one parent than the other. Or they may need extra time to adjust to one parent’s household. You might need to minimize contact with your children during these times. Just remember, it's the quality of the parenting time that matters, not the quantity.
Know the people and places in your children’s lives. Know the names of, and — when possible — get acquainted with, all the important people in your children’s lives. This will include friends, teachers, coaches, and others. Also know contacts at the places your children frequent, including school, place of worship, recreation center, and so on.
Pay your child support on time. If the court has ordered you to pay child support, always strive to pay it on time. Also pay for extra expenses to help your children if you can. If applicable, make spousal maintenance payments on time, too.
Keep your children out of parental disagreements. No matter what feelings exist between you and the other parent, avoid arguing, or otherwise indicating conflict, in front of your children. This practice will help you focus on your children’s needs, as well as enable your children to have good relationships with both of you.
Strive to stay on the same page with the other parent about parenting issues. Work with the other parent to use similar strategies for discipline, rewards, chores, and other parts of family life. Similar expectations make it easier for your children to move between homes. Capture your ideas in a parenting plan, if possible.
Show support for, and share parenting ideas with, the other parent. Showing appreciation for the other parent helps strengthen your relationship with your children by showing them you still value the other parent’s contributions. Also be open to sharing parenting ideas with the other parent. This requires listening to the other parent and maintaining a respectful relationship with him or her. Don’t insist on doing everything your way or trying to do everything on your own.
Develop a plan for handling new romantic relationships. Think ahead and plan how you and the other parent will help your children adjust if either of you enter a new romantic relationship. Children must be reassured that a new romantic partner won’t take the place of you, or the other parent, in their lives, but can offer support, or even love, to them.
Make parenting time “normal.” It's good to have fun when you spend time with your children, but don't let that time become their vacation time. Worse yet, don't let the other parent handle all the discipline, while you become the "fun" parent. Instead, spend "everyday time" with your children, doing things like household chores and homework, or just hanging out.
Develop special rituals and create special moments. Develop special rituals and create special moments with your children, such as visiting the zoo, going to the movies, or baking cookies together. Try to develop different rituals with each child, according to their likes and interests. It’s these small things that build warm parent-child relationships that last a lifetime.
Let your children know you love them. Make sure your children know how much you love them through your words and deeds. Tell your children you will never “divorce” them.
What strategies are you following?
Answer the following questions mentally or in writing to explore your and your coparent's strategies.
- Looking at the strategies listed above, which ones are you practicing?
- How have the strategies worked (or not worked)?
- Looking at the strategies you haven't tried, are there any you are interested in trying. What ideas do you have for initiating the strategy?
- Does your children’s other parent use the same strategies as you? Ask him or her if you don’t know, and start thinking about how you can work together on these strategies.
Allgood, S., Higginbotham, B., & Skogrand, S. (2007). Helpful strategies to deal with ex-partners in remarriages. Logan, UT: Utah State University Cooperative Extension.
Bosch, G., Gebeke, D., & Meske, C. (1992). Stepping together. Fargo, ND: North Dakota State University Extension Service.
Communicating Effectively — Effective communication skills are key to a strong coparenting relationship. Learn some tips to help you communicate with your children’s other parent during the family transition and beyond.
Creating a Parenting Plan — Parenting plans are essential tools for coparents in keeping their children’s best interests at heart after a family transition. Get tools, like We Agree: Creating a Parenting Plan, and guidance on creating a parenting plan for your own family. Also in Spanish.