Top 10 Rules for Co-Parenting

Top Ten Rules for Co-Parenting

Kids deserve the right to have both parents work as a team in supporting their child’s best interests.

Post-separation dilemma

It’s ironic. You broke up because you w eren’t good together.

Now that it’s over, you’re told that you must develop teamwork just for the sake of your children. You broke up because you didn’t want to be involved with each other anymore. Now you realize that you still have a lifelong relationship.

The good news is that you can have minimal, peaceful contact with your ex. But to be effective you must agree to follow the same guidelines for co-parenting.

Routine and structure offers emotional security

Children become emotionally secure with routine and structure.

Routines and structures help kids to understand and predict their world. Predicting makes kids feel empowered and calm. “I know when bedtime is.”, or, “I know I can’t play until my homework is done.”, helps kids to grow up relaxed and confident.

Basic routine means that kids don’t have to use their intelligence and energy to manage surprises, chaos, and confusion. Instead, they feel safe and secure. Secured kids are confident and do better socially and academically.

Children internalize what they are consistently exposed to.

Rules become habits. When parents aren’t around, they live by the same values and standards which they internalized earlier from their parents.

Decide rules on mutual agreement

With young kids, rules need to be agreed upon by both parents and then presented to the children. Don’t argue about these rules in front of the kids. Also, don’t let your young kids dictate what the rules should be.

As kids grow, the rules will need to adapt to their new needs.  Because of this, both parents should renegotiate the rules several times a year.

As kids mature, they need to assume more responsibility in making and keeping rules.  By the time kids are teenagers, they ought to be respectfully negotiating rules with you.

By the time they ’re seniors in high school, teens need to be making about 98% of their own rules.

It’s your job as co-parents to ensure that their rules are aligned within an ARRC – being Accountable, Respectful, Resilient, and Caring.

Questions defining parents-children relationships

  • How consistent were you with your parents while enforcing rules and providing structure?
  • How well did your Mom do compared to your Dad?
  • How did it affect you then? Now?
  • How did your parents give you more autonomy in making your own rules as you grew up?

Top 10 rules for co-parenting:

1. Have consistent house rules

Kids of all ages need consistent rules

Kids of all ages need consistent rules.

It’s OK if they’re somewhat different in separate homes. The key point is that kids need to predict and count on the topics below –

  • Bedtime
  • Mealtime
  • Homework
  • Earning privileges
  • Earning discipline
  • Chores
  • Curfew

Talking points

  1. How consistent were the rules in your childhood home?
  2. How did that affect you?

2. Avoid fighting when your child is around

This includes not texting your fight or spending time trashing one another on FaceBook.

Your child’s needs for quality attention from you is more important.  Don’t ever let your ex-partner robs your child of your custodial time.

Deal with disagreements when the child is at school.

Talking points

  1. How did your parents handle their fighting?
  2. How well do you keep fights away from the kids?
  3. What’s the biggest challenge that you face in not fighting around the kids?

3. No revenge for rule breaking

You can gain points with your kids and get revenge on your ex-partner

You can gain points with your kids and get revenge on your ex-partner.

You can break co-parenting rules by giving your kid permission for things that otherwise require strict forbiddance from the parents.

“You can stay up late and watch TV with me…,” “You can cuss at my house…”, and so on.

But think – if you’re too lazy to be consistent, you’re telling your kids that they’re not worth the effort it takes to be a parent. You’re putting your need for sweet revenge over their needs for peace.

The bottom line for this point is that revenge rule breaking means you’re telling your kids that you don’t value them.

Talking points

  1. What happens to kids who don’t feel valued?
  2. How do you teach your kids about fair play? About revenge?
  3. About using others (your kids) as pawns?
  4. About modeling being a strong and responsible parent? 

4. Make custody transition rituals

Have a set of time and places for custody exchanges.

Provide predictable words of welcome and some upbeat activity that helps the child to adjust. A consistent smile and hug, a joke, a snack helps to keep the focus on the child rather than the mistrust or anger you may feel whenever you see your ex.

Be tuned in to your child.

Some kids need to burn off energy with a pillow fight, others may need quiet time with you reading to them, others may want their favorite Disney songs played in loud volume while driving home.

Talking points

  1. What transition rituals do you have?
  2. How could you make it more welcoming or fun?

5. Avoid competition

The parental rivalry is normal and can be wonderful in healthy relationships.

However, if you’re co-parenting with an ex who disgusts you, who seems out to destroy you, or who don’t appear to care about the kids, the rivalry can get destructive.

When a child comes back from a visit and says that your ex-partner makes a better meal or is more fun to be around, take a deep breath, and say, “I’m so glad  you have a parent who can do those things for you.” Then let it go.

Immediately switch the subject or redirect the activity. This creates a clear boundary that stops toxic rivalry.

Talking points

  1. What parental rivalry exists in your co-parenting relationship?
  2. What was the parental rivalry like while you were growing up?

6.  Accept differences

It is normal if the rules in your home differ from those in your ex-spouse’s home

It is normal if the rules in your home differ from those in your ex-spouse’s home.

Be clear about your rules. “That is the way we do things in this home. Your other parent has their rules, and those are OK in that home.”  

Talking points

  1. What were some rules that your caretakers disagreed on?
  2. What are some different rules that your children are growing up with?

7. Avoid the divide and conquer syndrome

Did you break up because over conflicts about values?

Kids have a natural curiosity to learn about parental differences.

One way they’ll do this is to trigger your worst emotional reactions. This is normal and not malicious. Kids will do their best to split parents farther apart in order to see what’s inside. They’ll test the rules, push a situation, and manipulate.

Their job or developmental task is to discover and learn, especially about their parents.

Points to remember

  • Do not overreact if your child plays to your worst fears about what goes on at your ex’s home.
  • Don’t blow up or cry in front of them if they say they “I don’t like it there”.
  • Don’t want to visit.
  • Don’t assume a disaster occurs everytime your kid returns dirty, tired, hungry, and upset.  

How well can you handle the situation

Don’t jump to conclusions or condemn your ex. When you hear things from your children that make you bristle, take a breath and remain quiet.

Remember that any negative comments your children make are often best taken with a grain of salt.

Remain neutral around the child when they give negative reports about their time with your ex.

Then you must check it out but without accusing them –

“The kids said they don’t want to visit you anymore, can you decipher that for me”, or “Hey, the kids filthy-what happened?” is more effective than “You dumb idiot. When will you grow up and learn to take care of the kids?”  

The key point is that kids may feel guilty about having fun with someone that you don’t like.

They then need to re-align their loyalty with the parent they are with by saying bad things about the other parent. This is normal.

Research shows that your child can learn to resent and distrust you if you overreact to what they tell you.

Talking points

  1. How did you split your parent’s teamwork when you were growing up?
  2. How do your kids try to divide and conquer both of you?

8.  Do not put kids in the middle

Do not ask your child to spy on their other parent

There are so many ways that kids get put in the middle. Here are the top 5 offenders.

Spying on your ex-spouse

Do not ask your child to spy on their other parent. You may be very tempted, but don’t grill them. The two guidelines draw the line between grilling and a healthy conversation.

  1. Keep it general.
  2. Ask them open-ended questions.

You can always put your kids to open-ended questions similar to, “How was your weekend?”, or “What did you do?”

However, don’t needle them with specifics such as, “Did your Mom have a boyfriend over?”, or “Was your Dad watching TV all weekend?”

The latter two questions are about the parent’s need to spy rather than what the child wants to talk about. It’s normal to feel worried or to be curious about your ex’s new life. But remember-it’s time to let go and move on.

Bribing your kids

Do not bribe your kids. Don’t get into an escalating tug of war of gifts with your ex. Instead, teach your children about the difference between “parental gifts and parental presence”.

Guilt trip     

Do not use phrases that make children feel guilty about the time spent with the other parent. For example, rather than saying “I missed you!”, say “I love you!”.

Forced your kids to choose between parents

Do not ask the child where she or he wants to live.

9. Getting even with your ex

Don’t get even

Even if your ex-spouse slams you, don’t slam back. That throws your child into the middle of an ugly battleground. It undermines your child’s respect for you.

You may say that if you don’t defend yourself, your child will see you as weak. But, exposure to hostility is what erodes a child’s respect for their parents and not your inability to defend yourself.

Whenever you fail to prioritize their emotional safety you let them down, and they know it.

Talking points

  1. How did your parents put you in the middle?
  2. How have you put your kids in the middle?

Create an extended family plan

Negotiate and agree on the role extended family members will play and the access they’ll be granted while your child is in each other’s charge.

Allow and encourage your children to maintain ties with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins on both the mother’s and the father’s side.

Talking points

  1. List what your child will gain from staying connected to the other side of her/his family
  2. What are your concerns about your child and that side of their family?

10.  Take the high road

Even if your co-partner is being a jerk, you don’t get to lower yourself to that level.

Your ex may be mean, vengeful, manipulative, passive-aggressive but that does not make it okay for you to do the same.

If your co-partner is acting like a spoiled teenager, guess what? You don’t get to act just like them. It’s tempting because they’re getting away with it.

You have the right to be furious, and sad. But if your kids have one acting up parent, it’s even more important that you remain an adult.

Remember, you are teaching your kids how to handle tough situations and difficult, stressful relationships. Your kids are absorbing your attitudes and coping skills for challenging times.

I guarantee that someday when they’re adults and facing a crisis, they’ll discover within themselves the strength of character, dignity, and leadership that you demonstrated during the hard years when they were growing up.

The day will come when they’ll look back and say, “My mother [or father] behaved with such class and respect that I can see how much he or she loved me. My parent worked to give me a happy childhood.  I’m so grateful for that gift. I only wish my other parent had been so selfless.”

Talking points

  1. How did your parents take the high road?
  2. How well do you rise above it today?
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Valerie Keim
Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT
  VERIFIED EXPERT
I work with successful women and couples. Women, everyone thinks you have it all together, but inside you know differently. Anxiety hits at the worst moments. A rude coworker or a nasty comment from your spouse can make you feel 5 years old again. At work, your Imposter Syndrome gets in the way of speaking your mind and living your full potential, and at home, your relationship isn’t as fulfilling as you’d like, but you don’t have the confidence to rock the boat. I help women just like you rediscover their strength and intuition and live bigger, more powerful lives! Speaking of power, many couples I see don’t think of themselves as “Power Couples,” but both partners are smart, educated, and successful. Everyone thinks you have it all…but you can’t stop arguing. You worry that your fights are impacting the kids, but you’re stuck in this cycle and the resentments run deep. Is there hope for your marriage? Yes. I help couples funnel all that anger into deep and powerful conversations. You’ll understand each other more fully, remember why you fell in love, and bring your marriage back to happiness again. I’ll help you stop arguing in front of the kids and get clear on why you’re arguing in the first place. You’re on your way to a better life!

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