Managing Co-parenting: Identifying and Addressing Challenges

Reviewed Aug 23, 2016

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Summary

  • Minimize conflict.
  • Process emotions related to ex-spouse.
  • Have a written plan.
  • Listen to your child.

The difficulties of raising a child with an ex-spouse are daunting. The emotions and stress of a breakup magnify the challenges of co-parenting. But by committing to making children’s best interests the first priority, families can be successful.

As joint physical custody has become more common, “people have kind of figured out how to get along,” explains Marilyn Coleman, PhD, professor emeritus and director of graduate studies at the University of Missouri's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Claudia Boozer-Blasco, a family and consumer resources educator with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, cites research that reflects a similar outlook. “Seventy-five to 80 percent of folks that have gone through divorce or separation are able to work out co-parenting relationships,” says Boozer-Blasco, whose office offers parenting programs. “It’s best if both parents are able to fulfill their parenting role competently.” If that’s not possible, at least one parent has to fill those shoes.

Identifying the challenges

To reach that goal, parents need to objectively spot and deal with the difficulties of raising children with an ex. “Recognize that you’re all involved,” emphasizes Emily Douglas, PhD, an assistant professor in the master of social work program at Bridgewater State College. “Everyone’s involved for a lifetime.”

The biggest challenge facing ex-spouses raising children is effectively co-parenting, says Dr. Douglas. To make co-parenting choices that are most helpful to children, ex-spouses may need to:

  • Find ways to minimize conflict. “Being exposed to conflict is really deadly to children’s development,” says Dr. Coleman. 
  • Work on communicating successfully. Effectively coordinate with the former partner about parenting goals and daily routines. 
  • Process emotions related to their relationship with the former partner.
  • Realistically examine child support or custody issues.

Addressing the challenges

A thorough and appropriate parenting plan can help ex-spouses give structure to shared parenting time and child support arrangements, among other issues, says Dr. Coleman. A plan needs to be written out, and mediators and other professionals can help. The plans aren’t “one-size-fits-all,” she stresses, and should be reviewed regularly to address changes within the family, such as adjustments in expenses.

Parents should deal with specific challenges as well, the experts say.

  • Parents should not involve their children in conflicts, and never put them in the middle of a struggle between them. “Ask parents to never say anything bad about the other parent around their children,” Dr. Douglas suggests. “This should be one of those things on the list that you don’t talk to your kids about.” 

This also means that parents should not tell their kids to pass messages to the other ex-spouse. If parents can’t handle it themselves, they should find a neutral party to help, Dr. Douglas notes.

Some areas have established safe, designated drop-off centers where parents can exchange custody of their children if they’re at risk of exposure to conflict.

  • Ex-spouses should find ways to communicate with each other. In some cases, e-mail messages may be the most effective means of communicating. Create an agenda for communications such as phone calls. The other parent should be notified of all issues that affect her child. This includes appointments, trips and schedule changes, and behavior issues. 

Dr. Douglas notes that school teachers and administrators could help alert a parent to important school-related events.

  • Ex-spouses should recognize and work through their difficult emotions to help accept the situation. Grief, anger, guilt, resentment, betrayal. “All those kinds of feelings hanging on for years and years are what get in the way,” Boozer-Blasco says. “If parents can get to that place of acceptance, then they’re in a better place emotionally to do what’s best for the child.” 
  • Take advantage of resources such as mediators, counselors, support groups, books and workshops or seminars. “Seeking help is in no way a failure,” says Dr. Douglas. “It’s a success.” 

The faculty members in Dr. Coleman’s department, for example, work with the court system in Missouri to provide a “Focus on Kids” program for divorcing or never-married parents. And, Boozer-Blasco encourages consumers to find programs and information offered by their local cooperative extension office.

  • Parents should listen to children and let them know their feelings are valid. Parents should not give up if they feel pushed away. Stay involved and provide reassurance. 

The golden rule may be for a parent to behave as he would want the other parent to act. “I think that most families can find ways to put their kids first and to be able to communicate,” Dr. Douglas notes.

By Kristen Knight
Source: Claudia Boozer-Blasco, extension educator, Family & Consumer Resources, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension; Marilyn Coleman, PhD, director of graduate studies, Curators' Professor, University of Missouri Department of Human Development and Family Studies; Emily Douglas, PhD, assistant professor, Social Work Department, Bridgewater State College; Co-Parenting After Divorce by Diana Shulman, JD, PhD. WinnSpeed Press, 1996; The Co-Parenting Survival Guide: Letting Go of Conflict After a Difficult Divorce by Elizabeth S. Thayer, PhD, and Jeffrey Zimmerman, PhD. New Harbinger Publications Inc., 2001; Divorce Rules for Men by Martin M. Shenkman, JD, and Michael J. Hamilton. John Wiley & Sons, 2003; Good Parenting Through Your Divorce by Mary Ellen Hannibal. Marlowe & Company, 2002; Parenting After Divorce: A Guide to Resolving Conflicts and Meeting Your Children’s Needs by Philip M. Stahl, PhD. Impact Publishers, 2000; The Single Parent Resource by Brook Noel with Art Klein. Champion Press, 1998; Parents Without Partners, www.parentswithoutpartners.org; U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov

Summary

  • Minimize conflict.
  • Process emotions related to ex-spouse.
  • Have a written plan.
  • Listen to your child.

The difficulties of raising a child with an ex-spouse are daunting. The emotions and stress of a breakup magnify the challenges of co-parenting. But by committing to making children’s best interests the first priority, families can be successful.

As joint physical custody has become more common, “people have kind of figured out how to get along,” explains Marilyn Coleman, PhD, professor emeritus and director of graduate studies at the University of Missouri's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Claudia Boozer-Blasco, a family and consumer resources educator with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, cites research that reflects a similar outlook. “Seventy-five to 80 percent of folks that have gone through divorce or separation are able to work out co-parenting relationships,” says Boozer-Blasco, whose office offers parenting programs. “It’s best if both parents are able to fulfill their parenting role competently.” If that’s not possible, at least one parent has to fill those shoes.

Identifying the challenges

To reach that goal, parents need to objectively spot and deal with the difficulties of raising children with an ex. “Recognize that you’re all involved,” emphasizes Emily Douglas, PhD, an assistant professor in the master of social work program at Bridgewater State College. “Everyone’s involved for a lifetime.”

The biggest challenge facing ex-spouses raising children is effectively co-parenting, says Dr. Douglas. To make co-parenting choices that are most helpful to children, ex-spouses may need to:

  • Find ways to minimize conflict. “Being exposed to conflict is really deadly to children’s development,” says Dr. Coleman. 
  • Work on communicating successfully. Effectively coordinate with the former partner about parenting goals and daily routines. 
  • Process emotions related to their relationship with the former partner.
  • Realistically examine child support or custody issues.

Addressing the challenges

A thorough and appropriate parenting plan can help ex-spouses give structure to shared parenting time and child support arrangements, among other issues, says Dr. Coleman. A plan needs to be written out, and mediators and other professionals can help. The plans aren’t “one-size-fits-all,” she stresses, and should be reviewed regularly to address changes within the family, such as adjustments in expenses.

Parents should deal with specific challenges as well, the experts say.

  • Parents should not involve their children in conflicts, and never put them in the middle of a struggle between them. “Ask parents to never say anything bad about the other parent around their children,” Dr. Douglas suggests. “This should be one of those things on the list that you don’t talk to your kids about.” 

This also means that parents should not tell their kids to pass messages to the other ex-spouse. If parents can’t handle it themselves, they should find a neutral party to help, Dr. Douglas notes.

Some areas have established safe, designated drop-off centers where parents can exchange custody of their children if they’re at risk of exposure to conflict.

  • Ex-spouses should find ways to communicate with each other. In some cases, e-mail messages may be the most effective means of communicating. Create an agenda for communications such as phone calls. The other parent should be notified of all issues that affect her child. This includes appointments, trips and schedule changes, and behavior issues. 

Dr. Douglas notes that school teachers and administrators could help alert a parent to important school-related events.

  • Ex-spouses should recognize and work through their difficult emotions to help accept the situation. Grief, anger, guilt, resentment, betrayal. “All those kinds of feelings hanging on for years and years are what get in the way,” Boozer-Blasco says. “If parents can get to that place of acceptance, then they’re in a better place emotionally to do what’s best for the child.” 
  • Take advantage of resources such as mediators, counselors, support groups, books and workshops or seminars. “Seeking help is in no way a failure,” says Dr. Douglas. “It’s a success.” 

The faculty members in Dr. Coleman’s department, for example, work with the court system in Missouri to provide a “Focus on Kids” program for divorcing or never-married parents. And, Boozer-Blasco encourages consumers to find programs and information offered by their local cooperative extension office.

  • Parents should listen to children and let them know their feelings are valid. Parents should not give up if they feel pushed away. Stay involved and provide reassurance. 

The golden rule may be for a parent to behave as he would want the other parent to act. “I think that most families can find ways to put their kids first and to be able to communicate,” Dr. Douglas notes.

By Kristen Knight
Source: Claudia Boozer-Blasco, extension educator, Family & Consumer Resources, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension; Marilyn Coleman, PhD, director of graduate studies, Curators' Professor, University of Missouri Department of Human Development and Family Studies; Emily Douglas, PhD, assistant professor, Social Work Department, Bridgewater State College; Co-Parenting After Divorce by Diana Shulman, JD, PhD. WinnSpeed Press, 1996; The Co-Parenting Survival Guide: Letting Go of Conflict After a Difficult Divorce by Elizabeth S. Thayer, PhD, and Jeffrey Zimmerman, PhD. New Harbinger Publications Inc., 2001; Divorce Rules for Men by Martin M. Shenkman, JD, and Michael J. Hamilton. John Wiley & Sons, 2003; Good Parenting Through Your Divorce by Mary Ellen Hannibal. Marlowe & Company, 2002; Parenting After Divorce: A Guide to Resolving Conflicts and Meeting Your Children’s Needs by Philip M. Stahl, PhD. Impact Publishers, 2000; The Single Parent Resource by Brook Noel with Art Klein. Champion Press, 1998; Parents Without Partners, www.parentswithoutpartners.org; U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov

Summary

  • Minimize conflict.
  • Process emotions related to ex-spouse.
  • Have a written plan.
  • Listen to your child.

The difficulties of raising a child with an ex-spouse are daunting. The emotions and stress of a breakup magnify the challenges of co-parenting. But by committing to making children’s best interests the first priority, families can be successful.

As joint physical custody has become more common, “people have kind of figured out how to get along,” explains Marilyn Coleman, PhD, professor emeritus and director of graduate studies at the University of Missouri's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

Claudia Boozer-Blasco, a family and consumer resources educator with the University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension, cites research that reflects a similar outlook. “Seventy-five to 80 percent of folks that have gone through divorce or separation are able to work out co-parenting relationships,” says Boozer-Blasco, whose office offers parenting programs. “It’s best if both parents are able to fulfill their parenting role competently.” If that’s not possible, at least one parent has to fill those shoes.

Identifying the challenges

To reach that goal, parents need to objectively spot and deal with the difficulties of raising children with an ex. “Recognize that you’re all involved,” emphasizes Emily Douglas, PhD, an assistant professor in the master of social work program at Bridgewater State College. “Everyone’s involved for a lifetime.”

The biggest challenge facing ex-spouses raising children is effectively co-parenting, says Dr. Douglas. To make co-parenting choices that are most helpful to children, ex-spouses may need to:

  • Find ways to minimize conflict. “Being exposed to conflict is really deadly to children’s development,” says Dr. Coleman. 
  • Work on communicating successfully. Effectively coordinate with the former partner about parenting goals and daily routines. 
  • Process emotions related to their relationship with the former partner.
  • Realistically examine child support or custody issues.

Addressing the challenges

A thorough and appropriate parenting plan can help ex-spouses give structure to shared parenting time and child support arrangements, among other issues, says Dr. Coleman. A plan needs to be written out, and mediators and other professionals can help. The plans aren’t “one-size-fits-all,” she stresses, and should be reviewed regularly to address changes within the family, such as adjustments in expenses.

Parents should deal with specific challenges as well, the experts say.

  • Parents should not involve their children in conflicts, and never put them in the middle of a struggle between them. “Ask parents to never say anything bad about the other parent around their children,” Dr. Douglas suggests. “This should be one of those things on the list that you don’t talk to your kids about.” 

This also means that parents should not tell their kids to pass messages to the other ex-spouse. If parents can’t handle it themselves, they should find a neutral party to help, Dr. Douglas notes.

Some areas have established safe, designated drop-off centers where parents can exchange custody of their children if they’re at risk of exposure to conflict.

  • Ex-spouses should find ways to communicate with each other. In some cases, e-mail messages may be the most effective means of communicating. Create an agenda for communications such as phone calls. The other parent should be notified of all issues that affect her child. This includes appointments, trips and schedule changes, and behavior issues. 

Dr. Douglas notes that school teachers and administrators could help alert a parent to important school-related events.

  • Ex-spouses should recognize and work through their difficult emotions to help accept the situation. Grief, anger, guilt, resentment, betrayal. “All those kinds of feelings hanging on for years and years are what get in the way,” Boozer-Blasco says. “If parents can get to that place of acceptance, then they’re in a better place emotionally to do what’s best for the child.” 
  • Take advantage of resources such as mediators, counselors, support groups, books and workshops or seminars. “Seeking help is in no way a failure,” says Dr. Douglas. “It’s a success.” 

The faculty members in Dr. Coleman’s department, for example, work with the court system in Missouri to provide a “Focus on Kids” program for divorcing or never-married parents. And, Boozer-Blasco encourages consumers to find programs and information offered by their local cooperative extension office.

  • Parents should listen to children and let them know their feelings are valid. Parents should not give up if they feel pushed away. Stay involved and provide reassurance. 

The golden rule may be for a parent to behave as he would want the other parent to act. “I think that most families can find ways to put their kids first and to be able to communicate,” Dr. Douglas notes.

By Kristen Knight
Source: Claudia Boozer-Blasco, extension educator, Family & Consumer Resources, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension; Marilyn Coleman, PhD, director of graduate studies, Curators' Professor, University of Missouri Department of Human Development and Family Studies; Emily Douglas, PhD, assistant professor, Social Work Department, Bridgewater State College; Co-Parenting After Divorce by Diana Shulman, JD, PhD. WinnSpeed Press, 1996; The Co-Parenting Survival Guide: Letting Go of Conflict After a Difficult Divorce by Elizabeth S. Thayer, PhD, and Jeffrey Zimmerman, PhD. New Harbinger Publications Inc., 2001; Divorce Rules for Men by Martin M. Shenkman, JD, and Michael J. Hamilton. John Wiley & Sons, 2003; Good Parenting Through Your Divorce by Mary Ellen Hannibal. Marlowe & Company, 2002; Parenting After Divorce: A Guide to Resolving Conflicts and Meeting Your Children’s Needs by Philip M. Stahl, PhD. Impact Publishers, 2000; The Single Parent Resource by Brook Noel with Art Klein. Champion Press, 1998; Parents Without Partners, www.parentswithoutpartners.org; U.S. Census Bureau, www.census.gov

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