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Co-Parenting Do's and Dont's

Tips to make parenting with your ex successful
Coparenting dos and donts

Families are created in many ways and when the parents of minor children decide to split, the family dynamic changes. Floodgates of thoughts, feelings, and expectations can overflow for everyone and using three simple rules can help ease the situation: communicate, cooperate, and remain calm.**

Behavioral, psychological, and academic issues can occur for children from divorced parents but these effects can vary greatly. What is key is facilitating the needs of the children and when one, or ideally both parents can communicate, cooperate, and remain calm, children's needs can be effectively addressed.


Research has shown children benefit while raised in a co-parenting situation where rules are consistent in both households, the parents communicate regularly, and each parent supports the other's authority. The opposite also occurs — children suffer when parents argue, rules are inconsistent, and when parents try to undermine each other's authority and relationship with the children.

Parallel Parenting

Parallel parenting occurs when communication cannot happen in a respectful manner, the parents are disengaged from each other, and contact is limited. This high-conflict co-parenting style can be found in situations such as physical abuse, substance abuse, and mental illness (bipolar, schizophrenia, narcissism), and maybe the healthiest way to raise the children under these circumstances.

Do's and Don'ts of Co-Parenting


  • Love your children every day and assure them everything is okay

  • Spend time with each child in nature, playing games, cooking, reading, doing physical activities

  • Keep rules consistent (bedtime, snacks, homework, chores)

  • Speak positively about the other parent to the children

  • Allow the children to call the other parent when they ask

  • Think of the interaction with the other parent more like a business interaction to keep emotions at bay

  • Make sure children have what they need (clothing, toys, bedding, special foods, medicines) at both houses and let the children suggest the duplicate items to help eliminate lost or broken favorite items traveling between homes

  • Arrive on time to drop-offs and pick-ups

  • Have the school send the same announcements to both addresses of parents

  • Invite the other parent to all children's appointments

  • Acknowledge parenting styles may differ

  • Make a calendar to keep track of parenting days/times to share, ideally posted in both homes for all to see

  • Help the children with making the other parent's special days special (birthday, father's day, mother's day, etc.)

  • If one parent can do more extravagant things than the other, let the children know how fortunate it is that they can do that activity and keep it positive

  • Keep dating life away from the children - a new face to them means potential loss of your time and affection

  • Seek professional help if the three rules cannot be met


  • Suddenly change plans without notice

  • Argue in front of the children

  • Use the children as go-betweens

  • Belittle or talk badly about the other parent

  • Discuss the details of the decision to separate/divorce with the children

  • Play good parent/bad parent

  • Purposely purchase extravagant items/trips to amplify any disparity between parents

Jane O'Grady, MA, LMFT, LPC, LLP, a psychologist in Kalamazoo, Michigan says, "Successful co-parenting looks like a calm child and it looks like two parents who are willing to set aside marital discord for the sake of their child." O'Grady tells her clients to make their interactions business-friendly. Their children are the business they have together and the tone needs to be cordial.

"The reason I do this is that their personal issues about each other don't matter anymore. This can get sticky when they try to make parenting decisions together and their old issues crop up," explains O'Grady. "Then I bring them back to what's the best course for their child or children."

O'Grady also encourages a parent to work in concert with the new stepparent. Instead of feeling aggressive toward the new spouse, O'Grady encourages the parent to form a working relationship. "This person is spending time with your child and you want to know what they are like," suggests O'Grady.

Parenting can be challenging no matter what the circumstances are and the first priority is for children to feel loved and safe. In the best scenario, the parents accept and respect their differences, the children see their parents as happy and healthy individuals, and life moves forward with cooperation, communication, and a sense of calm.

For more co-parenting support, join our empathetic community, chat with a free, trained listener, or start affordable online therapy today.


Reconsidering the "Good Divorce"/Commentary/Commentary
Amato, Paul R; Kane, Jennifer B; James, Spencer; Pryor, Jan; Ahrons, Constance R.Family Relations; Minneapolis Vol. 60, Iss. 5, (Dec 2011): 511-532.

Posted: 19 June 2019
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Julie Ford

Julie is a Michigan-based writer with a passion for mental health advocacy.

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