Being a parent is hard; there’s no denying that. But when you throw divorce or separation into the mix, it can take you to a whole other level of hard.
The thing is, co-parenting with your ex-partner can be absolutely daunting, especially if you didn’t leave on good terms. However, there are ways to remain amicable partners in parenthood for your child’s well-being.
“You’ve got to have a strong foundation if you want to be successful,” says Mike Mulder, trainer of the Little Human’s Becoming a Successful Co-Parent program by Mindvalley, who co-hosts the Everything Always podcast with his wife, Summer Felix-Mulder. (They’re both divorced, and each came into their marriage with two children, so they’re now co-parenting together with their ex-spouses.)
There’s no “I” in “team,” as the saying goes. And even though your relationship may not have worked out, you and your ex can make it work as a team to create a happy, healthy family dynamic for your child.
What Is Co-Parenting?
Co-parenting is as it sounds: a parenting arrangement where divorced or separated parents share the responsibilities of raising their children. Officially, the co-parenting definition is “the practice by which parents coordinate their child-rearing practices.” But simply put, it’s parenting together, but apart.
“You were in love with somebody once; it’s now fallen apart, [and] you’ve created babies together,” says Summer. “There’s a lot of emotion, and there are ties still.”
What is an example of co-parenting? Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet come to mind. Even though they divorced in 1993, they’re the epitome of post-divorce parenting, remaining as close friends and continuing to co-parent their daughter, Zoë Kravitz, in a healthy, positive manner.
However, when you learn to work together, that environment can provide stability and consistency for your child. This, as a result, can lead to a healthier relationship for everyone involved.
The common styles of co-parenting
There’s no clear-cut way to co-parent, and here are three common styles:
- High conflict parenting. There’s constant ongoing conflict and tension between both parents. They don’t communicate well and have difficulty sticking to their custody agreement. And the unfortunate part is that, oftentimes, the child is put in the middle as a messenger or pawn in their disputes.
For example, think Kramer vs. Kramer. Ted and Joanna Kramer’s custody battle leaves their son traumatized.
- Parallel parenting. The parents disengage from each other and minimize contact so the chances of conflict are low. They operate separately and make decisions regarding their child without consulting the other.
An example would be Nick Parker and Elizabeth James in The Parent Trap. They each take one twin and raise them separately in different countries.
- Collaborative parenting. This style is where both parents work together (hence, collaborative) to make joint decisions with a parenting plan to take into account each other’s schedule, preferences, and strengths. It involves open communication and willingness to compromise in the best interest of their child.
A good example is Vishen and Kristina Mänd-Lakhiani, founders of Mindvalley. They do their best to navigate their parental duties to raise their children, Hayden and Eve.
Co-parenting is no walk in the park. Both parents need to work together, communicate well, and respect each other’s boundaries and decisions, all for the benefit of their child’s well-being.
Is it a good idea to have co-parenting?
Given that 40–50% of married couples in the United States file for divorce, co-parenting is especially important for those who have children. Working together with your ex can provide the necessary emotional and financial support your child needs after the divorce or separation
In fact, research shows that children with parents who effectively co-parent aren’t as likely to experience depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues as those who don’t. They also tend to have higher self-esteem and do better academically.
With that being said, there are instances where co-parenting isn’t always the best option. For example, if there’s a history of abuse or violence in the relationship, sharing the responsibilities may not be safe or appropriate. Or if one parent is unwilling or unable to communicate or cooperate, it may not be feasible.
Whether co-parenting is a good idea for you or not really depends on you and your ex’s unique circumstances. Ultimately, it comes down to putting the needs and well-being of your child above all else and, if necessary, seeking professional help or legal guidance.
The Dos and Don’ts of Co-Parenting
According to Mike, co-parenting looks different for everyone. But there are common scenarios that many co-parents, even those in harmonious dynamics, face.
There are things that you do and don’t want to do. Here are some of them:
- DO communicate with your ex-partner. Clear and open communication is crucial in co-parenting. Set up regular check-ins, and keep a neutral tone when you discuss any matters related to your child. Keep in mind that effective communication involves both speaking and listening, so being respectful is key.
- DO prioritize your child’s well-being. Parenting is about your child, not you or your ex. Put aside any negative feelings and focus on your little human. Keep their routines and activities consistent between both households.
- DO respect your ex-partner’s boundaries and decisions. While you may not always agree with the decisions your ex makes (after all, you did separate for a reason), it’s important to respect their choices.
- DON’T use your child as bargaining chips. They shouldn’t ever be put in the middle of any drama between you and your ex. Doing so can create feelings of guilt, anxiety, and confusion for them.
- DON’T talk trash about your ex-partner in front of your child. Negative comments may cause them to feel like they have to take sides. This can create stress and pressure for them and possibly lead to emotional triggers down the line.
- DON’T ignore legal agreements. If you have a child support or custody agreement in place, it’s important to follow it. Ignoring them can lead to tension between you and your ex, and can ultimately harm your child.
The bottom line is, take the time to sit down with your ex and figure out how the two of you can contribute to a healthy relationship.
How to Be a Good Co-Parent: 5 Tips From Mindvalley Experts
Co-parenting is about taking responsibility for your decisions—choosing to have a child and choosing to no longer be in a relationship with the other person. As Mike adds, “You’re forced into a situation where you need to make [your children’s] life as good as it can possibly be.”
It requires teamwork. It requires parenting skills. And it requires tons and tons of effort and patience.
With a little help from him and Summer, as well as Dr. Shefali Tsabary, a clinical psychologist and trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest, here are a few tips to help you find more ease and joy in this journey.
1. Get to know yourself
Learning how to get over a divorce or separation is one thing, but getting to know yourself after it is another. With that being said, it’s an essential part of becoming a good co-parent.
According to Dr. Shefali, there is one major quality you should address: self-reflection. It helps you make peace with your inner child by coming to terms with all the baggage that you might have picked up from your childhood.
Why is this a necessity? You’ll understand who you are outside of the relationship with your ex and become more aware of your own needs and desires. What’s more, it’ll allow you to show up in your relationships with empathy, compassion, and respect.
Dr. Shefali Tsbary’s tip: “It’s the parent who consciously becomes whole from within [who] raises the most self-worthy, self-esteemed, and resilient kids possible.”
2. Learn to communicate effectively
Communication is key, as the saying goes—and with good reason. Without it, misunderstandings and assumptions happen, which can lead to conflict, distrust, and… Well, basically, stress.
There are various ways to improve communication between you and your ex. Here are a few to start you off with:
- Identify how you “fight.” It might sound paradoxical, but knowing each other’s fight languages can help you navigate conflicts. It’ll help you understand how the other person responds when they’re upset, stressed, or angry, and vice versa. And from there, you can approach them in a way that won’t cause their emotions to escalate.
- Learn how you love. Love language is the counterpart to fight languages and it expresses how you’d like to receive love from others. And when you and your ex honor each other’s love language, it helps create an atmosphere of understanding and compassion, leading to more effective co-parenting.
Summer Felix-Mulder’s tip: “Just communicate, communicate. Listen to everybody’s feelings. Communicate with your spouses. Communicate with your ex-spouses, if you can. Communicate with the kids. Listen to what everybody has to say.”
3. Set healthy boundaries
A huge challenge of co-parenting is setting boundaries and establishing expectations. And Mike has one solid piece of advice for that: “The key is to actually have a formal conversation about boundaries.”
Summer suggests asking what those look like for both of you. Will you not be accepting calls after 10 p.m.? Or if you’re on vacation, will you or will you not respond to texts?
One thing that can help is to use a parenting plan template or digital apps like Talking Parents, which outline guidelines and expectations for both parents. It can include details such as schedules, pick-up and drop-off arrangements, and decision-making processes.
Mike Mulder’s tip: “You have to create your own rules, and it’s really important to communicate what those rules are [and] to take time to literally formalize the boundaries that are expected for how you are going to interact in those situations. And it’s the blueprint of how you’re going to construct this communication and the business of how you’re going to deal with the raising of these kids with someone you’re no longer married to or connected with.”
4. Continue to create a connection with your child
Co-parenting may seem like it’s a lot about your relationship with your ex-partner. But let’s not forget about your child (“parenting” is in “co-parenting,” after all).
In her Mindvalley Quest, Dr. Shefali highlights that children need to feel seen, heard, and valued by both parents. You can both show up at important events, take vacations together, stay consistent with rules and boundaries in both houses, and do any other activities that work for your family dynamic.
Even though you and your ex are no longer together, your efforts to co-parent can have a long-lasting impact on your child.
Dr. Shefali Tsabary’s tip: “To enter into a state of pure connection with your child, you can achieve this by setting aside any sense of superiority.”
5. Seek co-parenting counseling
When relationships break down, there may still be emotions hovering around. So not everyone can sit down to map out a plan on how to best raise children.
Seeking co-parenting counseling can be a great way for you and your ex to gain an objective perspective and learn new strategies. This is especially helpful if you’ve got a blended family or when stepparenting is involved.
It’s a safe space to resolve any miscommunications or conflicts. What’s more, it allows both of you to express your concerns and find solutions together.
It’s important to remember that seeking co-parenting counseling isn’t a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a commitment to creating a healthy, happy family dynamic for you, your ex, your child, and any others who are involved.
Summer Felix-Mulder’s tip: “The first rule for us is to make [you and your ex’s] relationship a priority. And by that, it really means putting yourselves first. And so many people will say, ‘Put the kids first,’ and the kids are absolutely a priority. But we always look at it as though we are this ship and we are the captains of the ship. And so in order for these children to feel secure in this new found family, they need to feel like, ‘Okay, you guys have got us, you guys are strong together.’”
One Team, One Dream
Co-parenting is the personification of two souls uniting for one common good—the child’s well-being. And while your relationship might not have been perfect, there’s perfection in coming together with compassion and kindness to love and raise your child.
It’s true that co-parenting involves a lot of different dynamics. But as Summer suggests, think about these things that are at a foundational level so that when challenges come up (because they will and it will be hard), you’ll feel secure knowing that you can handle them.
If you need help along your journey, you can head over to Mindvalley, where Mike Mulder, Summer Felix-Mulder, and Dr. Shefali Tsabary are waiting for you. When you unlock your free access, you can sample the first few lessons of Dr. Shefali’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest. (The Little Humans program is available for Mindvalley Members.)
What’s more, Mindvalley is known for its community. So you can connect with others who may also be navigating the co-parenting ship like you.
At the end of the day, you’ve got a child who has parents who love them very much. And when both of you show up as your best selves, your child will too.
Images generated on Midjourney.