You may be surprised at how straightforward co-parenting is with a clear set of boundaries. Believe me, co-parenting becomes easier over time. To help everyone get to a good place quicker, we’ve created a list of rules to follow for peaceful and effective co-parenting.
The unwritten rule here is to keep it simple. You and your ex are not in a romantic relationship anymore and you don’t have to be especially friendly. Each of you has a parenting job to do. Co-parenting boundaries help sharpen your focus on to what matters most: your own parenting tasks and the kids in general.
This list of rules works for almost every situation. You could have the issue of a new partner, a narcissistic or toxic ex, high conflict or inappropriate behavior. Whatever the case, follow the rules consistently until you get into a nice routine that works for everyone.
1. Use a Custody Schedule
The first boundary rule is to keep your child or children only as allowed by the visitation or custody schedule.
As with everything else in life, you need a plan to succeed in the co-parenting game. You should have a parenting plan that comes with a (usually fortnightly) custody schedule. Some parents start with a custody schedule and build a parenting plan from that base.
Each parent needs to know exactly when it’s their time to be with the kids. The schedule must be followed, with both parents being punctual and reliable with changeovers. Precision is important. A few minutes here or there is OK but children and parents shouldn’t be put out due to a lack of punctuality.
I recommend Timab.com for developing the best custody schedule for your situation. The app generates an optimal schedule based on case factors, such as child age and how far each parent lives from school.
Ideally, you can sit down with your ex to agree on a schedule (or modify an existing one). If your relationship is so bad that you can’t sit down for a talk, have a mediator or lawyers in the meeting to discuss and write down the schedule. Once everyone is comfortable, ensure everybody has a copy of what has been negotiated.
2. Follow the Parenting Plan
Rule number 2 is to follow the parenting plan.
One of the most problematic issues in co-parenting is when one or both parents don’t follow the parenting plan. I’m assuming you have a plan since it’s an essential co-parenting tool. Chaos, confusion, anger and disappointment can quickly ensue when a plan is lacking or not fully respected.
It’ is perfectly okay to request an adjustment to a parenting plan every once in a while. But making a habit of departing from the plan can cause your co-parenting relationship to unravel. The remedy for persistently deviant behavior starts with mediation but could end up with both of you in court.
When it comes to healthy co-parenting, especially when you have shared custody, the plan is the law and should be followed to the letter unless there is an emergency. If you must, vary the parenting plan by agreement. You can occasionally make reasonable requests and should accept reasonable requests from your co-parent. But the default position is to stick to what has been agreed in writing.
3. Ignore a Toxic, Narcissistic or High-Conflict Ex
The beauty of your ex being an ex is that you can ignore them. Once you have a parenting plan in place, you don’t have to deal with them. Any day-to-day issues can usually be handled with just a quick text message.
If you aren’t one of the lucky people with an emotionally mature ex, you might expect accusations and drama. That doesn’t mean you have to take it though. You have the option of walking away quietly when they raise their voice, dropping the call when it gets argumentative, and choosing not to reply.
Whatever their problem, whether it’s narcissism, another personality disorder or just a messed up relationship with you, they can’t inflict their problems directly on you if you never give them a chance to do so.
You always have the choice to be non-reactive and to keep your peace. The secret is knowing that miserable people thrive on making others miserable. You are free to not get involved with your ex and any negative interactions they try to initiate. If they create a real problem for your child, mediators, lawyers, the court and child protective services can potentially intervene on your behalf.
4. Communicate in a Business-like Manner
Rule 4 is to communicate in a business-like manner. Do this always, every time if there is any problem with conflict in your co-parenting relationship.
Don’t cross the line and start making judgements about the other parent or using emotions to try and get what you want. Breaking through these sorts of boundaries takes your communication into areas where you don’t want to go.
Having to share children with your ex can easily brings some raw emotions, at least for a time. Unfortunately, many people have been caught in the trap of fighting their co-parent verbally and unleashing all manner of insults. However, this only makes things worse. To avoid any issues:
- Keep all your communication business-like and professional.
- Treat your ex the way you do your boss, with the utmost respect, few words, and professionalism. This will ensure you don’t say too much and end up allowing your emotions to take over.
- If this is not possible, communicate only in writing or through mediators until you master the art of business-like communication.
5. Only Communicate About Your Child
Yon only have one topic of communication with the other parent: the welfare of the child or children. Make this a rule of thumb, especially early in the co-parenting relationship.
The truth is, in most cases, it’s impossible to be friends with your ex immediately after the relationship ends. This is because the two of you are still going through the grieving period – with anger, bargaining, and regret among other possible feelings.
So, for the time being, until maybe when you reach acceptance and get over each other, keep your communication strictly child-based. You should avoid talking about your days, feelings, plans, or anything else that isn’t directly about the welfare of your child or children.
6. Be Concerned with Your Own Parenting Only
The next rule is to concern yourself with your own parenting more than the other parent’s methods. With co-parenting, you can only change what’s within your control and the other parent’s style is not one of these things.
A common pitfall experienced by co-parents is being overly concerned about the other person’s parenting style. As much as you would like to parent the same way, every person has their own style, and it’s difficult to change it.
If your co-parent is a permissive parent while you are more of a disciplinarian for example, stick to your parenting style – within reason. Don’t worry too much about what happens when your child is in the other house. You may need to adapt somewhat, by loosening the strings a little so you don’t disenfranchise your child, but don’t try to fix what the other parent is doing.
Fortunately, children are bright and know how to adjust their behavior from one situation to another. Having a middle ground on certain issues can definitely be beneficial however. For instance, when bed training your little one, you could agree on the bedtime so your child has it easier. You should also try to agree on curfews if you have teens. This way, while there may be some variation, there is also continuity between households.
7. Your Ex’s Personal Life is Not Your Concern
An important boundary to respect is that your ex’s personal life, including any new relationships, are not your business. You don’t really need to know what they’re doing and you probably have little control over the situation anyway.
When a relationship ends, it’s normal to want to know who your ex is dating. And co-parenting could be seen as a valid reason why you should know what’s going on. New relationships can significantly affect your child after all.
But, the reality is that your ex-partner’s relationships are no longer your business. Trying to control their relationships is only likely to cause problems.
Generally speaking, you should refrain from asking your ex about personal matters, making comments, stalking on social media, or asking the kids for information. If you feel tempted to do any of these things, techniques are available to help you stop obsessing over your ex.
In the same breath, you should be discreet about your own relationships. Don’t stir your ex by revealing much about what, if anything, is going on in your life.
What if a new partner is abusive or dangerous?
Some caveats to the “mind your own business” rule do apply of course. Sometimes, a new partner can adversely impact a child, such as when there is possible abuse of some kind or dangerous practices around the child such as drug use.
You can’t break a custody order because of a new partner unless the child is in danger. In this case, you need to contact the authorities or child protection services.
In extreme circumstances, especially if you have evidence of harm, you could start mediation or custody proceedings. The aim might be to increase your custody share or put harm minimization measures into the parenting plan. For example, there could be a rule that a parent is not allowed to have overnight guests when the child is present.
8. Refrain from Bad Mouthing the Co-parent
Mind what you say about your ex to his or her child. Boundaries don’t relate only to your ex-partner. It’s also about how you relate with the children concerning their mother or father.
Some parents bad-mouth their ex in front of the kids or use the children as weapons against the other party. Parental alienation is one of the worst things you can do as a co-parent, both morally and because of the psychological and relationship damage to your child.
While there may be raw feelings towards your ex, it’s important to remember that children are innocent in all of that. Play your part to ensure they have a healthy view of both parents and always talk highly of them in front of the kids. In case of any issues, address them directly with your ex instead of involving the children.
9. Default to Parallel Parenting
Parallel parenting, meaning co-parenting with limited interaction between parents, is what you should default to unless you somehow develop a more friendly approach. It is entirely possible to succeed as co-parents without ever going beyond the parallel parenting style.
The ideal situation is that you get to raise your kids together, celebrate birthdays together and attend their school functions together. However, that is not likely to work well during the first years after separating or perhaps ever.
When you aren’t great friends with your ex, parallel parenting is okay. Here are some tips on how to do it.
- Complete changeovers without stopping to talk with your ex.
- Have a birthday? Let the child have two parties, one in mom’s house and one in dad’s.
- Agree on arrangements for who will attend football games, who will do recitals, and all manner of things.
Until it’s possible to sit in the same room without any negative feelings towards each other, stick to parallel parenting. Remember that the important relationship is the one with your child, not your ex.
10. Allow Free Child-Parent Communication
The last boundary is that you must allow free communication between children and parents. In practical terms, this means allowing your child, when old enough, to have a phone so they can contact the other parent without going through you. For younger children, you can support communication in other ways – such as by lending your phone or using Skype, Zoom, etc.
Separated parents are often tempted to think of their time with their child as their special one-on-one time. But you have to respect that a child’s life extends beyond that. They may have good reasons, both practical and personal, for getting in touch with the other parent while with you.