I’ve been co-parenting with my ex-husband for seven years. Most of the time it’s okay, sometimes it’s a nightmare, and now and again it all just falls into place and we might even text each other to acknowledge what a good job we’re doing (a little reminder that divorce doesn’t have to be the end of the world is always helpful). It’s never going to be perfect — when is any kind of parenting ever that? — but you can keep those nightmares (and arguments, and misunderstandings, and wardrobe malfunctions and homework disasters) to a minimum by relying on some genius co-parenting hacks that are tried and tested by real moms and dads.
Adopt a mantra
For many co-parents, the toughest part is dealing with the ex. It’s impossible to just move on from someone without a backward glance when you share kids — some amount of interaction is necessary. It takes patience, compromise and possibly lots of deep breaths/counting to 10/therapy. Single mom Molly McKinley has another great tip: Adopt a mantra. “Co-parenting is never easy,” she admits. “But the mindset that the other parent is as important to the health and wellbeing of your children is the first step in the right direction. When things get challenging, this becomes my mantra.”
Your mantra can be anything you want it to be, as long as it focuses and motivates you and inspires you to be your best self (in this case, your best parent). For Molly, it serves as a reminder that her kids need their dad as much as they need her. ” Remember: No one else on the planet loves your kids as much as your ex,” she says. “It’s worthy to unite under that principle.”
Create a calendar
When kids live in two houses, scheduling and sticking to arrangements for after-school activities, play dates, parties, medical appointments, etc. can be a headache. To keep everyone organized, and keep communication with your ex to a minimum, a shared calendar is a must. Lots of co-parenting apps, such as Coparently and Cozi, include calendars, and, of course, there’s trusty old Google. A shared calendar to record the kids’ activities, each parent’s commitments, vacation time and any changes to the agreed custody and visitation schedule is a life-saver.
“We share an iCalendar that has co-parenting schedule added in to keep it clear who is doing what,” says single mom Angela Wallace. “Any changes can be added by either parent and approved by the other after texting, calling or emailing about it.”
Make tech your friend
Your kids’ mobile devices might be your biggest bugbear when they’re glued to them around the house, but cell phones and tablets can definitely work to your advantage when they’re with their other parent. “We got the kids their own phones so they always had access to both of us,” says Molly.
If your kids have their own devices, you can keep in touch with them without having to go through their other parent and instantly reduce the amount of stress you have to deal with, particularly if your relationship with your ex is acrimonious. But before you start texting and calling your kids constantly, remember that this is their time with their other parent. Think about how much contact you’d be willing to put up with and use that as a guide — even better, try to come to an agreement with your ex to put reasonable limits in place and let the kids know what to expect.
Share contact info
Even if things are amicable and communication is frequent, nobody wants to feel like a PA. By ensuring every teacher, team and friend’s parent has both parents’ contact information, Molly and her ex are both looped into the conversation. This creates a more level playing field, which helps to minimize frustration and resentment, and avoids a “go-between” situation nobody wants to be in. Co-parenting is demanding enough without the added responsibility of being a 24/7 message service.
Set up a weekly call
There’s always stuff to talk about when you have kids. If you’re on good terms with your ex, you might chat about everything from your kid losing a tooth to what’s on their birthday wish list. And even if you can’t stand the sound of their voice, you’re still going to have to hear it now and again. In both cases — and every other possible scenario in between those two extremes — arranging a weekly co-parenting call is an efficient way to communicate. “Every single Friday, we have a 15-minute co-parenting call in the morning to review our parenting agenda for the past week, covering basics like our daughter’s health, schooling, behavior, activities, finances, calendar changes, etc.,” says Angela. “We started that about six months ago after struggling with only communicating over text message.”
A weekly call might even lead to a better relationship with your ex. “It has really helped us get along and communicate better,” reveals Angela. “It keeps me feeling more in the loop on her Dad’s half and helps stop me from texting incessantly about any little thing because I know I will have a ‘family forum’ to discuss it properly each week.”
Think outside the box
Co-parenting isn’t just hard for the adults. Going between two houses and spending time apart from each parent can be really tough for kids too. But if you get creative, you can find a ton of ways to make the process easier for your children. Joshua David Stein and his ex have a brilliant idea to avoid talking about “Mom’s house” and “Dad’s house.” They’ve given their homes nicknames; Joshua’s house is Painting Mountain because he has a lot of paintings, while the kids’ mom’s home is Treehouse because it’s on the top floor of a house. “That way, we aren’t constantly reinforcing the Mom v. Dad idea,” says Joshua.
Take action without emotion
The first year after splitting with your ex is often the hardest. Emotions are still running high; the mere idea of forgiving and forgetting an unattainable goal. It was certainly a rough transition for single mom April LeeTopanga, “The first year was the rockiest due to anger and resentment on both parts,” she says. Like many single parents, April and her ex use TalkingParents to communicate. Forget screenshots; this app is basically a record-keeping tool for all digital communication between co-parents.
“Knowing that your communications are in a permanent, documentable form really gives you the opportunity to think about how to convey a message so that action can be taken without involving emotion,” April explains. “As a parent, it is my responsibility to do what I can to make sure my daughter maintains a healthy relationship with my ex.”
Have two sets of everything
A co-parenting arrangement comes with plenty of potential for arguments — and sometimes all it takes is a sock. Single mom Jordan Reid has the answer: “Buy 50 pairs of socks, all in the same color, for each house.” If it’s not only socks that mysteriously disappear during the transition between homes, invest in two sets of everything. If each parent has their own sports equipment, blankets, toothbrushes, medicines, textbooks, tablets and anything else your kids use on a daily basis (including socks, of course), nothing can be left behind. “The kids are going to forget things when going back and forth, and it’s going to create a hassle, and hassles have a tendency to create tension,” says Jordan.
No single thing is going to solve all your co-parenting issues. But if you get yourself a mantra, a calendar and an app that meets your needs (and buy your kids a few dozen pairs of socks) you’re moving in the right direction for sure.