What does co-parenting success look like?

There is an abundance of co-parenting guides out there.  I have a fair few lined up on my bookshelf.  I have even read a couple of them.  The advice is similar.  Co-parenting success is when you put the child first.  Co-parenting success is when you are respectful to your co-parent. Co-parenting success is when you communicate effectively.

All of this sounds sensible in principle, but what does co-parenting success actually look like in practice?

I have a friend who invites her ex round to her parents’ (her daughter’s grandparents) house for Christmas so that they can spend Christmas as a family. My ex came to my parents’ for Christmas when we were still engaged.  It didn’t go too well. Is this what co-parenting success looks like?

I listened to a podcast essay the other day about a separated family who went on holiday together so that their children could be with both of their parents at the beach.  My ex now has another new girlfriend who has two children of her own.  Are we all supposed to holiday together?  Is this what co-parenting success looks like?  I sincerely hope not.

I read an article about a couple who had since both remarried, but got along so well that one couple invited the ex and his new wife to visit their new baby in hospital so that they could meet their son’s new sibling.  Is this what co-parenting success looks like?  Gulp. 

co-parenting success

I never thought this co-parenting relationship would be easy.  If the relationship with my ex were easy then we probably wouldn’t have split up, but I didn’t think it would be quite this hard at times.

Thus far, my definition of co-parenting success has been that we are able to hide any discontent and frustration with each other from Cygnet.  We have mastered the façade – just.  Our handovers are jolly and happy, our conversation trivial and our talk small.  Our conversations are always short. 

We have managed to arrange our holidays this summer.  Cygnet will have six days with me in June and six days with his father in August. We have agreed on a pre-school (although the options were somewhat limited).  We alter our schedule to accommodate Mother’s Day and Father’s Day and important birthdays and such like. 

We also alter our schedule to accommodate my ex’s social life (weddings, golf weekends, ski trips, meals out with friends).  At first this was irritating, but more often than not, it means that I get to spend more time with Cygnet, and if there is one thing I want in the whole world, it is to spend more time with Cygnet. 

There have been disagreements, like when my ex introduced another new girlfriend to Cygnet without telling me, or like when we had a bit of a bust up over our arrangements for last Christmas.

But Cygnet doesn’t see these disagreements.  Cygnet doesn’t see the anger and frustration.  In front of Cygnet we could almost be successful co-parents.

But, and there is always a but…

Our parenting approaches are very different, and although Cygnet doesn’t see any arguments, he doesn’t see harmony.  This is a tale of two homes, and in our homes we have very different rules and routines.

Cygnet knows that he can kick a ball round daddy’s house, but if he kicks a ball in mummy’s flat he will have to stand on the naughty mat.

Cygnet knows that mummy will drag him into her bed if he walks into her room in the middle of the night, whereas daddy will frog-march him back to his room.

Cygnet knows that daddy will bribe him with lollipops to get him to leave the swings and slides without a tantrum. Mummy will bribe Cygnet with pudding to get him to eat his broccoli.

Cygnet knows that he has to stand on the mat until mummy takes his shoes off, whereas in daddy’s house you keep your shoes on until you get into the bath.

The co-parenting guides say that I shouldn’t sweat the small stuff.  This is the small stuff and I am not sweating it.  All I can say is that Cygnet must be really intelligent, because at two, he is already learning that mummy’s rules are not rules at daddy’s house and vice versa.  By four, I have no doubt that he will be playing one of us off against the other. 

I can never predict what will happen next on this co-parenting journey.  I have learned how to negotiate with my ex to make him feel that he has come out on top.  Co-parenting with a narcissist is an altogether different skill.  I have a lot more to learn.

There will be more ups and downs, of that I am sure, but I do think that we are getting better.  Slowly, although not steadily, we are getting better at managing our co-parenting relationship. 

I don’t know what the future looks like, but I can tell you that co-parenting success for us will never reach the dizzy heights of a joint Christmas, holiday or heaven forfend a maternity ward! 

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
My Random Musings


  1. March 27, 2017 / 8:22 pm

    This sounds heavenly compared to what I go through on a daily basis in Adventures of Co-Parenting!

  2. thesingleswan
    March 27, 2017 / 8:45 pm

    It has its ups and downs but we are getting there – slowly. Pen x

  3. Child of divorced parents
    March 28, 2017 / 3:10 pm

    Just wanted to say – as a child of divorced parents – you’re doing a wonderful thing, and keep going. My parents hate each other. They don’t speak. They slag each other off in front of us. If I mention my dad in front of my mum, she rolls her eyes and tuts, like it’s my fault, not hers, that he’s my father. All this has made life difficult on many occasions and has been the source of a lot of hurt and sadness – which I had to confront in therapy last year at the age of 38.

    It doesn’t matter if you can’t quite bring yourself to go on holiday together, or if your approaches to parenting are slightly different. You’ve decided to co-parent, even though your relationship didn’t work out. You’re doing a wonderful thing.

    • thesingleswan
      March 28, 2017 / 8:02 pm

      Thank you Laura, Co-parenting can be really hard and there are times, quite a lot of the time, when I wish I were doing this on my own because I think it’d be easier. Your comment is a very welcome and helpful reminder that my efforts to make this co-parenting thing work are worth the effort. I absolutely have to do this for our son. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      March 30, 2017 / 9:58 pm

      Thanks Vicki. Pen x

  4. March 30, 2017 / 12:49 pm

    I think over time it evolves and gets easier. My parents are divorced and at first I’m sure there were too many raw feelings to ever consider doing anything together. Once those raw feelings from the divorce heal a little, I think you realize that doing things together means you get to spend more time with your kids, and if that also necessitates seeing your ex then you are okay with that. (Not in every case, but in my parents’ case anyway.)

    Currently the kids and I live 20 hours away from my parents, so we don’t see them often. When we do make a visit, my mom, dad, and stepmom invite each other over for bonfires or dinner or take the kids to the amusement park for the day together so they can see us more during the few weeks a year we are there. If they don’t see us all together, then they can only see us for half the time.

    • thesingleswan
      March 30, 2017 / 9:58 pm

      Hi Jenny,

      Thanks for your comment. I agree that it gets easier. It has got easier already, and we have got the rest of our lives for it to continue to get easier. I am really glad that you are able to see your mom and dad together, even though they are not together, when you make the trip to see them.

      thank you

      Pen x

  5. March 30, 2017 / 1:34 pm

    It sounds like you’re doing a great job. I think it’s so sad when parents bad-mouth each other to their kids, and poison their young minds against each other. I don’t think you should beat yourself up about not wanting to spend Christmas together. #brillblogposts
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    • thesingleswan
      March 30, 2017 / 9:55 pm

      Thank you Lucy. Pen x

  6. March 30, 2017 / 3:44 pm

    I think you’re doing the best job you can, in the situation you are in. Everyone is different, and if going on holiday together isn’t on the okay list (hats off to anyone for whom it is, to be honest!) then that’s absolutely fine. Remaining calm and civil in front of, and for, your son is by far the most important thing. Making sure that he comes first has to be at the top of the list xx #truthabout
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    • thesingleswan
      March 30, 2017 / 9:55 pm

      Thank you Sara. That’s a lovely comment to read. Pen x

  7. March 30, 2017 / 9:16 pm

    I have tried to co-parent with my ex and I wish it had worked – but he is so abusive and nasty and conveniently forgets things that we have agreed that now all of it is done via email! A shame but it works for us. #TheTruthAbout

    • thesingleswan
      March 30, 2017 / 9:54 pm

      Hi Vicky,

      Thanks for your comment. Sometimes I think that email is best. I struggled with email because my ex used to send a barrage of long and angry emails often late at night and I’d read them and then wouldn’t sleep. We don’t communicate enough to be honest, but, if truth be told, I really don’t want to speak to him. I know that I have to for my son. Pen x

  8. March 31, 2017 / 12:58 pm

    In all honesty, I think being able to co-parent and deal with handovers and arrangements without showing any frustration and irritation with your ex in front of your child is what successful co-parenting looks like. I would have thought that holidays and Christmases together are much more the exception than the rule. It’s amazing how children do manage to adjust to the different homes and different rules and it sounds like you are doing a great job of trying to make it all work as best as it can where Cygnet is concerned. #thetruthabout

    • thesingleswan
      March 31, 2017 / 9:09 pm

      Thank you Louise. This is a lovely comment to read. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      April 3, 2017 / 8:43 pm

      Hi Emma,

      You are right. It definitely does get easier over time. Pen x

  9. April 4, 2017 / 3:41 am

    Co-parenting is hard, and being the new wife in a co-parenting situation feel impossible. We make it work as best as we can. That’s all we can do sometimes. #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      April 4, 2017 / 6:13 pm

      Hi Jen,

      It is always good to be reminded of the new wife’s perspective. Thank you. Pen x

  10. April 4, 2017 / 2:58 pm

    It must be hard at times but it sounds like you are doing all the right things. #kcacols xx

    • thesingleswan
      April 4, 2017 / 6:12 pm

      thank you. Pen x

  11. April 6, 2017 / 12:16 pm

    Those examples of co-parenting success sent a chill down my spine, and I’m happily married to the father of my children! Co-parenting, ike parenting and all relationships, is what you make of it, and that’s highly dependent on the people involved and the circumstances. And it sounds like you’re navigating it very wisely indeed. x

    • thesingleswan
      April 6, 2017 / 8:01 pm

      Thank you Annette. I am glad it is not just me, as a single mum, who thought those co-parenting stories were quite extraordinary. Pen x

  12. April 7, 2017 / 1:33 pm

    I think you’re doing pretty awesome to manage as you are, from reading past posts I know how much you love Cygnet to have put up with his father. You should feel like a success, and never compare yourself to those extreme cases of co-parenting, for most that’s just not going to happen. My friend is still struggling with dropping off her two children, her ex is constantly telling the kids ugly stories and treating their mum so badly, it is just so sad that some can not put their child first. #mg
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    • thesingleswan
      April 7, 2017 / 8:46 pm

      Thank you Mac. You always leave such lovely comments. Pen x

    • thesingleswan
      April 7, 2017 / 8:45 pm

      Thanks Debbie. Pen x

  13. April 9, 2017 / 5:13 am

    Sounds to me like you already are a success. These co-parenting examples are most definitely the minority and very rare. Things can so often get ugly, especially when emotions are running high, the very fact you have worked out a schedule between you that works and are able to keep things civil in front of Cygnet means you are putting your son first and that’s what makes you a success. Thanks so much for linking up at #KCACOLS. Hope you come back again next Sunday x
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    • thesingleswan
      April 9, 2017 / 8:09 pm

      Thank you Alana. It doesn’t feel like a success a lot of the time. Sometimes I struggle to look at my ex because I am so frustrated with him. Oh well. Pen x

  14. April 13, 2017 / 8:05 pm

    All things considered Pen, I think you’re doing a very successful job of co-parenting. It must be so hard when your ex is the way yours is, so I think it’s amazing that you’re able to keep things light and civil in front of cygnet. x #KCACOLS

    • thesingleswan
      April 14, 2017 / 10:58 pm

      Thank you Madeline. I appreciate you saying that. Pen x

  15. April 14, 2017 / 5:59 pm

    It sounds like you are doing really well with the co-parenting thing. It’s not easy is it. I have had 7 years of practice and we have found what works for us as I hope you will too. I recently roped in my daughter dad for an exercise in tough love and he came round to help me in getting her to organise her room so we can redecorate.

    And yes, I’m sure cygnet will try to play you both off, I think they all do at some point. thankfully I’m past this stage as my daughter knows if she says anything I will ring her dad and ask him and he will tell me the truth so she’s realised it’s just not worth it anymore! #kcacols
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    • thesingleswan
      April 14, 2017 / 10:57 pm

      Hi Tracey,

      It sounds like you’ve got this whole co-parenting challenge down to a T. Well done. Thanks for your comment. Pen x

  16. June 4, 2017 / 9:25 pm

    I really agree with the ‘don’t sweat the small stuff’ philosophy. Pick your battles with your co-parent wisely. If you disagree with things they do, ask yourself if it’s just down to different parenting styles or if it’s something you really need to address for your child’s benefit or wellbeing. I get on OK with my son’s dad most of the time but we do have times when we fall out over something. Also, I don’t think you need to do things together for your child’s sake. We did that for a while and I don’t think it had a pariculatly positive impact on my son. As you suggest, you child learns two sets of rules and ways of living and they can get a bit unsettled when those two world’s collide.

    • thesingleswan
      June 6, 2017 / 7:58 pm

      That’s really interesting to hear you say that when you tried to do things together it didn’t have a particularly positive impact on your son. Cygnet really enjoys the one to one time that he has with each of us. He is often keen for the other parent to go so that he can monopolise one person. Pen x

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