Lessons for being better co-parents – and there’s an app for that

By Tonya Graser Smith

It’s back-to-school season, a time for children and parents to be at the top of their game. And hence the inspiration for this article: how to be a better co-parent – during the school year, but also all year long.

It comes down to communication and organization. These are things you and your children’s other parent might not have excelled at while married but must figure out as co-parents. And, fortunately, there’s an app for that.

My colleagues and I often recommend OurFamilyWizard, and Parents magazine has this to say about it: “A divorced couple created the OurFamilyWizard platform to help keep communication between co-parents as harmonious as possible. Each parent has their own account, and can then add as many third-party, child, and professional accounts as they require at no extra cost, for example for grandparents, mediators and therapists. The optional extra ToneMeter works a little like a spellchecker, picking up on negative tones in a message and giving you an alternative that’s less likely to start an argument. It also logs communication, giving you easy access to accurate records for use in court proceedings.”

There are several co-parenting apps, and some will track money spent on items like school supplies or music lessons that divorced or separated parents might agree to split. (You can read Parents’ review of eight co-parenting apps.)

But you don’t need an app. There are other tools. For example, for scheduling, you could use a Google calendar, inviting your spouse and anyone else – like grandparents or an after-school caregiver – who is regularly involved with your children to view and contribute to it.

For keeping up with shared expenses, you could simply share a Google spreadsheet with your children’s other parent.

No matter what system you use, success will depend on being consistent as well as a few other things. Here are some things you as co-parents should keep in mind and do.

  1. Figure out upfront who is doing what. Who will update the family calendar with school events? Who will make the children’s doctors’ appointments and put them on the calendar? Will one parent be the soccer parent while the other is the dance mom (or dad)? This means keeping up with practices, emailing the coaches and teaches when needed and populating the shared calendar with games and recitals.
  2. Make sure you and your co-parent have your own accounts and logins for the really important stuff – like academic portals and patient portals. You don’t want to be the only one keeping an eye on how your child is doing in school or the only one able to email the pediatrician.
  3. Keep your tone even and neutral. If you aren’t using OurFamilyWizard’s ToneMeter, you are going to have to monitor your tone for yourself and use some self-restraint. Keep correspondence straight-forward, on topic and actionable. Have you RSVPed for Saturday’s birthday party for our son’s friend, or should I? FYI, the dance recital date has changed, and I wanted to make sure you saw that. If you are tempted to dash off something snarky, allow some cooling off time.
  4. Let some things go. When it comes to co-parenting this is always a good idea. Don’t nickel and dime your ex on school supplies. Expect the best from them. Perhaps they will buy the next birthday party gift. And if they don’t, ask yourself if getting into it is worth getting into it. If you buy clothes for your kids and they end up migrating to your ex’s house, don’t worry about it. They are for your children, who divide their time between two homes. No big deal.

What is a big deal is being the best co-parents you can. It’s about the kids, not you or your ex.