01/04/2013 05:14 pm ET Updated Mar 06, 2013

5 Resolutions for Co-parenting Success in the New Year

For most of us, New Year's resolutions focus on solo efforts and individual gains: I vow to lose 10 pounds and exercise regularly so that I look and feel great.

By contrast, relationship resolutions -- specifically, those that improve co-parenting with a spouse, ex, or anyone else with whom you raise kids- - combine personal satisfaction with your children's well-being.

According to Psychology professor and co-parenting specialist James P. McHale: "Co-parenting refers to how parents work together when they are raising a child. Do they agree on parenting strategies? Do they support each other's efforts in raising the child?" And, I might add, do they handle disagreements well?

Experts like McHale report persuasive connections between poor co-parenting and a range of children's problems, like lower academic achievement, social adaptation issues, anxiety, depression and aggressiveness.

So when you imagine the kind of 2013 you most want for your kids, check out these five co-parenting resolutions to help get them -- and you -- there:

1. Fight Right Divorce literature details the most detrimental conflicts for kids. Yet, the same info applies equally well to those of us who parent with spouses. Whatever co-parenting situation you find yourself in, try to avoid:
  • Aggression and contempt, e.g., coercing someone into agreeing, eye rolling, sarcasm, insults, dismissive words or behaviors and real or threatened physical violence.
  • Putting kids in the middle: No matter how tempting their allegiance, refrain from placing kids between co-parents and refuse their efforts to position themselves there.
  • Fighting about kids: Even when convinced children can't hear you in the next room or next block, reserve disagreements about them for occasions when they're literally far away.
Also, try to resolve those disagreements before they return. 2. Compromise Without Resentment Effective co-parenting not only embraces compromise, it diminishes resentments related to compromises. How? Instead of judging your co-parent's perspective, try to understand it, which isn't the same as agreeing with it. Why privilege understanding? Feeling understood reduces distress over not getting our way. So how can we increase mutual understanding?

3. Get Curious About Differences
Years ago, John Gray claimed that men are from Mars and women from Venus. Yet, the truth is, we're all from different planets; each individual possesses unique beliefs, values and priorities. Successful co-parenting invites us to accept differences and collaborate for our kids' well-being and our own sanity.

The next time you differ on a co-parenting issue, ask: What planet are you from and how do you handle this issue on your planet? How does your approach benefit kids on your planet? To excel as a galactic explorer, listen to your co-parent's responses with curiosity, not judgment. Then, invite him/her to ask the same questions of you.

4. Don't "Should On" Anyone
Whenever you "should on" yourself or others, rest assured that your best self has pulled up stakes and left your inner critics running the show. While insisting that you, or others, should (or shouldn't) do or say something often feels satisfying -- even if controlling and bossy, assuredness can be comforting -- making demands erodes teamwork and limits our ability to handle challenges creatively.

5. Focus On What Works
As often as possible, acknowledge what your co-parent does right: "I know I can count on you to [fill in the blank with something positive]." Also, detail your efforts: "You can count on me to [fill in the blank with 2-3 things valued by your co-parent, even if not by you]." Recognizing what works, even and especially if co-parenting poses challenges, eases negativity and inspires productivity.

Co-parenting with someone who snubs relationship-resolutions or expresses interest but lacks follow-through? While co-parenting works best with teamwork and collaboration, we can each choose to pursue every single one of these resolutions on our own. You have the power to co-parent effectively in the coming year and well beyond. Your children might never thank you for the effort, but their well-being will be thanks enough.