10 ways to get past conflict with your co-parent

We have to accept that we're going to have differences—and learn how to create agreement.

get past conflict with co-parent

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you think about navigating conflict with your child's other parent? We often envision heated discussion, character attacks and that special mix of exasperation and apprehension that comes when we see paragraphs-long text messages on our phone from our co-parent.

Mamas, it doesn't have to be this way. Conflict is simply two different perspectives existing relevant to the same issue, which is inevitable in co-parenting—and probably a large component of why you're not still together.

When we accept that we are going to have differences of perspective with our co-parent, we are better able to show up to these conflicts with the intention of creating agreements that best reflect everyone's needs—without being triggered into emotional reactivity.


I know this stuff isn't easy. My own process of navigating conflict with my daughter's father has been exhausting and infuriating. I've had to stand up for my own time and my emotional boundaries. I've had to work hard not to roll my eyes or take a condescending approach. And together we've had to move through disagreements about our daughter's diet, schedule, screen time, and activities to create greater alignment and consistency, despite different parenting styles (and as of this writing, we're still working on it).

As co-parents, we've gotten this far using a set of tools that helps shift dialogue from conflict to collaboration. These tools won't apply to every co-parenting situation, as sometimes it's the case that our children's other parent simply isn't able to refrain from abusive behavior, in which case a parallel parenting approach may be more appropriate.

Here are 10 strategies for getting past conflict with your co-parent.

1. Schedule check-ins.

Have regular parenting check-ins that occur either in person or over the phone, without your children present. This creates an opportunity to discuss what's working and what's not in your co-parenting agreements, to share observations and any concerns about your children, and to hash out any big shared decisions. Meeting regularly keeps tension from building up around differences, which when left to simmer eventually tends to come out as aggression.

2. Practice reflective listening.

Reflective listening, where each person listens and repeats back what they hear their co-parent saying ("What I'm hearing is… Am I understanding?") can be a powerful tool. When we reflect on our understanding of our co-parent's communication and invite them to let us know whether we've understood them correctly, our other parent feels heard. This means they should ideally have less of a need to resort to aggressive communication to get their point across, and it also creates more space for us to process and respond. Another bonus of reflective listening is that it tends to amplify the truly ridiculous or unreasonable requests we can sometimes field from our co-parents, which can (sometimes) help them to recognize this for themselves.

3. Prioritize appropriately.

Focus on creating agreements based on the needs and values of all parties. Attempt to find common ground by identifying your child's needs first. Then express your own needs, and invite your co-parent to share theirs.

4. Acknowledge what you value in your co-parent.

A little recognition can go a long way toward transforming your co-parenting relationship to one of mutual positive regard. Sometimes this requires digging deep, but there is usually something we can find to appreciate about them or their relationship with our children.

5. Avoid "always" and "never."

Tempting as these words are to use in the heat of the moment, most of the time it isn't objectively true that anyone "always" or "never" does anything. Worse, these words tend to derail the conversation, with one side defending themselves and running through all of the exceptions to "always" and "never." Even if the rare cases where an essentializing statement is accurate, it's a better strategy to stick to what's behind your frustration instead, keeping the conversation focused on creating solutions and agreements.

6. Refrain from character attacks.

Belittling, shaming and other unhelpful forms of communication are the quickest way to inflame conflict. This type of communication also degrades our children in that they are, on at least a cellular level, reflective of the other parent we are shaming and attacking. Keep it professional.

7. Know when to take a break.

If despite your best attempts you find a discussion escalating to an emotionally charged place where you're no longer hearing each other or solving anything, pause the discussion.

8. Don't text when triggered.

Seriously, put the phone down. If you're bothered by your co-parent's behavior or parenting, take some time before approaching them about it. Instead, vent to a friend or your journal and release your anger in a healthy physical way. If you find yourself on the receiving end of reactive text messages, don't get hooked in to responding on the same level. Set a boundary to keep texting to logistics when things are tough, or block when your co-parent fails to respect this boundary.

9. Get help when you need it.

Recognize when you need professional help and explore mediation or co-parenting counseling

10. Visualize your goals in the relationship.

Pick a symbol that reminds you of your intentions for communicating with your co-parent and make it their photo icon on your phone. Mine is a wizard to remind me of the literal sorcery needed to have effective dialogue with my daughter's father. Keep it silly though—not derogatory—so that you're in your integrity if your child sees it.

Remember mamas, while we can't control our coparent's behavior, we do have the power to take care of our side of the street and communicate with the intention of effective collaboration. Even if your co-parent isn't ready to meet you there, unhooking from cycles of unhelpful communication can reduce the emotional charge in how you experience their behavior. May your co-parenting journey be a peaceful one, in whatever form it takes.

Sarah Lou Warren is a psychotherapist in private practice and certified maternal mental health specialist. She writes about single motherhood, maternal mental health, and conscious parenting at (please link to She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her daughter and pit mix

Sarah Lou Warren is a psychotherapist in private practice and certified maternal mental health specialist. She writes about single motherhood, coparenting, and self-nourishment at Single Mama Magic. She lives on the Big Island of Hawaii with her daughter and pit mix.

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    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

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    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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    Tips parents need to know about poor air quality and caring for kids with asthma

    There are steps parents can take to keep their children as healthy as possible.

    When wildfires struck the West Coast in September 2020, there was a lot for parents to worry about. For parents of children with asthma, though, the danger could be even greater. "There are more than 400 toxins that are present in wildfire smoke. That can activate the immune system in ways that aren't helpful by both causing an inflammatory response and distracting the immune system from fighting infection," says Amy Oro, MD, a pediatrician at Stanford Children's Health. "When smoke enters into the lungs, it causes irritation and muscle spasms of the smooth muscle that is around the small breathing tubes in the lungs. This can lead to difficulty with breathing and wheezing. It's really difficult on the lungs."

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    Minimize smoke exposure.

    Especially when the air quality index reaches dangerous levels, it's best to stay indoors as much as possible. You can find out your area's AQI at An under 50 rating is the safest, but between 100-150 is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, such as children with asthma. "If you're being told to stay indoors, listen. If you can, keep the windows and doors closed," Oro says.

    Do your best to filter the air.

    According to Oro, a HEPA filter is your best bet to effectively clean pollutants from the air. Many homes are equipped with a built-in HEPA filter in their air conditioning systems, but you can also get a canister filter. Oro says her family (her husband and children all suffer from asthma) also made use of a hack from the New York Times and built their own filter by duct taping a HEPA furnace filter to the front of a box fan. "It was pretty disgusting what we accumulated in the first 20 hours in our fan," she says.

    Avoid letting your child play outside or overly exert themselves in open air.

    "Unfortunately, cloth masks don't do very much [to protect you from the smoke pollution]," Oro says. "You really need an N95 mask, and most of those have been allocated toward essential workers." To keep at-risk children safer, Oro recommends avoiding brisk exercise outdoors. Instead, set up an indoor obstacle course or challenge your family to jumping jacks periodically to keep everyone moving safely.

    Know the difference between smoke exposure and COVID-19.

    "COVID-19 can have a lot of the same symptoms—dry cough, sore throat, shortness of breath and chest pain could overlap. But what COVID and other viruses generally cause are fever, chills, vomiting, diarrhea and body aches. Those would tell you it's not just smoke exposure," Oro says. When a child has been exposed to smoke, they often complain of a "scrape" in their throat, burning eyes, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain or wheezing. If the child has asthma, parents should watch for a flare of symptoms, such as coughing, wheezing or a tight sensation in their chest.

    Unfortunately, not much is known about long-term exposure to wildfire smoke on a healthy or compromised immune system, but elevated levels of air pollution have been associated with increased COVID-19 rates. That's because whenever there's an issue with your immune system, it distracts your immune system from fighting infections and you have a harder time fighting off viruses. Limiting your exposure to wildfire smoke is your best bet to keep immune systems strong.

    Have a plan in place if you think your child is suffering from smoke exposure.

    Whatever type of medication your child takes for asthma, make sure you have it on-hand and that your child is keeping up with regular doses. Contact your child's pediatrician, especially if your area has a hazardous air quality—they may want to adjust your child's medication schedule or dosage to prevent an attack. Oro also recommends that, if your child has asthma, it might be helpful to have a stethoscope or even a pulse oximeter at home to help diagnose issues with your pediatrician through telehealth.

    Most importantly, don't panic.

    In some cases, social distancing and distance learning due to COVID may be helping to keep sensitive groups like children with asthma safer. Oro says wildfires in past years have generally resulted in more ER visits for children, but the most recent fires haven't seen the same results. "A lot of what we've seen is that the smoke really adversely affects adults, especially older adults over 65," Oro says. "Children tend to be really resilient."

    This article was sponsored by Stanford Children's Health. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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