My Ex and I Have Been Separated for a Year. Here Are 5 Ways We Navigate Successful Co-Parenting

successful coparenting after divorce cat

When you’ve made the decision to start a family with someone, divorce is never the intended outcome. Yet, it happens all the time—and when it does, it’s often for the best. That said, figuring out how to child-rear with an ex is no picnic. I should know, because I’ve been doing it for over a year as a parent to a 5- and 7- year-old. The good news? After a bumpy start and a lot of learning, I have to say that all four of us are doing…pretty OK. 

Everybody’s situation is different (I’m lucky to have an ex who agrees with me about the fundamentals of parenting), but if you’re navigating this strange new reality for the first time, I’ve got a few tips that might be useful…or, at the very least, provide some solace.

1. We have a firm schedule

As a work-from-home mom without childcare, schedule is everything, and I need to know when I’m taking people to the playground and when I’m free to do things like buy groceries, do the laundry, clean the bathroom and, oh yeah, do my job. Bottom line: I need to know who has the kids when, and for how long. Many custody agreements formalize this for couples, but my ex and I decided it on our own, by looking at both our needs and schedules in tandem; Since he works weekend evenings and I write best on weekday mornings, I have the kids every Thursday to Saturday, while he has them every Sunday to Tuesday, and we switch Wednesdays. (Sidenote: kids also really like a schedule, which helps them feel a sense of control.)

2. And set clear boundaries

While it’s important to develop a fixed schedule right out of the gate, I’ve found that my co-parenting situation has evolved over time, and now we can be more accommodating when things do come up. (You have to work an extra shift? I’ll trade you a night. I want to take the kids on a long-weekend vacation? You’re cool with it.) This is a positive development, to be sure, but it’s also predicated on boundary-setting and friendly (or at least neutral) communication. The first step, for us, was learning how to say no, and for the other party to accept that no for an answer. (Example: your ex asks you to take the kids to gymnastics since he has a work meeting; you decide to keep your plans with a friend and no argument ensues.) Only once this respect for boundaries is second nature can flexibility enter the picture.

3. We have rules for communication

When it comes to being apart from your children for days at a time, the angst is real. Both my ex and I found the two-home set-up really heart wrenching at first, despite the fact that our kids took to it well. As such, there was a strong urge to stay constantly connected (How did dinner go? Does Sam like his new toothbrush?) But ultimately, it became clear to us that the expectation for frequent updates was both onerous and intrusive. The precious QT we wanted with our kids was being squandered as we were glued to our phones—sending pictures and updates, or pissing each other off if we failed to do so. The solution? Back to those boundaries. Now, we have an agreed-upon time at which the other person can expect to receive a recap of the day’s events or even a chat with the kids, with no expectation of communication in between.

4. We keep back-and-forth to a minimum

Figuring out the logistics of raising kids in two separate homes can feel like a full-time job—namely because kids have so much damn stuff. Plus, despite all the schlepping (and there is a lot), one of us still always manages to forget some supposedly critical item at every hand-off. For this reason, my ex and I decided it was time to put the kibosh on most back-and-forth items.

Now, both our homes are amply stocked with toys, and those toys stay put. Likewise, we each keep a stocked wardrobe, and if the pink leotard she wants to wear is at Daddy’s, so be it. In fact, the only personal items that do travel back and forth are school folders, treasured stuffed animals (two per kid), water bottles and whatever chapter book we’re currently reading. Needless to say, the weekly transitions got so much easier…and it turns out that neither of my kids really require the emotional support of 35 different stuffed animals anyway.

5. I never say a bad word about my ex in front of the kids (even when I really want to)

Let’s be honest, relations between separated parents aren’t always hunky dory, and no matter how much I respect my ex, when I see him do something infuriating, it’s difficult to keep a lid on it. 

Now I’m not here to preach on the subject of avoiding trash talk. (Everybody knows it’s bad for kids to hear their own parents put each other down.) But what I can say is that, from my personal experience, the temptation to trash-talk can be intense, particularly in the early days of separation when both parties have yet to hit their stride.

For me, this meant that I had to exercise incredible restraint when the kids were under my roof and disagreements were unfolding via text or email. One thing I found helpful? Having a few trusted friends and family members who were willing to listen to me spout off, so I had an outlet other than my kids. And as a result, even if I had to go lock myself in the bathroom and text my sister a string of obscenities, I never once said a bad word in front of my children—a fact I take pride in. The only thing I will say on repeat: Papa and I both love you very, very much.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...