How to Be a Great Co-Parent If You Don't Get Along With Your Ex

Even if you're not best friends with your ex, you can still be a great parent anyway.

Ideally, we'd all be able to consciously uncouple (ala Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin). But, relationship dynamics are complex and so if you can't or don't want to maintain a friendship with your ex, you're not a failure. Rest assured, you can still be a great co-parent even if you don't get along with your ex.

As much as I would enjoy a made-for-TV movie friendship with my ex-husband, the odds of that happening are about as likely as us getting back together. It was a tough pill for me to swallow once I realized that even though I was comfortable with being friendly, my ex was not. But somehow, we keep on keeping on.

Read on to learn why friendships with exes can be tricky, and how to be a great parent even if you can't be friends with your ex.

Post-Divorce Friendships

If we're all going to be honest with ourselves, being besties with your former spouse may not be in the cards for you. Sure, in a perfect world it would be, but then again, we could argue that in a perfect world, you wouldn't have gotten divorced and all marriages would be endlessly harmonious and full of passion.

I hear so many people talk about how much they dislike their ex, and each and every time I am compelled to cut them off and say, "Well, yeah, duh, that's why you're divorced." Sometimes people make it through divorce with a friendship intact, but not always.

According to research, post-break-up friendships aren't that uncommon. In two studies that evaluated friendships with ex-romantic partners, 59-65% of people stayed friends with their exes after their breakup. Researchers identified four primary reasons for people's desire to stay friends:

  • Security
  • Practicality (like having children together)
  • Civility
  • Unresolved romantic desire

People who remained friends for practical or civility reasons had better outcomes. Even so, their friendships didn't always last longterm.

Repeat after me: You do not have to turn a soured marriage into a deep, meaningful friendship in order for your co-parenting lifestyle to work.

How to Co-Parent Without Friendship

Many people leave their marriage with feelings of resentment and pain. In the meantime, you're left to wonder how to move on from a marriage while simultaneously sharing children with someone you will no longer share a life with.

Repeat after me: You do not have to turn a soured marriage into a deep, meaningful friendship in order for your co-parenting lifestyle to work. In fact, you don't even have to like your ex to make it work. Sometimes, to co-parent effectively, you have to stop trying to force a friendship that just may not be in the cards.

It's not the easiest thing to navigate, but there are ways to be a great co-parent, even if your schedule does not include weekly coffee dates and long, friendly conversations with your ex-spouse.

You don't have to like your ex, but you do have to respect them.

Treat It Like a Business

In the early days of my separation, I was completely caught up in emotion and worried about how my ex might react to painful bits of news, such as "I'm taking our daughter on vacation with my new fiancé." My lawyer gave me the advice to treat our relationship like a business. We reserved communication to email, we kept things simple and dry, and I really enforced the need-to-know basis thing, fully drawing lines in the sand and setting boundaries.

In addition, your co-parenting relationship should leave no room for one parent to badger the other with questions about their personal life or their plans with the kids on their time. Good co-parenting boundaries include keeping communication on a need-to-know basis and nothing more.

Model Respect

You don't have to like your ex, but you do have to respect them. The more respectful the relationship between the two of you, the more comfortable your child or children will be with your new co-parenting situation.

If a child observes one parent talking badly about the other, this disrespects both the parent and the child. At this point, sometimes parental alienation will inevitably occur. According to Psychology Today, parental alienation is when a child doesn't want to have a relationship with a parent due to manipulation from another parent. Alienation is upsetting and confusing for kids.

And research shows that bringing kids into adult drama can lead to "feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing children to question their own strengths and abilities."

Have Open Lines of Communication

Communication is important in a co-parenting relationship, but keeping it just about the children is totally OK. Being able to check in with your ex about certain things will ensure that you remain on the same page with covering the children's needs. For example, you may need to regularly communicate about like topics, like:

Open communication is important for consistency, your kids' well-being, and for establishing and maintaining trust.

Be Consistent

It is no secret that children thrive with consistency. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), a consistent approach to parenting after divorce has a protective affect on kids. Children do best when parents are collaborative and have consistent rules and discipline between homes.

Having two sets of rules in two different homes—if one parent allows television before bed and the other does not, for example—can send very negative and mixed messages to the children. These kinds of messages can increase any anxiety associated with "the unknown." So, it's important to agree on boundaries that both you and your ex can maintain with the children.

The Bottom Line

It can be difficult to parent gracefully through such a painful experience filled with complicated emotions, but it's possible. Good boundaries, respect, open communication, and consistency are things that can help you be a great co-parent. And the good news? You don't have to be friends with your ex to make it work!

Michelle Dempsey-Multack is a mother, writer, speaker, marketing expert, and fierce girl-gang enthusiast and author of Moms Moving On: Real Life Advice for Conquering Divorce, Co-Parenting Through Conflict, and Becoming Your Best Self. A native New Yorker, Michelle now resides in Miami with her 4-year-old daughter, Bella, her husband Spencer, a beautiful step-daughter, and a very needy cat.

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