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Modern families: Strategies for healthier, happier co-parenting By Audra Heiking, LMFT, Behavioral Health Consultant, Children's Wisconsin

Modern families: Strategies for healthier, happier co-parenting

Every parent wants to provide their children a loving and supportive environment. But stress and tension from an unhealthy relationship with a fellow parent can trickle down and affect your child.

When it comes to co-parenting, respect, negotiation, communication and mutual support are your best allies. Whether post-separation dynamics, sharing custody, or simply looking for smoother collaboration, successful co-parenting is all about finding harmony in situations you can't always control. 

In many cases, both parents have their child's best interest at heart. When you keep that in mind, the focus remains on the child. Go into co-parenting assuming the best intentions and I believe you will be more successful in your co-parenting journey. 

Why is healthy co-parenting important?

Healthy co-parenting can help your child transition and adjust into their new normal. It models healthy communication, problem-solving and how to navigate relationships. 

The stakes of ineffective co-parenting are high. Constant fighting or tension can affect your child's development. Children who have healthy co-parenting relationships generally have more positive relationships with both parents, as well as better mental health outcomes overall.

Children whose parents struggle to co-parent effectively tend to have higher rates of emotional and behavioral issues, such as anxiety and depression. Problematic parent-child relationships are also a struggle for children whose parents can't co-parent. 

What are some strategies to better co-parent?

Let's start with some strategies for making co-parenting a little less rocky and more rewarding. First, let go of competition and hostility toward the other parent. I know this is often easier said than done, but it’s important. Each parent is inevitably different — and that's okay! Focus on a team approach and the strengths of each parent to bring value to your child's life. 

Second, remove personal feelings about your co-parent, particularly if you feel harmed by them. Always put the child's needs first. Your child loves both parents and doesn’t want to hear bad things about someone they love. 

And last, understand that effective communication is the foundation of successful co-parenting. It helps facilitate cooperation, understanding and effective decision-making for the well-being of your child. To this end, choose a mode of communication that works for you and your co-parent. Whether that’s text, phone, email or in-person, pick one and stick with it.

How can you set healthy boundaries as a co-parent?

Emotional boundaries are crucial for maintaining a healthy and functional relationship between parents and children. There are a few strategies to keep in mind:

  • Be clear about your goals for your child and how you would like to achieve them. If a co-parent differs, remember that compromise is an important step in supporting the views of both parents.

  • Keep your child out of conflict and take a solution-focused approach to solving issues as they arise.

  • Be supportive of your co-parents' role in your child's life. If you have information about your child that would be helpful to the other parent, share it.

  • Maintain a routine and consistency for your child. There will obviously be some differences between households, but they shouldn't be drastic. Things like bedtimes, how much screen time, what foods and TV shows are allowed or not allowed … as much as possible, keep rules and expectations the same. Lack of consistency of expectations can create more stress for all involved. The child can struggle to adjust between households and parents become increasingly frustrated.

Seeking help for co-parenting 

Even in the best situations, issues can arise that may impact your child’s mental and behavioral health. To help address those needs, Children's Wisconsin has incorporated mental health care into all of its primary care offices. Licensed mental health providers called behavioral health consultants work alongside your child’s pediatrician and can provide immediate support during an appointment. 

If you don’t have an upcoming appointment, you can send a MyChart message to your pediatrician or behavioral health consultant describing what your child is experiencing. They can provide some quick tips or schedule an appointment if they feel your child needs to be seen (just like you would with a sore throat). 

Parenting is hard, regardless of the specific arrangements of the parents or guardians. But if you keep these guidelines in mind — and always act in the best interest of the child — you’ll be well on your way to a happier and healthier modern family.