Healthy Ways to Co-Parent Babies, Toddlers, and Young Children

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

Hostile separations and bitter divorces are clearly harmful to families, and thankfully these nasty splits are becoming a thing of the past. With the new awareness of conciliation and mediation, and the emphasis on healing, more parents are attempting to pull it together — even as they break apart — for the benefit and best interest of their children.

Children of all ages deserve first-rate parenting, which can be tough. But when mothers and fathers can put aside their own wants and needs and focus on what’s best for their children, it helps shape a family culture of doing the right thing.

It’s important for you and your child’s other parent to be on the same page with regards to doing what’s best for your child, especially when the child is very young. Here are three issues to consider when it comes to successful co-parenting of infants, toddlers and preschoolers:

Parenting schedules and parenting plans. When children are very young, their interactions with both parents need to be predictable, regular, and routine. The issue of “how much time” a child should spend at each parent’s home is often based on three factors: 1) a parent’s availability and his or her track record of consistency with parenting time; 2) your child’s readiness; and 3) whether they will be with an older brother or sister.

Ideally, young children shouldn’t go more than two or three days without seeing either parent, even if it’s only for a short period of time. While infants may not be ready for overnights with the other parent, by the time they’re toddlers or preschoolers, overnights, weekends, and extended time with the other parent should be considered the norm. Younger children tend to cope better with extended visits when they have an older sibling to keep them company.

All children, even the youngest, need to be protected from exposure to parental conflict and potential alienation. It starts with each parent conveying an attitude of respect toward the other parent. As a divorced father myself, I can remember when I would sometimes refer to my ex as “your mother” when talking to my son. But thinking back on it, calling her “your mother” sounds cold and distant. She should have been referred to strictly as “Mommy,” an affectionate and relatable phrase for a young child.

It’s also important not to argue or fight, criticize or disparage the other parent in front of your children, regardless of their age.

Balancing consistency at different homes. Children of all ages can cope with different routines in their different homes, but it often makes more sense — and you’ll do better by your children — if certain basic principles and routines remain the same in both homes: What baby products can you both agree on using? Diapers and formulas? When (and how) will you potty train? As the children get older, what are the guidelines for bedtimes? Are children going to be encouraged to sleep in their own bed, or will sleeping with mommy and daddy be a family ritual?

These are just a few examples of ways you and your ex can work together to put the best interests of your children first and promote a positive family culture moving forward.