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Feature Article


Co-parenting while living apart

Angie Nickell, former Graduate Assistant, Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri


Co-parenting involves negotiating how day-to-day parenting responsibilities and decisions will be shared. The extent to which parents can work together as partners in parenting is related to children’s adjustment and well-being. Studies have shown that children with parents who cooperate and support each other do better in school and have higher self-esteem. However, co-parenting can be especially difficult for divorced, separated and never-married parents who must work together while living apart. Below are some tips to make it easier.


How can I effectively co-parent with my child’s other parent?


  • Try to come to an agreement on parenting decisions with the other parent. Effective co-parenting takes place when children receive the same message from both parents. Whether the parenting decision is about setting a bedtime or whether or not the child can join the soccer team, children benefit when they observe their parents cooperating and supporting each other’s parenting efforts.
  • Keep the other parent informed about your child’s school issues, activities, medical issues and any concerns about his or her behavior or discipline.
  • Do not use your child as a messenger or spy. It is very difficult for a child to cope with feeling caught in the middle. Therefore, when you need to communicate with the other parent, contact him or her directly and ask him or her to do the same. Also, do not ask your child questions about the other parent’s personal life.
  • Avoid arguing with the other parent in front of your child. When co-parenting disagreements arise, try to work toward resolving the issue in private. Some behaviors that help conflict resolution are: clear, non-defensive communication, mutual respect, maintaining focus on the topic at hand, and remaining calm. Leave criticism, defensiveness and sarcasm out of your discussion.
  • Do not use your child as an ally. Your child wants to love both parents. Asking your child to take your side in any situation regarding the other parent can create a tremendous amount of stress for your child.
  • Do not criticize the other parent in your child’s presence. One of the most stressful events for a child is when a parent puts down the other parent in front of the child. Avoid venting your hostile feelings toward the other parent in front of your child. Also, think carefully when you are talking about the other parent when your child can overhear you. Focus on developing your relationship with your child rather than your negative feelings for the other parent.


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Last Updated 02/20/2017