The Reality of Co-Parenting

When parents attend our co-parenting programs, they hope to reduce conflict and increase their communication with the other parent. They hope the other parent will learn skills that will make them easier to deal with and that co-parenting will be easier. These are very common thoughts that are shared by parents attending both our Family Workshops for Separated and Divorced Families and Cooperative Co-Parenting Programs.

Here’s the thing about divorce. . . YOU HAVE NO CONTROL OVER THE OTHER PARENT! You have no say so about what happens or doesn’t happen in their home, how they communicate with you or how they treat you or behave in front of your children.


This said, attending a co-parenting program can be mind-changing and transformational, BUT, you have to put in the work, the energy and the time. To be honest, no matter your wish or hopes, the other person is not reading this, only you are.

Here are some thoughts to ponder. . .

and tips on managing them. . .

If you find yourself saying, “Our child is failing in school because my co-parent doesn’t oversee homework at their house.”

At the end of the day, your child is responsible for their success in school. Parents can help and support, but they cannot get inside their child’s brain.

EXAMPLE: The teacher keeps emailing us that our child is behind in homework. I do homework at my house, but my co-parent doesn’t make our child do homework at their house.

REALITY: Homework is assigned so children practice what they learn in school. The idea is that we learn concepts, but practice turns the concept into a skill (if you attended our programs, you may have heard this message). This said, there is not a lot of time in our weekdays after school. Having downtime and family time is important for children’s development. Instead of spending your time blaming your co-parent for your child’s failing in school, consider that your child is failing because your child needs help understanding the concepts. Talk with your child to understand (use Active Listening) and then talk with the teachers. Schedule time for you and your child to talk with the teacher(s) and work with them to help your child be successful. Remember, teachers do not need to know your life story, you’re meeting with them to help your child tell their story around homework and to help them create a plan that will work for them. Here are some questions you can ask to get support for your child while they are in school. 

Is there a homework club? Are there tutors? For homework time, could your child do the first and last problem on every math sheet instead of all of them? Could reading be done for shorter time spans or during the weekend instead of daily? 

State to the teachers that you are only able to help with homework when your children are with you. Do not blame or point fingers, and do not talk about your co-parent. They are not in the meeting so neither should references to them. If your child is in the meeting, let them take the lead to problem solve with the teacher. If they are not in the meeting, be proactive and wonder how you are able to help with your child’s homework success on the days they live with you. Regardless of who is or isn’t helping with homework, make a plan with the teachers that will work in your home. Encourage your child’s learning by making it fun and less stressful and remember to praise and encourage your children for their successes .

If you find yourself saying, “My co-parent doesn’t communicate with me and signs our child up for activities that sometimes fall on my days.”

You have no control over what others do or say.

EXAMPLE: My co-parent signed our child up for sports and some of the practices and games are on “my” days with our child. A common go to thought is “No, I’m not giving up my time for something they scheduled.”

REALITY: Children benefit from participating in team sports and activities. Whether it is soccer, ballet, art classes or karate, children learn about rules, respect, teamwork, problem-solving, integrity and commitment. These are all traits that help children grow up into good students and employees. The reality is that your children are learning from you first. This said, if you
choose to not allow them to participate, you are teaching them that commitment to your team or others is not important or valued. Instead, control what you can control. Go to the coach, introduce yourself and ask to be added to the parent communication list so you get the schedule and all the communications directly. Then, take your child and support them. It may not feel like it at first, but when you are your child’s biggest cheerleader, even if your co-parent is present and your child visits with them briefly during the event, your relationship with your child will be even stronger than it is now. Make it about your child!

If you find yourself saying, “I need them to…”

When you need someone else to do something, accept the reality that it is NOT the job of others to meet your needs.

EXAMPLE: My co-parent is always late. I need them to be on
time because I have plans.

REALITY: Your co-parent is probably always late. It is who they are. Take control of your own needs and stop making plans around transition times. If your co-parent tends to run an hour late, schedule your plans to begin two hours after your scheduled transition time. Who cares if they are late, enjoy the extra time with your children!

If you find yourself saying, “My co-parent never listens to me and when they respond to my messages, the messages are like 5 or more paragraphs long.”

What you say may be important, but others are not required to listen to you. You have no control over what they do.

EXAMPLE: We use a communication application that the judge court ordered us to use. But, my co-parent still sends nasty messages, writes mean things and accuses me of anything and everything you can imagine. Every time I read the messages, I am triggered and it distracts me from whatever I am doing.

REALITY: Control what you can control. Do you have notifications turned on? If yes, we invite you to immediately turn them off. You can choose when to check the app or your texts/emails. Court orders typically require you to respond within a time period. The time period is typically not immediately and you usually have at least 24 hours to respond. After turning off the notifications, you get to choose when to read the messages versus being controlled by them. If every message is a story, stop reading every word. Skim the message for question marks and then read that sentence. You may need to read the sentence right before it for context. Also, skim the message for the names of your children or the word children if that is how your co-parent typically refers to them. Read the sentence with your child’s name and determine if it is informational or if it requires a response. That’s it. No need to read the nasty or mean words. Control what you can control. If you have feelings about the message, respond, “Thank you for your message. I’ll get back to you xxxx (give a time frame).” You have complied with your court order to respond within a time period. If you say you will get back to your co-parent, follow through because that is what you expect them to do for you. If there are no questions or anything that actually requires a response, a simple “Thank you” or thumbs up emoji works. If the message does require a response. Draft it but do not send. Walk away and come back the next day (if you attended our programs, this is the skill of responding versus reacting). Edit your message to remove emotion, defensiveness, or your personal justifications about anything. Ask yourself, would I send this email to my boss or co-worker? If the answer is “No”, do not send it to your co-parent. Once you are divorced, consider yourself being in business with your co-parent with the business being to raise your children to be kind, caring and compassionate people. Keep it unemotional and businesslike

Co-parenting dynamics follow your dynamics of when you were together. The divorce paper does not mean the dynamics go away. Here’s a fact – IT TAKES TWO TO HAVE CONFLICT! If you are in a conflictual relationship with your co-parent, we encourage you to look at your own behaviors, words and actions. You may not be starting the conflict, but you may be helping it continue. The reality – SUCCESSFUL CO-PARENTING IS NOT EASY. It takes time, skills and
commitment to reduce conflict and improve communication. Kids’ Turn San Diego is here to help and support you on your journey. YEP, IT’S A JOURNEY. One that includes grieving, forgiving, letting go of what didn’t work and finding a new common ground – your children. When you see your child’s other parent as your “ex”, that is about an intimate relationship between two adults and when you are no longer together, that relationship is over! It is important to grieve the loss of that intimate relationship and forgive yourself for any possible ways that you contributed to the loss (yes, this is part of the journey). When you begin to see the parent of your children as your co-parent, now you are in the business of raising happy and healthy children. Two parents (co-parents) who looked into the eyes of their children on the day they were born and who fell in love. Divorce doesn’t change this memory or love. Kids’ Turn San Diego honors you as a parent and we believe you will be the best co-parent possible, when you choose to be.

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