Raising a child is never easy, but it can be especially hard if you're no longer in a relationship with the other parent. Even though things didn't end up working out with your former partner, you can both still be great parents to the child you share together. One of the best things you can do for your child is to establish a thoughtful co-parenting relationship.
1. Maintaining Stability
So you and your ex were the happiest of couples, and you really believed you could make it work -- but everything still ended up going wrong. Don't let it make you cynical about your chances of parenting together, because your situation is not uncommon. According to the Fragile Families study conducted by researchers at Princeton University, most new unmarried parents describe themselves as happy and satisfied couples with a lot of optimism about their relationship, yet 60 percent will actually break up within five years. The good news is, you can still harness those good intentions to help you both raise happy, stable children with positive prospects in life. One way to do this is by spelling out your approach to co-parenting with a written agreement, much like a contract.
2. Co-Parenting Agreements
When you sit down with your ex to draw up your co-parenting agreement, you should include several specific commitments, such as to resolve any disagreements privately and to never say anything negative about each other in front of the child. It's also important not to make your child carry messages between you -- that's a sure way to make him feel like he has to take sides. Don't break promises to the child, such as a plan to attend a special event. Both you and your ex are probably hoping to meet someone new and move on with your romantic life, so promise to respect any new romantic relationships in which your co-parent becomes involved.
Your co-parenting agreement should also include all of the details that will make your broader commitments a reality in practice. This includes agreements about how to communicate with each other; how visits with relatives will be handled; how decisions about education, religion and medical situations will be made; how birthdays and other holidays will be planned out; how to handle major life changes such as a move, and any other practical issues you can think of. All of these issues will be much easier to handle smoothly if you address them ahead of time instead of waiting until they come up.
4. Avoiding Hurt Feelings
The co-parenting agreement can help both of you establish a strong commitment to raising your child together despite the end of your relationship. You can also contribute to the success of the arrangement by avoiding common mistakes that can damage trust and cause hurt feelings. Avoid changing plans and schedules on short notice. Don't send your new romantic partner over to pick the children up from your old partner's house -- that can quickly turn into unnecessary drama. Don't have your new partner babysit for more than a short time until trust has been established between your new partner and your old partner. The most important point is to maintain a stable, consistent, respectful relationship with your co-parent.
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