Boundaries are a hot topic right now. We can hardly look anywhere on social media without seeing an infographic or article about how important they are to our relationships with ourselves and with others. Setting, enforcing, and respecting other’s boundaries ensures that we keep ourselves emotionally healthy and physically safe. Boundaries are also how we teach others how to treat us, so it stands to reason that we would need them in relationships that are complicated and emotionally charged—like Co-parenting relationships! So, how do you set and enforce your own boundaries, while respecting the boundaries that your Co-parent has set? How can boundaries have a positive impact on your Co-parenting relationship?
Setting Boundaries With Your Co-parent(s)
So, how do you figure out where to set boundaries with your Co-parent? First, you look at your court order (aka custody agreement or parenting plan). Whatever boundaries you set must function within the parameters of your court order. For example: if your court order states that Tuesdays are your child’s day with your Co-parent, you wouldn’t decide that because your Co-parent missed their scheduled exchange time Tuesday, you’ll keep the child until Wednesday. You must first consult your court order. Next, you take some time to evaluate what areas of Co-parenting are difficult for you, and what your ideal outcome for these areas is. Boundaries can center around parenting during your time with your kids, physical space, personal life, material items, and communication, just to name a few. The key is to find out what areas are causing you the most stress and emotional turmoil, and to set your boundaries there. To set them, you’ll need to firmly and clearly verbalize to your Co-parent what behavior you’ll no longer tolerate from them.
Enforcing the Boundaries You’ve Set
Enforcing a boundary can be challenging. Setting the boundary is easy enough, and hopefully your Co-parent will comply. Enforcing the boundary happens when your Co-parent doesn’t comply. So, how do you enforce a boundary? You’ll need to tell your Co-parent what happens next if they continue to “fill in the blank”. For example: if your Co-parent repeatedly calls you after nine o’clock p.m., and you’ve told them that you’ll no longer be answering the phone unless it’s an emergency, then your enforcement is that you don’t answer the phone, ever, past nine o’clock p.m. Whatever the enforcement for your boundary, it must work within the parameters of your court order, and it must be an enforcement that you can be consistent with over time.
In most cases, it will be important for you to voice the enforcement for your boundary when you set the boundary. Since your boundary likely relates to your child(ren) in some way, it makes the most sense to let your Co-parent know right away what you’ll do if the boundary you set isn’t respected. This is especially true if your boundary relates to child exchanges or modes of communication. Making sure that both you and your Co-parent know what’s happening next will keep you both from the stress that comes with uncertainty, especially when you’re forming new patterns through boundary setting.
Respecting the Boundaries Your Co-parent Sets
When it comes to respecting your Co-parent’s boundaries, it can be helpful to think about how you would expect your Co-parent to behave when you set a boundary with them. It’s important to remember that boundaries exist to foster, maintain, or repair your Co-parenting relationship. Sometimes a Co-parent might set a boundary that makes little sense to you. As long as the boundary isn’t being used to manipulate or abuse you or your child(ren), it’s best to respect the boundary. That means not questioning why your Co-parent has decided it’s a necessary boundary, and not making any snide comments about it (even when you don’t understand the need for it). You’ll find that there will be plenty of times that a boundary your Co-parent sets won’t make a lot of sense to you. Acknowledging that your Co-parent has reasons for this boundary, and not taking the boundary personally, can be incredibly helpful when it comes time to respect that boundary.
Is it Too Late to Set Boundaries?
You might be saying to yourself, “I’ve been Co-parenting for three years without any boundaries. How would I even begin to set and enforce them now?” It sounds a lot more difficult than it is. No matter how long you’ve been Co-parenting, boundaries are important. They can be introduced any time. You might be met with a little bit more resistance from your Co-parent if it’s been a free for all for the last three years, but that’s when consistency is important. You might also consider that starting with one boundary will get you better results than hitting your Co-parent with seven of them on the same day. Make sure that one boundary is being effectively utilized before introducing another. It really is possible (and encouraged) to set boundaries, even if you’ve had none before.
How Boundaries Can Positively Impact Your Co-parenting Relationship
You can think of boundaries within your Co-parenting relationship as “rules” for the relationship. Since Co-parenting relationships are often so difficult to navigate, especially in the beginning, it’s important to know what the rules are. Setting healthy boundaries is a fantastic way to let your Co-parent know what you expect from them and when, and vice versa. Imagine being thrown into a game that you’ve never played before, and not knowing what the rules are. Co-parenting feels a lot like that to start out with, doesn’t it? It feels scary and things can feel so uncertain and emotionally charged. Imagine what it would be like to reduce the amount of uncertainty you feel. It’s possible, by having strong boundaries (rules) in place for your Co-parenting relationship. Boundaries can be a great tool to help reduce stress, avoid conflict, and to transition more smoothly into a Co-parenting relationship.
Katie has an undergraduate degree in Psychology, has earned several certifications through the High Conflict Institute, and is a Certified Coach. She’s a frequent podcast and blog guest, who discusses her role as a biological Mom in a blended-ish family. When she’s not working or taking care of her kids, you’ll probably find her running, road-tripping, or spending time with friends. Learn more about working with Katie at coparentingpeacefully.com
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DISCLAIMER: The commentary, advice, and opinions from Gabrielle Hartley are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice or mental health services. You should contact an attorney and/or mental health professional in your state to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.
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