However you may feel about your ex-spouse, if you have kids, you are still co-parenting. That’s right: “Co”. As long as you both are committed to the welfare of your children, you have to be in regular communication with each other and have to cooperate with each other about their care. You need to coordinate schedules and collaborate about everything from childcare arrangements to how and where holidays are spent. That “co” says it all. It means “joined”. It means “together”. It means “mutual”. It means that you can’t just refuse to deal with each other because the kids need you both.
Here are the 5 C’s that will make divorced co-parenting go more smoothly than your marriage did:
1) Comply with your divorce agreement. Chances are you spent a great deal of time, emotional energy and money hammering out who is responsible for what and when. Stick with it! If you don’t, the kids will feel the tension and overhear the complaints. If you find that the agreement doesn’t work for you, be sure that you don’t take it out on the kids either directly (by not picking them up on time) or indirectly (by not sending the check). Set up some mediation with their other parent and deal with it like adults.
2) Convey important information. You don’t need to share your personal life, your successes or stresses, or your feelings. You do need to let the other parent know immediately if your child has a medical issue or if there is trouble at school or at home. Let each other in on your child’s successes so the next time they transition to the other parent’s home, they can be welcomed with congratulations.
3) Consult each other in advance when there needs to be a change in plans or an adjustment in schedule or a major change in how you intend to spend time with the children. Start thinking about the winter holidays around June. Talk about summer vacations in December. If the only dentist appointment you can get for your child is on the other parent’s time, make an immediate call to clear it. If your boss needs you to go to a conference during what is usually your week with the kids, get on the phone to talk about it. If the other parent has already made immovable plans, skip the conference. Kids’ needs come first. If you’ve always spent April vacation at home with the kids, let the other parent know before the kids do that you’re planning to take them on a special trip. Neither the other parent nor the child can cope with sudden changes or surprises. If you and the other parent can’t agree on a change, go back to your agreement (see #1).
4) Cooperate around transfers. There is nothing as sad as watching a child stand at the window, backpack at the ready, waiting for a parent to show up. Always show up. Always be on time. Always allow extra time for the inevitable traffic delay or other unexpected issue that might make you late. If you are unreliable about showing up or are consistently tardy, the parent waiting with the waiting child will be anxious, angry and upset. The child will be even more anxious, angry and upset. It’s not a great way for the weekly transfer to start.
5) Coordinate around the contents of the backpack (or duffle, or box — whatever the kids use to get stuff back and forth between houses). I’ve heard endless complaints from parents who feel like they are always replacing clothes, toys, or school supplies that the other parent “forgets” to send along with the child. It’s hard enough for children to be going back and forth between houses. Kids aren’t likely to remember everything they are supposed to remember. Have a clear agreement with the other parent about what stays at each home and what goes with the kids. Take the time — plenty of time — before the children leave your house to be sure they have the outfits, homework, books, or favorite toy that has to go with them. Rushed exits often mean forgotten items. It’s unfair to say to young kids, “Well, you should have remembered it” (whatever the “it” of the moment is). No. You’re the parent. It’s your job to oversee that they have what they need. With teens, a simple reminder to double-check before they leave is a way to both give them autonomy and yet be a caring parent.