Expert Tips to Better Co-Parent, Even When You're In a Two-Parent Household
Co-parenting can be difficult, especially if your relationship with your ex is rocky. Tips from parenting experts—and moms and dads who've been there and survived—can help make the experience a little easier. But parents who are no longer romantically involved aren't the only ones who can benefit from co-parenting tips and techniques. It turns out that the basics of good co-parenting are pretty good goals, whatever shape your family takes. Applying them in a two-parent household is also a good idea.
"Children thrive with structure and predictability, so the more that parents can be consistent with one another, the better the environment is for the whole family," says Jessica Myszak, Ph.D., a Glenview, Illinois-based licensed child psychologist.
After all, both parents aren't always present at any given time in two-parent households. Work and other commitments could mean one parent is home more than the other, or one is around during the week while the other takes the reins on weekends. Plus, it shouldn't be one parent's job to be "bad cop" or manage the household responsibilities. "Equal division of child-raising and creating household rules makes for a more peaceful, harmonious home," Dr. Myszak explains.
Licensed mental health counselor GinaMarie Guarino who is based in New York City, agrees. "Techniques recommended for co-parenting are geared toward routine, clear expectations, and conflict resolution," she says. "They emphasize keeping parenting separate from personal issues between the adults and ensuring that matters outside of the child's wellness do not conflict with the decision-making and parenting styles of each parent."
As Guarino points out, two-parent families often struggle with relationship issues as well, and resentment, communication challenges, and conflict can cloud a couple's ability to effectively parent their children. "Keeping adult relationship matters separate from parenting and building a relationship with the child can be helpful for parents, whether together as partners or working on a co-parenting basis," Guarino explains.
Here are four tried-and-tested co-parenting techniques that might make caring for kids a little easier in two-parent households as well.
1. Focus on Effective Communication
When your child splits their time between two households, clear communication makes the regular transitions easier for everyone. Depending on the age and stage of your child, that could involve anything from what they've eaten and how they've slept to upcoming academic tests and changes to their after-school schedule. A co-parenting app can make it easier to stay organized and ensure both parents are in the loop—and could be a lifesaver if direct communication is still tricky.
Two-parent households need to make communication a priority too, says Dr. Myszak—both between parent and child and between parents. "Without communication, it can be difficult to interpret why people are acting in a certain way and incorrect assumptions can make things worse," she says. If you take the time to listen with compassion and understand where people are coming from, you may realize things you were unaware of, which can be really important and helpful to consider as you decide how to proceed in different situations."
Being able to communicate, set clear expectations, and compromise with your partner models teamwork and respect for your child, adds Guarino.
2. Keep an Open Mind
When you're no longer romantically involved, differences in your parenting styles are likely to become more obvious than ever. To keep arguments to a minimum, it's important to consider the other parent's views and be willing to compromise. These differences still exist when you're in a relationship—you are each bringing your own past family dynamics and culture to the table. Come up with a strategy to navigate these conflicts together. If your child is old enough, you could include them in a conversation about the issues you're trying to find middle ground on, like curfews or screen time.
"Unless they step back and are intentional about how they want to parent, most people default back to the way they were raised—and either embrace that or go the complete opposite way," says Dr. Myszak.
It's very common for parents to not see eye-to-eye on parenting styles, whether they parent together or not, adds Guarino. This is why respect for the other person's approach is a key quality; it ensures trust in the relationship itself.
"It helps to create openness and willingness for compromise, when fundamental differences exist between parents," she explains. "These are all excellent values to prioritize that will lead to a healthy family dynamic, whatever that family looks like."
3. Have Regular "Check-Ins"
Some co-parents have pre-arranged monthly meetings, while others have a more ad-hoc approach. Whatever form it takes for you, finding time to connect and discuss how things are going can be really helpful for both parties, says Dr. Myszak. Because the truth is that parenting is hard. Sometimes, despite your best intentions, your actions might not reflect your desired goals. Or your co-parent may notice something that you don't. Or you may be struggling with a specific parenting situation or question.
"In all of these situations—which apply to two-parent households just as much as co-parenting setups—it can be really helpful to reflect on what is going well and problem-solve what is challenging to help ensure you're on the same team," says Dr. Myszak.
4. Make Time for Your Relationship (And for Yourself)
Advice for co-parents often includes a reminder to put your love for your child above any negative feelings toward the other parent. In a two-parent household, the well-being of the kids should naturally be a priority as well. But it's important to remember to take care of your relationship with your partner—and the one you have with yourself.
While it can be really difficult to be alone when your child is with their other parent following your split or divorce—particularly in the early days of co-parenting—this is the perfect opportunity to have some downtime, recharge your batteries, and practice some self-care in whatever way works for you.
It might seem more difficult to grab some child-free time in a two-parent household, but all it takes is forward planning. For instance, one parent could take the kids out for a few hours on a Saturday and the other could repay the favor on a Sunday. And booking a babysitter for a once-a-month date night gives you and your partner the chance to reconnect without being distracted by the kids.