Co-Parenting: Making Joint Custody Work

Co-parenting amicably gives children stability and close relationships with both parents – but it’s rarely easy. Despite the many challenges, though, it is possible to develop a working relationship with a former spouse for the sake of the children.

Joint custody – where both parents enjoy both physical and legal custody — can be exhausting and infuriating, especially after an acrimonious split that so often poisons the well of memories.

Former spouses can start by thinking of the relationship with each other as a completely new one—one that is entirely about the well-being of the children, not about either of them. Their marriage failed, but their family did not; doing what is best for the children is the most important priority. The first step to being a mature and responsible co-parent is to always put the children’s needs ahead of his or her own. In this routine, any anger, resentment, or hurt must be subdued. It’s okay to be hurt and angry, but feelings cannot dictate behavior.

Parenting is full of decisions — decisions former spouses make, whether they like each other or not. Cooperating and communicating without blow-ups or bickering makes decision-making far easier on everybody. Aiming for consistency, geniality, and teamwork with a former spouse means the mundane details of child-rearing decisions tend to fall into place.

Children should be exposed to different perspectives and be flexible, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between both homes avoids confusion. The rules don’t have to be exactly the same in two households, but if the former partners establish generally consistent guidelines, the children won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Homework routines, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.

Similar disciplinary protocols for broken rules, no matter where the infraction happened, reinforce consistency.

Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedules. Making meals, homework, and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to having two homes.

Through a parenting partnership, the children come to understand that they are more important than the conflict that ended the marriage—and understand that their parents’ love prevails despite changing circumstances. Kids whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship feel secure, benefit from consistency, understand problem solving, and have a good example to follow. When confident of the love of both parents, kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and have better self-esteem. Similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what’s expected of them. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves. By cooperating with the other parent, a former spouse establishes a life pattern that children can carry into the future.

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