How to Co-Parent When You’re No Longer a Couple
Navigating the parenting process with your ex-spouse can be difficult, complicated and emotionally draining—but it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to successfully co-parent and raise a happy child post-separation.
Even as a little girl, Srishti never dreamt of getting married. She recalls hating the idea of sharing her life with someone else since the very beginning. When a teenager says things like “I don’t ever want to get married,” most parents brush it off as a joke because they know that their kids are simply too young to understand the concept of marriage—hoping that they would one day grow up, get a job, buy a house and settle down with someone that brings out the best in them. Add a bunch of grandchildren to the mix and there’s no greater joy.
When Srishti turned 28, she did meet the perfect guy and she did get married a year later—but like most marriages, theirs came with a set of challenges—some small, some big, and some that were far too difficult to overcome. But as soon as the couple had their first baby, none of it mattered—well, at least till the child went to kindergarten. And then once again, just like clockwork, their problems came back and both Srishti and her husband finally decided to uncouple. “Call it foreshadowing of the future, or merely an act of manifestation, but I always saw myself as a single mom,” she says.
Now raising her seven-year-old with her ex-husband, Srishti has never been happier. Post the lockdown, the former couple decided to move into the same neighbourhood to make things easier for their child, and things seem to be going well so far. “All I wanted was for our son to spend equal amounts of time with his parents. I just wanted to have this whole co-parenting thing down pat. He could play video games with his dad and watch cartoons with me—the best of both worlds, you know?” she says. But this mutual agreement didn’t come so easily. “Yes, there were clashes, three A.M phone calls, tears and slammed doors, but after all the struggle, we decided to leave our past behind and put down a very specific set of rules to help us timeshare and co-parent effectively, and this grown-up approach has been doing wonders for our child’s happiness,” she adds.
So you see, it is possible to raise happy and healthy kids, even in the post-divorce setup that might feel like a minefield of emotions to most parents. Things might feel hard right now, but once the dust has settled from the separation, it is time to tackle the important challenges of co-parenting in the most effective and beneficial way for your children. Keeping that in mind, we got Dr Shreya Chakravarty, a Hyderabad-based psychologist with over a decade-long experience in the field to help us create the ultimate co-parenting guide. Here are some important points to keep in mind.
Think of co-parenting like a group project
After a divorce or separation, co-parenting must be a collaborative effort. And that includes all aspects that you can possibly think of—emotional, psychological, social, financial—everything. You both must be there to provide your child with mental and physical security at all times. Mutual cooperation and collaboration between the two of you will help set a good example for your children. “It will help them establish and maintain secure and stronger relationships in future. And not to mention, a strong collaboration will make this painful transition easy for your children and help them adapt better,” says Dr Chakravarty.
Acknowledge your child’s concerns
Somewhere between all this shifting and transitioning, couples often forget the most important part of the co-parenting process—asking the kids how they feel. Remember that your child may take a long time to adjust to this change and that’s perfectly normal. Your job as parents is to ease the process. A key question to ask your kid is: "Is there anything I can do to make this easier?" Sometimes the source of their sadness or angst is something very minor like not having a certain toy at the other parent’s house or getting a school document signed. Issues like these can only be fixed when you keep checking on your kid and leave the door open for honest conversation.
Create a co-parenting plan with a fixed set of goals
When a life changing event like a separation occurs, it’s easy to get carried away, with our emotions often taking centre stage. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, you shouldn’t let your emotions cloud your judgement. Which is why it’s important to think logically and set down a proper plan for parenting and its associated responsibilities. Both the co-parents need to sit down and concoct a clear plan with mutual understanding and sharing of responsibilities. Like we mentioned earlier, co-parents must work like a team as it’s important for the overall development of the child. “You must be flexible, genial and consistent while forming these long and short-term goals. It’s also important to keep evaluating them constantly,” says Dr Chakravarty.
Keep a channel open for effective communication
Just like almost everything else in life, the success of co-parenting also relies heavily on effective communication. Which is why it’s important to keep having relevant and honest conversations surrounding the parenting process and the overall well-being of your child. Ideally, you should be able to talk about everything that has to do with parenting. “Keep aside any personal judgements and simply focus on meeting both the emotional and physical needs of your child,” says Dr Chakravarty. “Communication among co-parents has to be focused, goal-oriented, purposeful and objective,” she adds. It’s also important to set healthy boundaries and respect them.
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Don’t involve the kids in your fights and arguments
Kids are often scared of their parents getting a divorce because they think they will be forced to pick a side. And that’s a choice no child should have to make. “Before starting with the co-parenting process, it is extremely important to come to terms with the differences that led to your separation,” says Dr Chakravarty. While it’s very likely that you and your spouse might not even feel like being in the same room together, it’s necessary to prevent that negativity seep into the parenting process. Don’t fight, argue or insult each other in front of your children as it puts them under a lot of emotional pressure. If you really want to raise your child together, you’ll have to find common ground, if only for your child’s happiness.
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Learn how to deal with your ex-spouse
As much as you might be repelled by your ex, it’s essential to build at least a healthy working relationship with them in order for this agreement to succeed. If you absolutely detest your ex, don’t let your animosity get in the way of your child’s well-being. You don’t have to compromise your own happiness but certain compromises still have to be made. If you have a hard time dealing with your ex, simply think of them like a coworker that you dislike. “Resolve all co-parenting disagreements before deciding for it. As it’s a mutual responsibility, don’t expect them to follow all your rules and decisions. Be fair in reacting, judging and disagreeing with the other co-parent,” says Dr Chakravarty.
Steer clear of dysfunctional role modelling
Even after you've been through hell with your ex-spouse, it’s still possible to stay hopeful in this situation. After all, what have you got to lose now? Things are already as tough as they could be, right? “When your relationship reaches a point where it can’t get any worse, it often starts getting better,” says Dr Chakravarty. “You might not love each other like you used to, but going through difficult life changes together often creates a whole different bond between ex-couples and can help them become good co-parents. And that is a feeling you must work on achieving and amplifying,” she adds. It will not only make the parenting process easier, but also influence your children in a positive way. You must focus on setting a good example for your children because the decisions you take now will ultimately shape your child’s personality. After all, parents are their kids’ biggest role models.
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