Setting Ground Rules
In any successful co-parenting environment, both partners need to agree to basic ground rules and guidelines for raising the child. The Office of the Attorney General of Texas suggests having a set of rules for the kids and the adults. The child rules dictate activities such as bedtimes, curfews, household rules, behavior expectations and chores. The parent rules spell out the duties of each parent, such as handling child drop-offs, caring for your child's clothing and managing medical care. The adult rules can also help define how you communicate and treat one another to maintain a respectful relationship. Ground rules give your child continuity between his two homes and helps reduce conflict.
As a co-parent, you are responsible for communicating with your ex in a productive manner so your child's needs are met. For example, if your preschooler has a regression in potty-training, your partner should hear about it so he can anticipate the issue. If your teen breaks curfew and is grounded, communicate that information. Keeping the communication business-like by sticking to the facts and talking in a respectful voice helps you relay the information accurately. All communication between co-parents should occur between the adults or through an impartial third adult. Asking your child to relay messages puts him in an unfair position.
Transitioning to shared custody throws your child's entire routine off course. With your co-parent, providing as much stability as possible helps your child with the transition. A consistent custody schedule helps your child get into a routine. Situations arise that force changes in the regular schedule, but stick with the custody arrangements when possible so your child knows what to expect. You can also provide comfort and familiarity by giving your child his own spot at both homes. By carving out a special place, he can feel he lives there instead of just visiting.
Conflicts are bound to arise when raising a child in two homes. Parents often have differing opinions on how to handle predicaments even when they're married. Allowing your ex to make decisions about your child can be challenging and lead to disagreements. It's easy to get caught up in getting your way, but keep your child and his needs as the focus. Remind yourself and your ex that doing what's best for your child is the goal. Compromising is often necessary to resolve the issue. If you cannot come to an agreement, an outside resource, such as a counselor or mediator, can help you work through the situation.
Focus your energy on your child and his needs, pushing aside any anger you may have toward your ex.
Set rules for things like how parenting decisions are made, when permission is needed from the other parent, how you will communicate and how emergencies are handled. Decide on basic parenting topics, such as curfews, health care, education, activities kids are involved in and discipline. If both parents understand what is expected in these areas, you are better able to work together to raise your child.
Communicate directly with your co-parent instead of asking your child to relay messages. This puts your child in the middle and may result in inaccurate communication. If you can't talk to your ex in person, try email messages or a neutral adult who can accurately pass on the messages.
Discuss significant decisions or disagreements with your ex when your children aren't around, to protect them from hearing potential arguments. You are also better able to discuss the situation when your child cannot hear what is being said.
Keep your feelings about your ex to yourself, especially if the feelings are negative. Don't try to get information about your ex from your child.
Stick with the custody schedule as much as possible to give your child stability. If you know of a conflict, work out new arrangements with your ex right away.
Become actively involved with your child to maximize your time. Go to the park, help with her homework, read to her or play a game of basketball in the backyard. Avoid trying to outdo your ex by buying your child lots of toys or taking him places you wouldn't normally go. He would rather have your time and attention than your money.
Seek outside help as needed if co-parenting isn't working well. If your ex isn't sticking with the visitation schedule or keeps you from your appointed custody time, contact your lawyer for possible legal actions. If you can't agree on decisions about your child, seek help from a counselor or a professional mediator.