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Co-parenting takes practice, but worth the effort.

By Kathy Rumleski, Contributor

For separating couples with children, a parenting plan is essential to help everyone navigate the challenging world of working with your ex to raise the kids, Alberta child protection specialist Melani Carefoot tells

Such a plan is akin to a roadmap that offers reassurance you’re on the right course toward becoming the best parents you can be in new circumstances, says Carefoot, owner and principal of Positive Choices Counselling & Consulting.

“It’s like planning a trip,” she says. “If you wanted to go to Rome, you wouldn’t decide only the day before to get on a plane without a trip booked or discussing the logistics with your travelling companion.

“Trying to figure out a mutually respectful, child-focused way of parenting is extremely difficult for most people. Most people flounder.”

Carefoot says having a strategy can help parents avoid unpleasant circumstances for their children.

“We don’t like to leave it to chance because if you do that, things will quickly go off the rails,” she says.

It can be difficult for former partners to come together to discuss schedules and expectations, however, parents must see the relationship in a new light, Carefoot says.

“You are not getting together as intimate partners. You’re sitting down to decide how you’re going to form a relationship as a co-parent,” she says.

Having an agenda and being in a calm environment allows both parties to talk about potential scenarios, even before they happen, Carefoot explains.

Subjects to discuss when drafting such a document include when and how to introduce a new partner to the children, where and when kids will go on vacation with each parent and how to keep the children connected to both, she says.

At Positive Choices Counselling & Assessment, there is a format to keep the sessions on track, Carefoot says.

“You need to go through things, step by step. What does Dad need to look for on food packages to avoid an allergic reaction? What will Mom do if a child screams for an hour in the night?”

In some cases, a parent will hold onto certain information because that can be about power, Carefoot warns.

“Some people won’t share information because that puts them in an advantageous position. But it has to be shared for the betterment of the child and the co-parenting relationship,” she says.

If someone is trying to hang onto power, that can lead to problems as studies show that toxic stress can affect the brain development of children, Carefoot says.

“We talk about issues in a problem-solving, solution-focused manner. It’s not about blaming anybody or wagging a finger.”

As a mother of three who had to learn to co-parent herself, Carefoot understands it can be difficult, but says the children must come first and agreeing to terms upfront helps keep the focus on them.

“Children thrive on consistency, boundaries and people being predictable. Parenting plans can help clarify areas,” she says.

Over time, the arrangement will evolve, Carefoot says.

“In the beginning, we like to review it frequently. If there are problems, the ex-spouses can come back to discuss the plan. Parents feel empowered, knowing they have a resource to go to,” she says.

Like many things in life, Carefoot says that practice makes perfect.

“Nobody expects you to be a great co-parent if you haven’t practised,” she says. “If you make it a priority, I can tell you from my own personal experience, it can be great.”