The Most Essential Rules That All Co-Parents Should Follow
- The cardinal rule of co-parenting is always making sure to put the child and the child’s needs first.
- It is also essential for co-parents to always make sure they are working together (rather than against one another), and to always keep the lines of communication open. Communication is particularly critical because a lack of communication between co-parents can result in the child’s needs not being met.
- For co-parents who have trouble communicating, there are various tools—such as apps and co-parenting notebooks—that can be useful in facilitating communication while avoiding confrontation and conflict.
I am often asked about the most essential rules for co-parents to follow. After years of experience, I have managed to narrow it down to a few basic rules that are more than likely to serve all co-parents.
Perhaps the single most important co-parenting rule to follow is this: always put your child’s needs first. Not your needs, not your co-parenting relationship’s needs, but your child’s needs. If both parties can keep the child’s needs at the forefront, they will have the best chance at a successful co-parenting relationship.
This is the cardinal rule of co-parenting. However, there are a couple of other rules that I think are important.
- Always Work Together. I think it’s important that parents work together to ensure their child’s psychological, spiritual, and physical wellbeing, as well as their safety. These needs have to be met for the child in both homes. This rule is something of an accompaniment to putting your child’s needs first. Ensure that your child has a smooth transition between each of his homes by working with your co-parent to make each transition easy and expected for the child.
- Always Communicate. Communication is also key to a healthy co-parenting relationship. You should always be communicating with your co-parent about anything of importance to your child. If there has been a change in plans (or if you would like to request one), communication is paramount. The line of communication should always be kept open, and both co-parents should be kept informed and in-the-loop at all times.
It is essential that co-parents avoid hiding anything that has to do with the child, or depriving the other parent of information that pertains to how the child is doing when they are away from said parent. It is wildly unproductive to say things like, “This is my time, and you don’t need to worry about how he’s doing here.” That sort of mentality will set you up for failure and resentment outright.
If you’re not willing to communicate with your co-parent, you’re certainly not putting your child’s needs first. It goes without saying, in my opinion, that both co-parents have to be involved in providing for the child’s needs. As transitions occur and the child moves between houses, there has to be communication between co-parents to ensure continuity between them. This way, they will know what to expect week in and week out, and what might be going on with the child this week because of something that happened last week, when they were at their other parent’s house. Furthermore, do not misread this to believe that there cannot be specialized safety measures in place to protect each parent or the child in a particular case. But safety measures needed in your specific case do not obviate the need to remember these few rules.
Why Is Communication Between Co-Parents So Critical? What’s at Risk if You Don’t Have Good Communication With Your Co-Parent?
If you don’t have good communication with your co-parent, your co-parenting relationship and the wellbeing of your child could be harmed in several ways.
First, it becomes difficult for your child to transition between their two households. Often, if the child is old enough to perceive the lack of communication between their parents, they may feel that it is now their burden to facilitate communication between two resistant adults. We never want to put a child in the middle like that.
To avoid getting to that point, we want parents communicating with each other openly and honestly about how the child is doing, so that the child doesn’t feel compelled to take on that role.
Additionally, if co-parents aren’t communicating well, then the child might not get all of their needs met sufficiently.
For example, let’s say that the child’s teacher sent a note home on one of Parent A’s nights saying that the child needs extra reading lessons at home to improve their vocabulary. If Parent A never communicates this to Parent B, then Parent B will not know to give the child extra reading lessons, and the child will miss out on the opportunity to get these lessons every night—simply because Parent A happened to have custody of the child on the night that the teacher sent the note home.
In this scenario, the only one being harmed is the child. Parent B doesn’t need the extra reading lessons, and will not suffer any harm if the child doesn’t catch up on his vocabulary words, for example. So, when parents withhold or neglect communication with their co-parent, it is often the case that the only person suffering is the child. This is why communication is so important: so that we can ensure that the child doesn’t suffer from the lack of information being passed between the two parties.
What About Co-Parents Who Are on Very Tense or Unfriendly Terms? Are There Methods of Communication That Are Best to Use in Order to Exchange Information While Avoiding Conflict?
Let’s just say first that technology is a wonderful thing. A number of products have hit the market in the last decade to address the specific communication needs of co-parents with this specific sort of dynamic.
For example, there are several applications that you can put on your phone to help you co-parent, which includes the ability to communicate by text. All communications on the app are independently archived, so neither party can delete them, and both can have a record of what has been said, and when it has been said. The app also includes the ability to share and save relevant files, images, and links, as well as the child’s various calendars (school calendars, sports and extracurricular calendars, medical appointment calendars, etc.).
These sorts of apps also allow for the sharing of bills and payments to be made if part of your co-parenting plan includes cost-sharing. They allow for the sharing of schedules, appointment reminders, education notes and much more.
A handful of apps out on the market today that allow you to co-parent and communicate more efficiently. You can load this information onto your cellphone and have that co-parenting organization and communication right there in one spot, on the device you carry on your person at all times. This facilitates non-violent, conflict averse communication.
If you’re not that technologically savvy, or you don’t feel comfortable having an app on your phone, a co-parenting journal or a notebook that travels between the homes is also an excellent tool for anti-conflict communication between co-parents.
In these notebooks, parents can write down anything their co-parent needs to know about how the previous week went, as well as anything that might have been communicated by the school, or any other piece of pertinent information. You can also print out and include the child’s schedule for school, extracurricular activities, and appointments, and tape it to one of the notebook pages.
I think the most important thing when discussing communication is not what type of communication device the family picks, but that both parties agree that they are going to use it, and actually follow through. After all, there’s no point in any device or tool if one parent refuses or decides not to use it.
It’s actually very common in many courts to order the use of a specific device or tool for communication between co-parents. Usually, co-parents can choose the specific tool or method. However, if they can’t reach an agreement, the judge may pick one for them. In any case, as long as both parties agree to use the same tool/device to communicate, then there really is a wide variety of options to choose from.
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