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  • Writer's pictureDevin Olivia Barton-Torres

Co-Parenting with Grace: Effective Communication and Supportive Family Norms


A brown-skinned man with dreaded hair is doing crafts with a small child wearing a pink outfit and headband.

Co-parenting can be both a challenging and rewarding experience as parents navigate shared responsibilities, changing family dynamics, and the well-being of their children. It involves a high level of cooperation, communication, and collaboration between parents or caregivers to support decision-making, boundaries, and providing care and support for their children. The goal of co-parenting is to create a stable and loving environment for children regardless of the relationship between the parents. Decisions involved include parenting time, joint decision-making on important issues such as education and healthcare, and how parents plan to approach changes in holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations. Co-parenting is based on a shared understanding that the children’s needs are at the forefront and asks both parents to strive for a healthy, positive, and caring approach to working together to support this. Transitioning from a two-parent household to a single-parent home with a co-parent can be disorienting and confusing at first. In time you’ll find a flow that works for you and your children. The strategies covered in this blog are only a few of the ways you can support this transition in loving, compassionate, and healthy ways for you and your children.


Practice Effective Communication


Effective communication is an essential part of co-parenting. Effective communication is the ability to convey messages in thoughtful, informative, and accurate ways. It involves a high level of active listening, openness, and collaboration. Effective communication is about exchanging ideas, feelings, and information in a way that promotes increased understanding and collaboration between people. Effective communication involves several key elements, including:


Clarity: Communication is more effective when people are able to express their thoughts, ideas, and needs in clear and concise ways. People don’t assume the other person “just knows” and errs on the side of over-communicating to avoid confusion or conflict. They also avoid jargon, technical, or complex language.


Active Listening: Active listening involves fully focusing on what the other person is communicating and seeking clarity when there’s a misunderstanding. It’s more than simply hearing the words the person is saying and aims to truly understand what they’re attempting to communicate.


Non-verbal communication: One study found about 55% of communication is nonverbal, 38% is vocal, and 7% is words only. This means the vast majority of our communication isn’t conveyed through words, but through body language, tone, eye contact, and other non-verbal cues. Effective communicators are aware of the power of non-verbal communication and train themselves to not only read other people’s non-verbals, but to also use non-verbal communication to support their message.


Empathy: Empathy is the ability to understand another person’s feelings, thoughts, or experience. It’s deeper than sympathy because it calls people to actively imagine and understand another person’s perspective. Empathy uses skills such as emotional awareness, perspective taking, non-judgement, and compassion to support a loving and kind response to other people’s circumstances.


Respect: Respect and empathy work closely together to support actions and behaviors that treat others with kindness and care. Respect is powerful in allowing us to honor our own boundaries and another person’s reality at the same time. Demonstrating respect to our co-parent even when we’re in disagreement teaches our children to use kindness, compassion, and care even in challenging moments.


Adaptability: Co-parenting is challenging because we are required to work within or around the capacity and limits of another person. There may be fundamental differences in how each parent chooses to raise children. They may be guided by a different set of values or beliefs. They may have a different understanding of the needs of children or different priorities they choose to focus on. Adaptability allows a both/and to exist: The acknowledgment that both parents are doing their best, and the space to individuate from each other so they can honor their own values as a parent.


Create Routines and Rhythms that Work for Your Family


Separation and divorce are difficult on children because of the way it disrupts familiar routines. It can feel overwhelming to adjust to the demands of single parenting. Many parents attempt to hold onto the routines they were accustomed to with a partner in the home, but those routines may not be realistic or even in the best interest of parents or children following a separation. Work with your children to create new routines that speak to the needs that arise following a family’s restructuring. For many parents a daily routine may even feel difficult. This is particularly true for parents that are neurodiverse, live with mental illness, or work non-traditional jobs. In these cases, parents may resonate more strongly with “rhythms” that allow for more flexibility and fluidity. Rhythms support the stability and structure children need to feel secure, have predictability that can be followed, and a higher level of flexibility that allows you to move with the resource availability for that day, week, or season.


There may be seasons where co-parenting is easier, allowing a higher level of energy, emotional availability, and time for parenting demands. There may be seasons of tension or conflict with your co-parent that deplete your resources, and in those times allowing yourself to slow down and only do what’s required may be the better option. Rhythms allow for a higher level of flexibility and adaptability with the ebbs and flows co-parenting and single parenthood brings.


Life is dynamic, and flexibility is crucial in co-parenting. Openness to adjustments and a willingness to accommodate change teaches children to honor their own needs, respect where other people are at, and practice flexibility that supports building resilience across the lifespan.


For many parents a daily routine may even feel difficult. This is particularly true for parents that are neurodiverse, live with mental illness, or work non-traditional jobs. In these cases, parents may resonate more strongly with “rhythms” that allow for more flexibility and fluidity.

Establishing Healthy Co-Parenting Norms


Family norms include all the unwritten rules, expectations, and values that guide behaviors and interactions within the family unit. They’re deeply influenced by cultural, social, and personal factors and may vary from parent to parent. Creating a supportive co-parenting environment involves fostering healthy and supportive family norms. These norms may vary for each household as each parent adjusts to the new parenting dynamic, but both can still prioritize the child's well-being and maintain a sense of consistency for their children. Family norms include a wide range of aspects of family life, including:

  • Communication styles and expectations

  • Decision-making processes

  • Roles and responsibilities

  • Discipline strategies

  • Rituals, celebrations, and traditions

These provide a framework for understanding what behaviors are considered acceptable within a family unity. They help create a shared identity and family culture and shape relationships among family members. Co-parents can talk about what norms they want to create for their children as they set about their individual parenting journeys. These conversations may include what discipline strategies are hard no’s, how they’ll make big decisions that impact their children, and how parents will communicate important information to each other. The more clearly understood these norms are, the easier it will be for both parents to navigate co-parenting with ease, grace, and a sense of teamwork.

Prioritize Self-Care and Compassion


Co-parenting can be emotionally challenging at times. Prioritizing self-care and compassion can help parents navigate these various challenges in healthy and supportive ways, not just for their children but also for themselves. Taking time to rest, recharge, and engage in activities that promote your emotional well-being supports you in sustaining the energy for the long-term commitment of co-parenting.


Self-care is a practice of taking care of yourself in a holistic way. It includes physical, emotional, mental, vocational, social, and spiritual wellness. Self-care is often approached as a luxurious or indulgent activity, when in reality it is a daily practice of creating harmony and sustainability in your life. Daily self-care habits can include:

  • Adequate sleep and rest

  • Practicing mindfulness

  • Prioritizing nourishing and engaging your body

  • Connecting with people you love

  • Engaging in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment

  • Setting and maintaining healthy boundaries

  • A self-reflection practice

  • Seeking professional support

Self-compassion is a critical part of a sustainable self-care practice. It’s an ongoing practice of treating yourself with kindness, understanding, patience, and grace, particularly during difficult times. Self-compassion invites you to extend the same level of empathy you would give a loved one to yourself. It creates room for your pain and struggle without judgment or criticism. It centers your emotional and psychological wellness as a foundational part of effectively and lovingly parenting your children.


Both self-care and self-compassion are critical to effectively co-parenting. They give you room to step away from a co-parenting dynamic that isn’t working for you. They empower you to advocate for the help and resources you need on your parenting journey. They extend love when mistakes are made and provide gentle care as you develop new skills. Integrating self-care and compassion are powerful ways to sustain co-parenting in a way that’s in alignment with your goals and values as a parent.


Factors such as domestic abuse, a narcissistic parent, or an emotionally unavailable parent can not only complicate co-parenting but may also make it impossible. Alternatives such as parallel parenting may be a better alternative in these cases.

Successful co-parenting requires commitment, cooperation, and effective communication from both parents to create a supportive and nurturing environment for your children. It involves a high level of respect for each other’s roles and responsibilities in supporting and sustaining a healthy environment for your children. Factors such as domestic abuse, a narcissistic parent, or an emotionally unavailable parent can not only complicate co-parenting but may also make it impossible. Alternatives such as parallel parenting may be a better alternative in these cases. This allows parents to take individual responsibility for what they can control and releases you from any expectations of cooperation from your child’s other parent. You know your co-parenting situation best and the authority in determining what parenting approach will work best in your situation. As a single parent, the most important part of raising your children is to do it in a way that honors your needs, safety, and well-being. Give yourself grace, compassion, and kindness as you learn to navigate these waters. Trust your intuition to guide you. You have all the wisdom you need to parent in a way that’s best for you and your children and you’re never alone in this journey.


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