My rules and yours: how to co-parent successfully

What if you and your ex don't agree on what your children are allowed and not allowed to do?

This is a question that many divorced or separated parents ask, but, whether you’re living together or not if you share children, you’re still deeply entwined.

Co-parenting is difficult – co-parenting successfully is even harder. When it comes to consistent rules things get more complicated: what happens if there’s a no-sugar rule in your house, but when the kids stay at your ex they get to drink as much Coke as they like?

All kids, whether they’re toddlers or teenagers, will naturally push boundaries too, so it’s up to both of you to be on the same page. Here are a few tips on how you can co-parent like a pro…

See the relationship in a new light

Successful co-parenting means that your needs come second to those of your children. You might feel angry at your ex, but you need to keep your emotions in check. This is not easy but it makes co-parenting a whole lot simpler.

It helps to think of your relationship with your ex as a new relationship – you’re no longer together as a couple, you’re co-parents. It also helps to set a ‘business tone’ when you speak to each other: keep things respectful, polite, and neutral. Always keep conversations about the kids and their needs.

Keep things consistent

While your child will be exposed to different ways of living – either under your roof or your ex’s – consistency is key, as a lack of consistency causes confusion, especially when it comes to rules.

Realistically you won’t be able to have exactly the same rules in each house – after all, both you and your ex are different people. All you need is a general guideline that both of you can try your best to follow. Things like homework, meals, bedtime and screen-time can be included in the guideline, and should be followed by both households.

Create a parenting plan that details what you agree on: consequences for broken rules (even if the rule-breaking happens in your ex’s house), as well rewarding good behavior. The more you agree on beforehand, the less there will be to fight about.  

Never put your child in the middle

This is a common mistake that co-parents make, and an easy trap to fall into. It can be damaging, and even a very young child can suffer from its effects.

When it comes to rules, don’t openly criticise your ex’s way of doing things in front of your child. Rather point out that even though each parent does things differently, it doesn’t mean that one parent loves the child more than the other. This doesn’t mean that your rules can be broken; it just means that you don’t badmouth your ex.

The truth is, it’s going to be a lot of trial and error, but the most important thing to keep in mind is that your kids have to always come first. This is easier said than done, but if you have an agreement in place it makes things a lot easier. Successful co-parenting is a huge challenge, but it can be done – the sooner you start, the better.