Co parenting can be challenging, particularly when dealing with a difficult ex. The situation can become trickier when you throw a new romantic partner into the mix.
Of course, you shouldn’t give up on finding love just because you have kids from an earlier relationship. But how do you handle co parenting while in a relationship? Is it possible to keep everyone ― kids, ex, and your new partner ― happy and still keep your sanity?
In this post, I share some practical ways to make a co parenting relationship less difficult while allowing your new romantic relationship to thrive.
Access Your Co Parenting Situation Before Starting Anything Serious
First, reflect on your co parenting circumstances before starting a serious relationship. Consider your psychological state after the breakup.
- Are you really ready to start dating again?
- Do you still feel hurt by the breakup?
- How long has it been since your separation?
- Will adding a new partner to your life be beneficial at this point, or should you wait a bit longer?
While there is no specific time to wait after divorce to start another relationship, it is usually best to allow a few months to process the difficult emotions associated with divorce.
Also, you want to get the hang of things when it comes to co parenting with your ex before adding a new partner to the mix. Consider your finances and obligations before starting a new relationship. This will ensure a smooth transition for all involved when you eventually introduce a new partner into the picture.
In a nutshell, it is usually better to avoid committing to a serious relationship in the early days after separation or divorce. Wait until you’ve established a healthy co parenting dynamic with your former spouse before getting romantically involved with a new partner.
And just in case you’re unsure about dating again after a breakup or divorce, here’s a post I recommend reading to get your feet wet.
Tell Your New Partner About Your Co Parenting Arrangements
Don’t keep your new partner in the dark about your co parenting situation. They deserve to know about your kids, your ex, and whatever contact and ongoing communication arrangements you have with your co-parent.
I strongly suggest laying all your cards on the table early in the relationship, preferably on the first date, to avoid unpleasant surprises down the road.
That said, you want to keep information about your ex to a minimum. Avoid venting about your co-parent to your new partner. Your focus should be on building a strong relationship with your partner and paving the way for them to bond with your kids.
Give Your Child a Heads Up
Your romantic relationship is not the easiest topic to discuss with your kids, especially after breaking up with their mom or dad. Consider each child’s age and emotional maturity when you broach the subject of your new relationship.
Remember that your children may not be thrilled about your decision to start a new relationship, especially if they are not over the shock of the divorce or separation.
Here’s something else to keep in mind.
Make sure you know your new partner well enough and are sure about the relationship before introducing your kids.
Never introduce your child to a new partner you don’t know too well, as that will potentially expose the kid to someone with a questionable character.
Besides, if you end up breaking up with your new partner just after introducing them (because you don’t really know them), you risk sending the wrong signals about relationships to your child.
A 2018 study suggests that children who build high rapport with their parents’ dating partners often experience problem behaviors after a breakup. For this reason, I strongly recommend leaving the kids out of your relationship until you have established something serious with the new partner.
Tell Your Co-Parent About Your New Partner
You’ve probably heard that communication with your co-parent should focus solely on the child and parental obligations or roles. While that is true, a new partner changes the co parenting dynamics, so it is important to have that conversation with your ex.
However, the nature of this conversation will depend on the type of ex you have.
If you have a particularly difficult co-parent, you want to keep the conversation as short as possible. While your ex might not be happy about your decision to start dating again, you don’t need their permission to bring someone new into your life and your child’s life (just as they have the right to do the same without your permission).
Co parenting while in a relationship can be a bit easier if things are friendly between you and your ex. Still, you want to tell them about your new partner and discuss how the addition will affect existing arrangements.
Remember to keep the discussion centered on parental roles and childcare. Being friendly with your co-parent doesn’t mean hanging out with them to prove to your kids that you still get along. You have a new partner and should channel your energy into building a long-lasting relationship with them.
Whatever you do, you must be very sure of your new relationship before talking to your ex about it. Consider waiting until the relationship has a clear direction before breaking the news to your co-parent.
Set Healthy Boundaries and Ensure Everyone Respects Them
With a new partner in your co parenting situation, you must set and maintain healthy co parenting boundaries to prevent assumptions.
First, discuss with your ex what’s acceptable regarding childcare, upbringing, discipline, and house rules. Agree on who should be present during children’s sports or school events, drop-offs, and pick-ups.
Next, talk with your new partner about contact and communication with your co-parent. They don’t necessarily have to like each other but make sure they both behave respectfully whenever they meet (especially in front of the kids).
If one or both parties can’t stand each other, ensure there is zero or minimal contact between them. This means you should not bring your new partner to pick-ups or drop-offs if your ex is around.
Also, factor in your kids’ request for boundaries and ensure that everyone (you, your new partner, and ex) respect these boundaries. While your children may not like your new partner (at least initially), it is important to pay attention to any concerns they have about this new person.
I recommend reading this post to learn everything you can about setting co parenting boundaries in a new relationship.
Tips for Co Parenting While in a Relationship
Committing to a serious relationship while co parenting successfully with a former spouse is no easy feat. It requires a ton of patience and understanding to handle everyone involved, as well as paying close attention to your emotional well-being.
Luckily, the following tips can help you manage the situation and make things much easier.
- It is okay to consider others but never neglect your needs and feelings. Prioritize your happiness, and don’t hesitate to tell your new partner exactly what you want and how they can support you better.
- It is not out of place for children to be reluctant about their parent’s new partner. In fact, kids may feel upset about having a new adult in the family. If you notice any resistance or conflict from your kids, validate their feelings using age-appropriate explanations. Remember to always reassure them of your love and help them to understand that they are your number one priority.
- Allow your children to adjust to your new relationship status at their pace. Don’t force them to bond with your new partner or vice versa. Instead, be patient and allow the process to happen naturally.
- Never speak negatively about your co-parent in front of your kids. You may be madly in love with your new partner, but you and your ex-spouse must demonstrate being respectful. Although you are no longer together, your children should see that you and your ex get along for a more successful co parenting relationship.
- It is important to make time for self-care. Your physical, emotional, and mental health must be in tip-top shape to handle the ups and downs of co parenting while in a relationship.
- Stay connected to your support system, especially if you have a difficult ex. Close family and friends can provide moral support to help you pull through when things become too rough for you to handle alone.
You’ve Got This!
Feeling overwhelmed with the different relationships you have when dating as a co-parent? It’s perfectly normal to feel that way.
But you’ve got this!
Many people in this situation have found ways to bring balance to their lives, and so can you.
With these easy tips, co parenting while in a relationship shouldn’t be too difficult.
Remember that you might be overthinking things if you feel drained by your situation. Pause and take a step back from whatever is going on. Only revisit the situation when you’ve sufficiently cleared your head, and you’ll find it easier to deal with your current state of affairs.