Serving the needs of separated and divorcing families

Co-Parenting with an Infant or Toddler

Divorced parents, no matter their degree of conflict, often struggle with communication.  They have to determine how much communication is enough and what is too much.  Then there is the question about what is appropriate to communicate about and what is not in regards to co-parenting.  In other words- when is one parent trying to micromanage the other parent?

The issue of communication is particularly problematic when the child is very young and all the details seem to matter.  The examples below are relevant for parents with young children but not necessary for parents of older children.

  • Naps: When did your child wake from a nap?  This is not necessary co-parenting information for an older child but certainly relevant when dealing with a very young child or infant.  Knowing what to expect when children are still struggling with sleeping through the night, issues with falling asleep and needing naps requires this information to be shared especially when the child is not on his/her usual “schedule.”
  • Diet: Is your child’s appetite different?  What has been added to your child’s diet?  This information may alert parents with a young child is at the beginning of an illness and is important information when watching for possible allergies.  Information about the introduction of a new food is also a way to create consistency across homes.
  • Regularity: Has your child been regular?  Knowing when the young child has changed his or her patterns is important for parents with young children.
  • Developmental Changes: For continuity issues that require adjustment on the part of young children, they should be discussed and agreed upon.  Parents need to alert each other when a child seems ready to move from a crib to their first bed, when the child goes to bed, when the pacifier remains in the home, and when and how to begin potty training just to name a few examples.
  • Medications:  If you gave your child any medication including even an over-the- counter mediation, it is essential to share this information including when the child’s next scheduled dose is when they will be with the other parent.
  • Distress: Do you think your child might be teething or showing signs of distress?  It is important to share any changes so the other parent may watch for new information.  This is particularly important when your child can not assist by telling you how they feel.
  • New Experiences: Did you young child cry this year when they saw children on Halloween?  Has your son started crying when you run the vacuum?  New experiences, especially those that seem to upset your child, should be shared.
  • Accomplishments: Anything you would want to know about your young child’s development should be shared with the other parent.  Share things like:  success with the potty today, she slept through the night, he found his toes today, she pulled up on the coffee table today, he took his first step, or she said “Momma!”
  • Heads Up: When your child begins to walk and gets bumps and bruises on their legs (or even their head), this is all very important for the co-parent to be informed about.  (This does not mean that parents need to share every bruise on an older child with the other parent.)

Due to the fact that your child can not communicate effectively yet, communication between the parents is vital.  Therefore, many divorced parents of an infant or toddler use a Parenting Log.  This log could be as simple as a spiral notebook from the drug store.  A parenting log allows you to keep up with the daily routines of young children moving across households.

Some additional tips include:

  • The notebook should remain in your child’s diaper bag.
  • Write all important numbers on the inside front of the parenting log to include work/cell/daycare and the pediatrician.
  • Discuss expectations for the notebook with your co-parent.
  • Agree that no one removes the pages. (In case your situation may become adversarial neither of you will fear that the other parent is keeping pages to use against you.)  In addition, number the pages.
  • In the front of the parenting log- list communication guidelines and the topics that will be covered in the notebook. . Information that is relevant includes eating, changing and sleeping schedule including the types of foods your child ate, behavioral and health issues, medication information (what to take and when and any side effects), and discipline.
  • When you first pick up your child give them your full attention before reading the log. They should never have to worry about your reaction after reading the parenting log-keep reactions private even when you believe that they cannot understand.

Remember this is a unique situation, and as your child gets older and can read, you should no longer use the parenting log as a means of communication.  Just as important, it is the realization that you do not need to keep this degree of detail passing between homes as your child gets older.  Share whatever you would want to know about as their stage of development changes.

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