Because step-parenting and shared parenting is hard, really hard.

Patience. Communication. Choosing your battles.

These are lessons my family has learned by way of “trial by fire.” I didn’t set out to co-parent, but as a divorced parent at a very young age, and the only one in my family, I had to learn–and fast! Years later I became a step-parent and that brought a whole new set of difficulties.

But neither situation has to be a disaster! You can do this–and I hope some of the hard-knock lessons I’ve learned will help you to do it more smoothly.

A friend recently called me and asked for advice on a few parenting issues she was having in dealing with the “other parent.” She said to me that “well…um…don’t take this the wrong way, but you’ve been there.

Well, yes. Yes I have. I learned some lessons the hard way. Others I learned from experience and by trial and error. Some lessons I wish I could go back and learn a little less painfully–but learn, I did. And my children were the center of all of those trials and tribulations.

From co-parenting to step-parenting, there are a few things I have learned are helpful with both situations.

Co-parenting is difficult, but with a few strategies and a whole lot of determination and patience, you can navigate these tumultuous waters with dignity. You can help your children weather this storm and thrive!

Here at the Babienet community we provide a supportive environment for parents to interact and gather information to help them with the storms that can arise in parenting and we welcome you to join our community!

This article will provide you with a few tips to help you create the loving and supportive environment that your children need to adjust, grow, develop, learn, and enjoy their childhood in spite of the changes they are experiencing. You can do this and even when it gets really rough, you can do these things to make it better for you and your blended family.

15 Tips for raising children, Co-parenting, and Step-parenting

Co-parenting with an absent partner can be a very difficult thing to do, especially if the relationship is a contentious one. It is extremely important that you keep your relationship issues separate from the importance of raising your children in a safe and loving environment.

Separation and custody arrangements serve the purpose of settling the legal issues and determining the basic pattern of parenting and time spent with each parent, but it does not always settle the disputes. Both parents have their own set of values, their own ideas of how children should be raised, and with scheduling conflicts, the child’s needs, and lingering negative emotions between the parents–there are many grounds for disruptions that can hurt your child.

It is very important to maintain as much peace as possible and an environment of safety for your children so that they can grow and thrive even as they adjust to the difficulties of having two homes and two sets of rules to live by.

When families split and sometimes become blended into whole new family dynamics, the changes can disrupt everything your child knows about the world, sending them into a state of confusion. All parents involved need to do their part to comfort the children, and to restore their sense of security and safety.

Now, you cannot force anyone else to do what you want them to do. What YOU think is best for your child may not be what the other parent is providing. You can only change your own behavior and attitude to be one that is better for your child. You can set your mind to doing the best you can and hope it provides your child with a healthier experience. I tell my children all the time “You might not be able to change a situation, but you can change how you respond to it.

The following 15 tips are divided into three sections which are foundational for creating the nourishing environment that your child needs.

The first 5 tips are about communication.

Tip 1 –  Do not vent to your children.

Venting, complaining, whining, crying, and otherwise dumping your emotions onto your children may make you feel better by getting it off your chest–but it will make your children feel worse.

Just don’t do it at all! Therapists are there for that. A trusted friend, a pastor, or family member can also help you to keep your head in the game but this is not your child’s job. They bear enough struggle on their own trying to make sense of the changes without having to bear the burden of your own pain. Even when it gets very hard, keep your composure and handle your own emotions in the right manner.

Make this one a personal rule. Of all of these tips–this is the one that can spare your child the most pain.

Tip 2 –  Keep things as civil as possible with the absent parent.

Be as respectful, agreeable, and kind as you can be with the absent parent, especially in front of the children. Try to handle conversations that will be difficult on neutral grounds. Work toward neutral language so that you do not escalate the situation. Realize that even if the other party is elevating their language or their voice, you do not have to do so. Take time to breathe! Remember, this is about keeping things calm for the sake of the children.

When things get heated, perhaps counseling, family counseling or personal, could help. Disputes that simply cannot be settled can be handled in the court system, but avoid the escalation unless the welfare of the children is at stake. Again, do not discuss these things in front of the children because it forces them to choose sides which is very traumatizing to them.

Tip 3 –  Discuss expectations and parenting strategies with both your partner and the absent parent. Find common ground.

The adults make the rules. How much sense does it make for the adults to make the rules all individually and then never discuss them with each other?
You may not agree on everything but find common ground, understand the rules of each others’ homes, and try to focus on the things you agree on. Working together, even on small things, will reduce manipulative, secretive, or dishonest behavior in children between households.

Tip 4 –  Talk to your child and provide lots of reassurance.

What children do not understand about divorce, they will make up to their own detriment. Give your child regular opportunities to talk with you about the divorce, about the new mom or dad, or about the new siblings. Listen to them. Reassure them.

Tip 5 –  Have open family communication to make sure all family members are able to talk about how they are coping.

Open communication between all family members begins with the adults. Have open family conversations and make sure your kids know they can come to you for support, advice, and for a listening ear.

These second 5 tips are about problem solving.

Tip 6 – Try to keep from escalating.

I mentioned this briefly earlier, but escalation is a serious issue in all relationships, especially these more delicate ones. Here are some ways to avoid escalation:

  • Avoid escalating phrases such as “you always” and “you never.” Instead, say things like “When you do ‘this thing’ it makes me feel…” or “I think it would be best if we…”
  • Avoid raising your voice, yelling ,screaming, and cursing.
  • Remain calm even if the other person is escalating. Often, replying with calm behavior and a firm, empathetic, calm response can bring the tension of the moment down enough to come to a solution.

Tip 7 – Handle disruptions in your child’s behavior with care.

Most children struggle with major changes in their life causing behavioral disruptions. Be aware of this, empathize with your child, and try to get to the core of what is going on with them emotionally. Often, just having someone to stop and pay attention to what they are going through is enough to curb the behavior.

Tip 8 – Pick your battles.

I can’t shout this loud enough. Know when something is worth standing your ground about and insisting on your way. Whether or not the kids are picked up at 6:30 or 7:00 or whether or not your child is allowed to watch pornography are two very different things–but so many times, parents will argue just as hard over the little things.

Save your energy for the important moments. Behaviors in your child that are alarming or activities that could be detrimental to the health and well-being of your child (some things in this area can be gray so again, pick your battles) are “battles” you will have to face more seriously.

Also, pick your battles when it comes to your children’s behavior. Be firm and steady about what you expect from them, but save the bigger punishments for the more serious offenses.

Tip 9 – Do not “play games” with your child’s emotions or time to annoy or harass the other parent.

This goes for any co-parenting situation; children will try to pit one parent against the other, sometimes without even realizing this is what they are doing. Raising children in these complex environments can cause some children to go to extreme measures to try and meet their own needs. Communicating with the other parent is key to knowing what is actually happening so you can parent more accurately.

Do not put your children in the middle of a disagreement between parents. Do not ask them to ask the other parent questions for you. They are not the go-betweens and should not be put in this position. Do not withhold time spent with your child as a punishment to the other parent. Not only is this detrimental to your child, but it could also put you in a precarious position, legally speaking.

Tip 10 – Empower your child to work through their problems by setting a good example.

When you demonstrate problem solving, a calm demeanor, and wise counsel to your children you are teaching them how to solve their own problems. They are learning how relationships work by watching you!

Navigating the ups and downs of shared parenting, even if it is more rocky than you’d like for it to be, can be a series of “teaching moments” for your children, at the very least. Try to present the problem in such a way that you aren’t demeaning the other parent in the eyes of your children. Remember–your child is made up of half of that other parent. Criticizing the other parent is taken very personally by the child.

These last 5 tips are about activities and family structure.

Tip 11 – Treat all children fairly and consistently–do not play favorites.

This goes for all families but could not be more important than in blended families.

It is absolutely biologically natural to favor your own biological children over other children. Ecologically speaking, it makes perfect sense that a parent would want to reserve resources, attention, and love for their own child. But as humans we have evolved to be more logical beings than simply relying on our natural instincts. Therefore, it takes a certain amount of effort to overcome that natural tendency and treat all children in the family fairly whether they are your biological children or not.

It takes time to bond with children who are not biologically yours. Be patient with yourself and continue trying to treat all of the children fairly, equally, and to love them equally. Whether or not you feel that way in your heart is less important than what your children believe about how you feel. Show them that they are all loved and valued and special.

Furthermore, favoritism will cause sibling rivalry, arguments amongst the adults, and create a sense of distrust from your child or children. A more familial atmosphere is created when fairness and equality are the bottom lines.

Tip 12 – Spend time bonding and developing a relationship with non-biological children.

It takes time to bond with and develop a love relationship with a child that is not your own. You have to give that time to the relationship so that you can develop that parent-child relationship and grow it into something beautiful. Even if you have to demonstrate more love initially than you feel, the love will develop over time.

As the adult in the relationship it is your job to make the child feel loved, safe, and that you will take care of them no matter what. So present that from the beginning regardless of how you feel and give your child time to learn that you will be there for them.

Tip 13 – Pick family activities that everyone can enjoy.

Family time is bonding time that you need when you are combining families. Sometimes children have to come and go to go to other households so planning ahead for family time is important. It has been my experience that sometimes these moments are overblown or people think that they have to do something fancy or expensive or even try to outdo the other parents outside the home. Just realize even time out in the yard throwing a ball around as a family is enough to stay connected.

Pick simple activities that you can all do together that most everyone in the family enjoys. The point is to spend time together and create opportunities for laughter. Sometimes the situation can be a bit heavy and children need these moments to just laugh with their family.

Tip 14 – Focus on what unites you and work toward family unity.

As is true in co-parenting, finding common ground within combined families is also important. To avoid feeling like the family is two-sided, find common ground of the things that you both believe in, the values that matter to both sides of the family, and the routine or schedule that is most similar to what each side of the family is used to. You are creating a new family out of two other families. It goes without saying that some form of compromise is important from both sides.

For example, my daughter and her father never ate at the table for dinner, but my boys and I did. Now, as a compromise we do a little of both. Sometimes we have a more formal dinner at the table but most days we have informal dinners around a tv show or discussing the news as we eat in the living room.

Focus on what is important–time together. Not whether or not there are cloth napkins at dinner.

Tip 15 – Exercise patience and give it time.

Patience.
Give it time.
Just breathe.
This truly shall pass.

 If you have to jot those down and pin it up on a vision board, do so.

I sit here many years after the stressful, emotional upheaval of divorce. I sit here in the aftermath of raising my children, two of them now adults. It is so easy for me to look back on the worst part of it and remember that I thought I would never get through it.

But I promise you, you will get through it, your child will get through it, and someday you’ll be looking back at all of this with more clarity.

For further reading:

Co-Parenting Tips for Divorced Parents

Helping Your Child Through a Divorce

10 Surprising Findings on Shared Parenting After Divorce or Separation

20 Tips on Parenting and Discipline

Christina M. Ward,
Babienet blog contributor
Proud mother of 3 and grandmother of 2

15 Tips for Raising Children with Shared Parenting provides 15 tips for parents who are raising children with sharing parenting due to divorce or who are step-parenting. These tips help parents to stay positive and parent during what can be a difficult time.