Co-Parenting Boundaries in New Relationships

Co-parenting boundaries

Did you know that 16% of American children live in a blended family?

That means that they have one biological parent and one step-parent. It’s a family unit that’s becoming more and more common, and if you’re about to become a blended family you’re definitely not alone!

Blended families can be brilliant for little ones, and some step-parents can become as important as biological parents. But, that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy for you, your new partner, or your children. One of the biggest challenges in blended families is setting co-parenting boundaries with your new partner.

Luckily, we’re here to help. Take a look at our tips for setting co-parenting boundaries in new relationships and create a happy blended family.

What is Co-Parenting?

Before getting into the tips, let’s first take a look at what co-parenting is. 

If you’ve been raising your children with their biological parent and working together to bring them up, this is co-parenting. You both have input in decisions made and have a responsibility to look after your little ones. The focus in co-parenting should be entirely on the child, and you usually share equal responsibility for them. 

In relationships with two biological parents who are still together, this co-parenting structure is usually simple. Of course, there can still be hiccups, but, in general, it’s a fairly straightforward system. However, when parents divorce, the system can get a little trickier. 

One of the bumps that many divorced or single-parents face when bringing up their children is co-parenting with a new partner. It can be hard giving some responsibility for your children’s wellbeing over to someone who isn’t their biological parent, and little ones might find it hard to respect their authority. This is why it’s so important you set boundaries and make sure everyone involved is happy with the new co-parenting setup.

The Three Relationships

When you find a new partner as a divorced or single parent, there are three relationships you need to take care of.

The first relationship is with the other biological parent. Although they may not be your partner anymore, you still have a relationship with them and a responsibility to consider them in parenting decisions. Keeping them happy is essential to a smooth transition into co-parenting in new relationships.

The second relationship is with your new partner. They may struggle with having a new child in their lives, and you need to be careful to keep them happy with the dynamic, too. 

The final relationship, and the most important really, is with your child. This whole dynamic is set up to keep your child happy and make sure you, your ex, and your new partner are all benefiting their lives. It’s important not to forget your child when navigating co-parenting, and we’ll cover more of that later.

Of course, it’s not just these three people who need to be kept happy; you need to keep yourself happy too! You’re just as important, and you need to make sure you’re adding yourself to your list of priorities. 

All of these relationships need to be healthy, and everyone included during the co-parenting process. When setting boundaries, be sure to consider each person and how they’ll be affected. Now, let’s dive into how you can set healthy boundaries with your new partner.

Talk to Your Ex

Before setting boundaries with your new partner, always talk to the other biological parent first (to make things easier, we’ll refer to this person as your ex, even if they may not be). They should have just as much input into how your child is raised, and introducing a new partner to your parenting dynamic should always be discussed with them. Address any concerns your ex might have and how involved they’d like this new partner to be, as well as the contact between your new partner and your ex.

If your ex is unhappy with you having a new partner, try to limit their contact. Avoid bringing them to drop-offs and pick-ups, don’t mention them frequently, and avoid bringing them to events (such as school plays) until the relationship is serious. 

If your ex is fine with the relationship and you’re able to maintain a friendship with them, you’ll be able to discuss co-parenting more freely. Ask for their advice, discuss the boundaries you’re thinking of setting, and keep communication open with them about your new partner’s involvement in your little one’s life. When it comes to how to co-parent, you two should already be pretty good at it, so your ex’s advise could be very useful!

Talk to Your Children

The most important person (or people) to consider here is your child. Make sure you talk to them before introducing a new partner into their life, and never force a partner onto your little ones. That doesn’t mean you can’t have a relationship if your child isn’t happy with it, but just don’t force them to spend time with the new partner or be happy with them – it’ll be much easier if they can do that in their own time. 

Make changes slowly and always keep your little ones involved. Start with a small meeting in a park or somewhere your child is happy and familiar with. Get them used to your new partner before inviting them into your home, and make sure they know that they are still your priority. 

In terms of boundaries, it can be good to discuss this with your child, too, as long as they’re old enough. Ask them what kind of relationship they hope to have with your new partner once it’s serious, and what kind of things your new partner could do that would overstep your child’s own boundaries. Be sensitive to these and make your partner aware of how your child is feeling. 

Know Your Own Boundaries

It’s easy to consider others when co-parenting, but setting boundaries is about your preferences, too! Take some time to consider how much of a parental role you’d like your new partner to have and how much input you’re happy with them having in your child life. Here are some questions to ask yourself that should help determine your own boundaries:

  • Would you be okay to leave your children alone with your new partner?
  • Are you okay with your partner disciplining your children?
  • Do you want your new partner at school meetings about your children?
  • Will you take advice on parenting from your new partner?

Working out what kind of a role you want your new partner to have is vital. If you aren’t happy with them taking a strong parental role, consider whether it would be fair to let them move in with you and your child. Or, if you don’t like the idea of them discipline your child, can you leave them alone together?

Once you’ve answered your own set of questions, you’ll be better able to talk to your partner about setting boundaries for co-parenting. 

Be Honest With Your New Partner

From the get-go, you should be honest with your new partner about your child. Let them know that your little one will always come first and they’re your priority – and if your partner doesn’t like that, you might have to reconsider whether this is the right relationship for you. Remember to let them know that they will be a priority, though, and that you’ll make sure to put aside plenty of quality time for the relationship.

Once you’re settled into your relationship, it’s time to broach the meeting between your child and your new partner. This is a great time to see how your partner will cope with you splitting your time and doing things as a family. If they’re up for it, that’s great!

Discuss how the meeting will go and make sure your new partner knows not to be too pushy with your little one. Bonds aren’t usually formed immediately, so you’ll all have to be patient. Remember, only ever introduce a new partner to your children if it’s serious, and if it is, then it’ll be worth waiting for your child to come around on their own. 

Ask About Your Partners Wishes

Remember, not all partners will want to be involved with your child. Some might be excited at the opportunity to embrace a new family and become a brilliant stepdad, while others might be nervous or not really up for it. Before you move forward, make sure to discuss how your partner feels, and let them know what you want from them too.

This is the right time to align your thinking so that you’re on the same page. If your partner is up for becoming a co-parent and wants to be involved, you can then move onto setting boundaries. If they’re not, look at how you can create a solution to this, which could be living apart until they’re ready to be more involved.

Boundaries With Discipline

Discipline is one of the most tricky boundaries to negotiate. Every parent has their own idea on how to discipline their child, and you need to make sure your partner is aware of your rules. If not, chaos is bound to ensue! 

Discuss bad behaviour in your child that you have to punish. For example, you might only let them have an hour of TV, and if you have a tantrum about wanting to watch more, you have a system in place to discipline them. The key takeaway here is that your partner won’t come into their new role knowing how to treat your child in these situations, but that you have to teach them. 

You should also learn about your partners own discipline techniques if they have children. If you’ll all be living together, you need to get on the same page about what behaviour is punished and what isn’t, and the punishments that are given. You want to create a fair environment for your little ones, so this is a must! 

If they don’t have kids, discuss how much of a role your new partner will take in discipline your child. Make sure that they’re prepared to discipline when you’re not around, but set limits on their input. A very strict partner imposing new rules on your child is probably going to cause some friction, so make sure this doesn’t happen if you’re not comfortable with it. 

What Will You Share About Your Child

Co-parents often need to share a lot of information about their child, so you need to make sure you’re happy with this. If your new partner is going to have an active role in your child’s life, they need to be kept up to date. If you’re worried about forgetting this, use a collaborative calendar to keep them in the loop and make them feel included. 

If you’re already using co-parenting tools with your ex, should your new partner be included? Make sure you speak to your ex before giving them permission to use the tools to avoid any arguments. 

Keep Communicating With Each Other

Learning how to co-parent is all about communication. As you start this journey together, keep checking in with one another to see what’s working and what isn’t. You should keep up regular chats with your child too, making sure they’re comfortable with the new dynamic and don’t have any changes they wish to make. 

Set Your Co-Parenting Boundaries

Creating co-parenting boundaries between everyone involved in your child’s life – including the child! – is vital to creating a harmonious family life. Hopefully, these tips will help you do just that, but if you need more help, be sure to check out the 2Houses blog for more tips and tricks. 

To make co-parenting easier, both with biological parents and new partners, be sure to check out our range of collaborative tools. We’ve created features to help you share your expenses, keep other parents up to date with your child’s progress, and create a more communicative family even after divorce. 

Tips, Tricks and Talking Points for Setting Up Joint Custody

Joint custody agreement

When it comes to custody situations, there are two main types of custody orders: sole custody and joint custody. Decades ago, sole custody was much more common than joint custody, with most children living with one parent and the other parent being awarded a standard schedule of one afternoon visit a week and every other weekend. However, in recent years, the courts have recognized how important it is for children to have ongoing, close relationships with both parents and have started to move toward more joint custody arrangements. In some states, such as Maine and North Dakota, joint custody is even considered the default standard, and sole custody is only awarded if there are exceptional circumstances that make joint custody not in the best interests of the children.

3 Reasons You May Want to Consider Joint Custody

Whether you are just considering filing for custody and wondering if you should consider a joint custody situation or are wanting to switch from sole custody to joint, there are many reasons why joint custody can be beneficial for both the parents and the children.

1. It Keeps Both Parents Involved

For those that are able to co-parent well, joint custody arrangements can be very helpful. It ensures that both parents can stay active in the children’s lives, which has been shown to be beneficial for the children especially. With a joint custody arrangement, it’s more likely that both parents will be seeing the child on a more frequent basis, and both parents will also have the opportunity to transport the child to extracurricular activities, host sleepovers and playdates and get to be involved in more of the day-to-day aspects of parenting.

2. It Lets You Share the Decision-Making Burden

Having joint legal custody also keeps both parents equally involved in the decision-making process for important issues such as medical care, education and religious upbringing. When all of the burden of making these types of decisions falls on one parent, such as when there is a sole legal custody arrangement, it can be stressful. Many parents find that having joint decision-making ability lets them work together to consider ideas, bounce different options off of each other and come to a decision that both are comfortable with.

3. It Can Give You a Built-In Support System

Joint custody schedules can also ease some of the burden of being a single parent. Being the only parent in the household means there is a lot of responsibility, with most single parents juggling working, taking care of the children and managing the household. If you have a joint custody schedule and a good co-parenting relationship, the other parent can step in and provide some relief if you get called in for an extra shift, need some time to deep clean without children underfoot or just need a night to relax after a stressful day.

Some joint custody schedules include a specific clause for this called the first right of refusal. This basically means that anytime one parent isn’t going to be with the children and would be having them stay with friends or family or hiring a babysitter, the other parent gets the first opportunity to take that time. Only if the other parent refuses, does the first parent then have someone else watch the kids.

Filing for Joint Custody

Filing for joint custody is something you can do yourself, or you can have a lawyer fill out the paperwork. Which way is best depends a great deal on your unique set of circumstances. For example, if you are doing an initial filing for joint custody and your divorce has been amicable and both you and the other parent are in agreement on the custody arrangement, filing with the courts yourself can save you money over getting an attorney.

However, in situations where you are asking for joint custody when a sole custody order is already in place or if the custody situation is already contentious, it may be best to have an attorney handle things so that you can be sure the paperwork is filled out appropriately and all of your specific needs have been addressed in the filing.

Exactly how to file for joint custody varies by state, and the process may also be different if you are trying to change an existing custody order instead of doing an original filing. Below, we’ve listed the general steps as well as special considerations to be aware of depending on your situation.

1. Find Out What Paperwork You Need

Every state has a specific form that must be filed for joint custody. If you already have a custody order in place, this may be called something like a Motion for Reallocation of Parenting Responsibilities. If it’s the first custody filing for the case, it may just be the Shared Parenting Agreement that you file along with your divorce paperwork. Make sure you have the correct paperwork for your situation.

2. Gather Your Documentation

If you are requesting a modification to an existing custody order, you will need to show the court cause as to why the change is needed. Keep in mind that courts always go by what they believe is in the best interests of the children, which means your documentation needs to reflect that. It can be difficult to change from sole custody to joint custody, as some states have laws that only allow for this change if certain circumstances, such as a job loss, addiction issue or abuse, are happening. A change in custody also often affects child support, so you may need to provide recent income documentation so the courts can decide if the child support order also needs to be adjusted.

3. File With the Courts

Once you have all of the correct paperwork and corresponding documentation, you’re ready to file. If you are filing yourself, you may have to pay a small filing fee when you file the papers with the clerk of courts. You may also need to pay for the other parent to be served the papers. If you are using an attorney, these fees are usually included in the retainer amount, and you will receive an itemized statement that shows what the cost was.

4. Attend the Hearing

While it may take a while to get it completed and ready to send in, filing the custody paperwork with the courts is really only the first step. Once the filing has been accepted, you will be given a hearing date. Both parents will need to attend the hearing, and the best-case scenario is that the final decision will be made that day and you will leave the courthouse with temporary paperwork that explains the updated custody arrangement while you wait for your official copy to arrive from the court.

However, custody decisions are notorious for being drawn out, especially in cases where the parents are not in agreement. If you want joint custody and the other parent doesn’t, your case may be sent on for further hearings where both sides will be able to present documentation and even have witnesses and experts provide testimony as to why the proposed joint custody arrangement is or isn’t in the best interests of the children. Even after the judge has made a decision, there is still the possibility of an appeal.

5. Keep Your Paperwork

Once the custody agreement has been finalized, make sure to keep your official copy from the courts where you can access it easily. You may need it as a reference for how to handle things like summer vacations, birthdays and other holidays as well as other special circumstances like the children participating in extracurricular activities on the other parent’s time.

Making Joint Custody Arrangements Work

When it comes to any situation that involves parents who are no longer in a relationship and their children, the focus is always on the best interests of the children. This is what the courts look at in making custody determinations, and it’s what both parties should keep in mind as they co-parent.

Frequent, open communication and a focus on the children is the best way to facilitate joint custody, and 2Houses can help. 2Houses makes it easy to keep dates and custody schedules straight with its joint calendar feature, and you can easily upload practice dates, birthday parties and parent-teacher conferences so both parents have access to the children’s schedules at all times. Keeping track of splitting payments for program fees, school supplies and medical care is easy with the financial tracker that shows who is responsible for which portion of what bill. And there’s a built-in messaging feature so you can keep all communication and information in one place and not have to worry about keeping records of texts or emails.

No matter what kind of custody schedule you end up with, keeping the lines of communication open and making the children the number one priority can help you better navigate co-parenting.

Co-Parenting With a Narcissist – Learn How to Deal

Co-parenting

Many people don’t hear the word narcissist to describe their partner until well after the relationship has ended, but once they start learning more about this type of personality disorder, a lot of what happened with the relationship, the breakup and the attempts at co-parenting after starts to make sense.

The Mayo Clinic defines a narcissist as someone who has “a mental condition in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for excessive attention and admiration, troubled relationships, and a lack of empathy for others.” Learn more about this type of behavior and some tips on how to deal with a co-parent who is a narcissist.

4 Signs You May Be Co-Parenting With a Narcissist

How do you recognize a narcissist? The general traits are lack of empathy, a disregard for other people’s feelings and an extreme need for approval and attention from others. But what does this look like when it comes to the co-parenting relationship? Here are just a few of the common signs of a narcissist co-parent.

1. The Blame Is Always on You

Narcissists often live in a world where they can do nothing wrong and any issue is always the other person’s fault. In co-parenting situations, this can manifest in a variety of ways, but one of the most common is surrounding scheduling issues. For example, they cancelled a weekend with no notice, but they send you a message saying that you just make it too hard for them to see the kids. Or they miss a recital and blame you for not telling them about it even though the information was readily available to them.

2. They Lie

Narcissists are not known for their honesty, and they often lie with little regard to the consequences it has for other people. A narcissistic parent might say they are on their way to pick up the children only to inform you an hour later that they aren’t coming at all, or they might promise the kids a big birthday party only to go away on a solo trip that weekend.

3. They Seem to Enjoy the Conflict

Co-parenting has its conflicts no matter how good the overall relationship is, but narcissists often create conflict where there isn’t any and actually enjoy the attention and focus that comes from that conflict. For example, maybe the other parent has asked to switch you weekends and you’ve agreed. The narcissist parent may then try to create drama by saying something like, “I don’t know why you don’t want me to see the kids.” This creates confusion for the healthy parent because they have given the other parent what they want but is being accused of something that’s not happening. These tactics are often referred to as gaslighting.

4. They Use the Children Against You

One of the most common characteristics of a narcissistic parent is that they use the children as weapons against the other parent. They might insist on using the children to communicate messages that should be sent directly from parent to parent even after being asked not to, or they may threaten to treat the children badly or disappoint them as a way to punish the healthy parent for establishing boundaries.

For example, the narcissist is texting you several times a day, telling you what a bad parent you are or how you aren’t doing a good job. You decide to start ignoring the messages and not responding. The narcissist might escalate their behavior by refusing to come get the children for their weekend because you wouldn’t “communicate” even though answering those texts had nothing to do with the visit. In this case, the narcissist is trying to make you feel bad or guilty for not doing what they wanted you to do because now the children will be disappointed that they are missing their visit.

Another common tactic with this is to speak negatively about the healthy parent to the children. Narcissist parents might tell their children how sorry they are that the other parent isn’t a good parent or tell them that the other parent lies, does drugs or any manner of other things that aren’t true but are designed to make the child question the healthy parent.

Strategies for Parallel Parenting

We talk a lot about co-parenting at 2Houses, but there are times where it’s just not possible. A situation where one parent is a narcissist, or is exhibiting narcissistic behavior, is one of those times. Co-parenting requires both parents to be actively putting the children’s needs and interests above their own and to be mature enough to be able to have a cooperative, civil relationship with the other parent. With narcissists, this usually is not the case.

So, what can you do to improve the parenting situation when you are dealing with a narcissist? One of the best strategies to use is called parallel parenting. Basically, it’s taking an approach that — as much as possible — what happens at their house is their business and what happens at your house is yours. Here, we provide some tips for making parallel parenting work.

1. Practice Gray Rock

If you haven’t heard of gray rock before, it probably sounds a little weird. But it comes from the premise that narcissists need fuel from the other parent in the form of emotion. Narcissists actively try to get you emotional so that you will be upset, be angry or lash out. Now, think about a gray rock you might see in your yard or at the park. It’s not very interesting, right? All one color, nothing remarkable about it. This is your goal when dealing with narcissists — to become like a gray rock.

This isn’t as easy as it first seems because, again, a narcissist’s main goal is to get you upset, and they are usually very good at it. Couple that with the fact that this person has been in a very close relationship with you for probably a substantial amount of time, and they know just what to do to get that reaction from you.

When you’re trying to gray rock, focus on being as unemotional as possible and responding with facts. Try to stay out of arguments, responding only when there are direct questions relevant to the children that you must answer. The less you can communicate with a narcissist the better.

2. Set Yourself Up for as Little Contact as Possible

Even parallel parenting requires a certain amount of coordination with the other parent, but again, the less contact you have with the narcissist the better. This is where the 2Houses co-parenting app becomes a very useful tool. It allows you to put all of the information, such as important dates, sports schedules, reimbursement requests and even scheduling issues all on the app, removing the direct contact between you and the other parent.

By doing this, the other parent doesn’t need to ask you for things like Social Security numbers or insurance information — those things will already be in the information bank that they can access with you. If the other parent does send messages about this type of information, you can reply with a simple, “It’s in the information bank on the app” — a very gray rock response.

In extreme cases, you may also need to limit contact to only the app and refuse to communicate through phone calls, texts or emails. Some family court judges even mandate this type of in-app communication in high-conflict cases now because there is an instant and easily accessible record of when messages were sent, when they were read and what was in them.

3. Have a Conversation With Your Children

Whether you suspect the other parent is a narcissist or you know they have been diagnosed as such, it’s important not to tell your children this or otherwise speak negatively about the other parent. However, it is a good idea to explain to them matter of factly and without emotion how you are going to handle things.

For example, maybe your children complain at your house that they have a bedtime while at the other parent’s house, they are allowed to stay up as late as they want. You can just explain that “there are different rules for different houses” or simply state that you can’t do anything about what happens over there so you are just going to focus on how things are in your own home.

Children are quick to figure out many of the narcissist’s manipulation tactics including gaslighting, speaking negatively about the healthy parent, pitting siblings against each other or using the children as pawns to get to the other parent. The best thing you can do is model healthy behavior, refuse to engage with the narcissist and let your children know that you are there for whatever they need.

For more information on what makes 2Houses special and how it can help you co-parent with a narcissist, check out our features explanation and contact us today.