Leave the Drama Behind: 5 Ways to Co-Parent When You’re Not Married to Your Child’s Father


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By Ebony Reddock

Before my husband and I married, we were a baby-mama and baby-daddy to our son.  Sharing parenting responsibility with an ex can be difficult.  I’m almost ashamed to admit some of the things I did, like the time I slapped him with keys or cursed him out in a church parking lot.  I know he has moments he wants to forget too.  But after some rough patches, we got to the point where we could co-parent cooperatively.  I’m sure you’re thinking we could work cooperatively only because we were still interested in a relationship.  But the truth is that we learned to cooperate way before we married or even began dating again.

Co-parenting isn’t just sharing custody of a kid and doing what you do while he do what he do.  It’s making decisions about your child together, about schools or health care.  While I’m writing this with exes in mind, the fact is that married or otherwise stable couples have to work at co-parenting too.  There is one prerequisite to co-parenting: it requires two people.  If your current or former partner isn’t interested in being cooperative, then you will need to set boundaries for yourself and your kids.  But you can still use some of these suggestions to keep the tension low as possible.

Co-parenting can feel unnecessary or weird at first, especially if it’s different than how you were raised.  I grew up in a family where women ruled the roost.  Some women in my family didn’t understand why I didn’t just tell my son’s father what he had to do and be done with it.  Let’s just say that strategy didn’t sit well with him.  Trying to parent differently was the hardest thing for me.  But we wanted our son to grow up knowing he had two parents who loved him so much that they were willing to put their drama aside for him.  Here are five suggestions that helped us as we learned to co-parent successfully:

5 Ways To Successfully Co-parent

1. Put Emotions Aside:  If there are two things that most people get super emotional about, it’s children and relationships.  But you can’t co-parent if you let your emotions lead the way.  If you need help with that, try to imagine yourself ten years from now, answering your kid when he or she asks you why you and Daddy hate each other. And sometimes, you have to fake it ’til you make it.  Treat each other with respect, even if you don’t genuinely feel that way.  Even play nice with his family, if you can.   When my now-husband and I put our drama aside for our son, that’s when we started to work as a team.

2. Set Ground Rules: You both have issues that are important to you.  But other issues? Not so much.  Decide what’s non-negotiable and what’s negotiable.  Is McDonald’s every once in a while really gonna kill your kid? Probably not.  But will your ex taking your son to Uncle Charlie the drug dealer’s house?  Maybe.  When you’re co-parenting with an ex, you have to be firm about the issues that are non-negotiable, but flexible on the rest.  Don’t forget to set rules about child support too.  Automatically getting the courts involved is not always the answer.  We stayed out of the courts, which was good for us.  For others, getting the courts involved might be the better option.  Talk this, and all issues, over with your ex.  AND–don’t just set ground rules–make a commitment to honor them too.

3. Be Patient:  It took at least two persistent years, a lot of arguments and long conversations before we could say we trusted each other.  Learning to co-parent takes time, especially when there isn’t trust there.  And that’s usually the case with exes.  Unless you’re one of those couples that broke up amicably, you probably have issues you’re still upset about.  Healing from that, and being able to work cooperatively, takes time.

4. Keep It Classy: I know I don’t have to say this to you–this is for someone else, right?  Don’t become the aggressive baby-mama and baby-daddy fighting in the street, or the baby-mama and baby-daddy still messing around and confusing their child.  Keeping it classy with my son’s father was definitely not something I was good at in the beginning.  I already shared with you my tendency to fly off the handle.  If you’re co-parenting with an ex, there’s bound to be some messy feelings.  Maybe it’s anger.  Maybe it’s sexual attraction.  But don’t muddy the waters with some temporary nonsense from an argument or baby-daddy sex.  It will make learning to co-parent that much harder.

5. Spend Time Together With Your Child:  Even though you aren’t in a relationship, you are still family because you share a child together.  Once you have gotten past any beginning awkwardness from co-parenting, make a point to spend time together with your child.  Go to the movies.  Take your child out to lunch.  Go to the park.  It helps you learn to work cooperatively, and your child sees that you are a team.

It may take a while before you see the fruits of your labors.  But if both of you are committed to being co-parents, you will eventually see that work pay off.  How do you and your child’s father work cooperatively?  What kinds of ground rules are non-negotiable for you?

Ebony Reddock is a wife, mother of two, writer, researcher and workshop facilitator on mothers’ health and wellness.  She is also an advocate promoting social, political and economic conditions that help mothers take care of themselves and their families.  Her mission is to support mothers who want to live healthier, more balanced lives.  Visit her at her website: www.ecreddock.com


  • Alisa

    My son’s father and I co-parent successfully as well also. But I think that this is due largely in part to the fact that we still live together (for the time being anyways), and because we share many of the same ideals and beliefs. It is easier to co-parent when both the mother and the father think in the same way. Often, I think that a lot of people cannot successfully co-parent because the person whom they decided to have a child with is so different from themselves (different religions, likes, dislikes, disciplinary techniques, etc). Of course this is not always the case, but I think that for many people it is. My son’s father and I are both Muslim, and we also want the same things for our son. Even though we are not together, nor are we interested in starting our relationship over, we both co-parent successfully. I really liked all of the tips that were in this article, and I hope that those who struggle with co-parenting find them helpful and implement them as well. If both parents get along, then the child or children will be happy as well.

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    • http://ecreddock.com Ebony Reddock

      That’s a good point about shared values. My husband and I share the same values too. I think that’s especially the case in terms of parenting values. If you don’t share those, you’ve got a big hill to climb.

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  • Dvaaunaturel

    These are great tips. This article is right on time for me however as they say and youmpointed out both parties have to be interested in co parenting. Sadly the cpurts are involved in my situation. I am not sure if things would be different otherwise because my son’s father was uncooperative before and has become moreso since going to court. He has refused mediation, professional counseling, and does not comminicate when I, and others, try to,explain that we have to set a good example for the baby and tey to work things out positively. It’s either his way or nothing at all. He asked to reduced child support and I agreed, I take the baby to see him (which is a 2 hour trip total going and coming) because the baby protests when he picks him up and refuses to go to him, I withdrew some court papers appealing our hearing in good faith because we agreed to some other items but he just complains and makes threats and demands about EVERYTHING. He tries to bully and intimidate me. I am constantly sent emails, texts and phoned multiple times a day for nothing at all under the guise of the baby. Nothing satisifies him. It is so unheathy and tense.

    I believe some mental health issues are involved but trying to get the court to evaluate has become a battle. I feel so alone and dejected about the whole situation. We are 42, me, and 45, him and I thought we would be mature caring parents no matter what happened. Boy was I wrong. It is so embarassing to be in this situation at this age and as an educated hardworking person. I thought I was smarter than this but boy I was fooled good. My baby though is a true blessing especially since doctors didnt think I could conceive.

    I feel so used and manipulated because of all the lies I have been told and am still being told even when he has the baby. I feel so unsafe and am growing more and more concerned about our wellbeing and safety. Maybe it will get better at some point since the article did say it takes time. My baby is 13 months so maybe we are approaching the corner to turn. I can only hope and pray.

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    • http://ecreddock.com Ebony

      Well, I will definitely be praying with you. First things first–there is nothing to be embarrassed about. We all have ended up in situations where we think we should “know better”. But life is complicated and only God is perfect. We (hopefully) learn our lessons and keep it moving. Sometimes the situation is such that co-parenting is not possible, and that’s what it sounds like for you. Most important is that you take care of yourself and your baby, physically, mentally and spiritually. If you feel unsafe, don’t discount that. Set some boundaries for yourself and baby–you can’t control him, but you can set some limits on responding to his communications, for example. Document as much as you can–times he calls/texts, attempts to get the courts involved in evaluation, etc. And know that you are not alone. Everyone may not be with you in person, but we’re with you in spirit!

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  • Dvaaunaturel

    Typed on an mobile device so please forgive the typographical errors

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  • Dianna Chounoune

    Hi Ebony,
    Thanks so much for this article. It is hitting so close to home. My ex and I split in September, and I must admit that I was hurt and angry. I left, not necessarily because I wanted to, because I was still loved him, but because I had to…we weren’t communicating at all, our mutual respect was dwindling and neither one of is were ourselves. Just a case of not communicating expectations and bringing the worst out of one another. Anyway, I moved out and found myself being that “angry-baby mama”. I felt like I needed to heal and that meant him not coming around, me ignoring his phone calls and plain out being nasty. Not how I wanted to be…I was just so disappointed. After two months of fighting I finally gave up and just wanted peace. Peace between us and peace in my spirit. I started allowing him to see our daughter again in November. The break didn’t help. I was still so angry at him especially because I didn’t feel like he was trying or willing to work on our issues. At that same time, I started seeing a therapist, for my own issues also, who happened to also be a family mediator. We met with her and set a schedule up. I must admit, i felt like I was on my way to finding peace in the situation. Accepting that maybe our love was really lost and that our sweet baby girl would get the opportunity to be raised by her mom and dad in a loving household. Anyway, fast forward to a couple of weeks ago when I had a moment of weakness. I called him late one night and asked to come over. We attempted and started, but I got super emotional. I felt like I loved him and I wanted us to fix it. We talked briefly and fell asleep. When I woke up and was getting dressed, I saw some pictures of him kissing some girl. I was devastated, I felt like a complete idiot. What was I doing? We’d gotten so far and were doing kind of well. Anyway, since then we’ve worked past, and with the suggestion of our family mediator, we’ve had a couple of family days, and I’ve expressed that I just want to have a better relationship, not necessarily intimate right now. He’s agrees to go to counseling but is sure to clarify to me that he has no desire to work on “our love life” for right now, just our relationship.
    Anyway after all this, my questions for you are: how did you and your husband get to the place where you even wanted to think about the possibility of reconciliation? Did you or he date other ppl during your 2 year hiatus? Did you have professional help to get there? Do any of your old issues, those which caused the first breakup, ever resurface? And do you feel like the second time around is better and how did YOU know it was worth trying again?
    Once again, thanks for your article and insight. Very appreciated.
    ~~Dianna

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    • http://ecreddock.com Ebony

      you’re welcome, dianna. thank you for sharing your experience! to answer your question, it took us a long time to get to the point where we could even consider reconciliation. four years, actually. the most important factors were that we always shared similar values, but we had to mature. for us, that meant maturing in Christ. that may not be everyone’s journey. but everyone can mature, you know? we noticed and acknowledged that in each other before we even got to the point of thinking about reconciliation. we both dated during that time, and working through the conflicts that arose because of that were a struggle. we both believe divorce is an option only in cases of adultery and abuse, so we knew if we were gonna do this, it was pretty much for life. that forced us to learn how to communicate and start working through the baggage before we got married. and yes, the second time is much better, because we are committed to working through the hard stuff as it comes up (because it’s always gonna be times where there’s struggle). i know that if we weren’t both grounded in our faith, we wouldn’t make it. we didn’t have professional help together, although i think it’s good. it would have definitely made going through the baggage a lot easier (less yelling, i’m sure, lol). i think going to therapy individually is good too. i did that, and it was one of the best decisions i made. it gave me the tools to set boundaries. also, i think it’s a good idea to focus on your relationship as co-parents only (for us, we had no choice. he was in a relationship pretty much the entire four years we were apart, so i had to work past my feelings to develop a positive relationship with the person i thought would be my child’s stepmom. that came in handy later because now we are all members of the same congregation and get along well, which often blows people’s minds). i remember in the beginning, before i got past wanting a relationship with him, that my feelings for him caused me to do some crazy stuff. keep moving forward–it’s difficult, but worth it!

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  • April

    Thank you so much for this!! It helps me a lot! I am currently pregnant with my first baby. My due date is tomorrow- September 7, 2015 and my boyfriend/baby daddy broke up three weeks ago after dating 2 years and being friends way before that. We planed to have a baby but didn’t think it was going to happen… We ended up actually fighting a lot about the fact we couldn’t get pregnant but then one day when we least expected it it happened. We had a lot of fights near the end of our relationship but now we are completely over and it hurts bc I still love him so much. I have a daughter with him so now he wants to co-parent with me only it’s a little different bc he has limitations bc he’s on probation for sexual assault on a minor which has came down with him being able to have visitations with his daughter. We still have to some what co-parent and it’s still hard for me to think about bc I still love him so much. Your words helped me relize to put that emotion aside and deal with what the underlining issues are. Which would be our daughter. So thank you so much for this writing it helped me a lot!!

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  • Taylor Cruse

    Wow, I never thought I would find something so helpful. Thank you so much for this. I am 20 and my ex left the day we found out we were pregnant. He hasn’t seen me since and I’m 3 months pregnant now. I’ve tried to make conversation about this, asked him if we could talk, he ignores everything. He is immature and scared I’m sure, but when I told him about my next appointment and asked why he abandoned us, he told me “I’m going to be in this baby’s life no matter what and I want the best for the baby.” Implying that he wanted nothing to do with me but will be in the baby’s life. While it hurt me I am grateful he is thinking about our child. He is still ignoring me, though. And I know we have a long way to go but my fear of being unable to co parent is driving me crazy. How will we do it if he can’t even talk to me? I’m sure things will change but I need to demand respect and set boundaries. If he wants to be in the baby’s life I feel that starts with respect and communication. If we can’t communicate this won’t work. I don’t know how to express that to him. This truly helped so much and maybe one day I’ll even be able to ask him to read it.

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  • Single mom

    Hello I’ve done a lot of reading how to co parent with my son’s father after our fall out. He wasn’t there at all through my pregnancy, birth, and the first month of my son’s life which leas me to be angry towards him when he finally wanted to after receiving papers for child support. We tried to reconcile but I was to angry which pushed him away into his exes arms again. We tried the mediation and after I found out he was shopping for his exes and not helping with our son leas me to not agree and Now waiting a court day. He said now he was giving up his rights because he can’t deal with me. I want to talk to him and see if maybe we can come to some kind of agreement so he will be apart of our child’s life but don’t know if I should contact him since he was angry and is now in a relationship with his ex which she has said she can’t except him. Any words of advice? Thank you.

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