Coparenting Essentials: a Toolkit for Parenting With Your Ex

What to Put in Your Coparenting Toolkit

What does it take to coparent well—aside from a good attitude and the commitment to put your children first? You’ll also need a solid, well-thought-out plan. Use the following tips to build your “coparenting toolkit,” and you’ll be well on your way:

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    Man with a year of calendar pages
    Photo © Bill Dabney/Getty Images

    The first thing you need in your coparenting toolkit is an actual, written plan. Many states require parents to file a formal parenting plan with the courts; but even if it's not a requirement, working with your ex to develop a basic parenting plan that includes your collective agreements and responsibilities will pave the way for a smooth ride while you're raising your kids collaboratively.

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    You don't have to do everything exactly the same way, but there are some areas where any effort you can make to be consistent will really pay off. For example, if you and your ex can agree to similar routines for your kids—like what they eat, and when they go to bed—you may find that you see a lot more consistency in their behavior, as well. Approaching these areas of parenting in a similar manner adds also stability to your kids' lives and helps them know what you each expect of them at...MORE all times. (To kids, that's also known as being "fair.")

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    You can't coparent well without making compromises. So bringing your best negotiation skills to the table is essential. Remember, too, that it is important to model positive negotiation skills by saying what you need, being specific in your requests, and providing options. For example, if you want your ex to swap dates with your ex, ask him or her directly and provide a list of the dates. Don't expect anyone—least of all, your ex—to be a mind reader. Being clear in your request, and...MORE supplying all the information needed will help you negotiate quick, win-win compromises.

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    Good communication skills

    Let's face it ... you and your ex may have developed some relatively poor communication skills over the years. Moving forward, you'll need to create new ways of relating, and ditch the patterns and techniques that set one another off or add fuel to the fire. Start by listening more than you speak, and consider keeping a private journal as a way of sorting through your feelings so that you can get to the point—when you need to—more quickly and directly.

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    Boundaries are like invisible fences dividing your space (or responsibilities) from others'. When it comes to your ex, you need to maintain a healthy perspective about what you need to do, versus what he or she is responsible for. Remember, too, that you only have control over your own feelings and actions—you can't change your ex by getting angry or explaining why he or she needs to behave differently. 

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    Chances are, you're already doing plenty of things well, so add that awareness to your coparenting toolkit. When you name and acknowledge your strengths, you give them a chance to flourish. So go ahead and pat yourself on the back for reaching a reasonable compromise about parenting time or going out of your way to include your ex when you can. All of it matters, and every effort you make to coparent well is a gift you're giving to your kids ... one they won't soon forget!