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Seasoned Ex-Spouses And Co-parenting Pros Divulge All Their Best Back-To-School Advice For 2020

by Angela Andaloro

Co-parenting can be challenging. Even under the best circumstances, it’s hard to raise a child in two different households where rules and routines may differ.

Those challenges become magnified in a time like this, when every decision seems to hold some extra weight to it.

Nikki DeBartolo and Ben Heldfond understand these struggles. The ex-spouses are co-authors of Our Happy Divorce: How Ending Our Marriage Brought Us Closer Together. They share a son, Asher.

Nikki and Ben met in 1997. They married in 2001 and welcomed Asher two years later. By 2007, the couple decided their relationship wasn’t working, but they recognized that divorce often became an ugly option because of what it put the members of a family through.

With that realization, they decided to do things differently. The couple put Asher and his best interests first in all areas of their split. They created a list of principles for their family and committed to them. Nikki and Ben have both since remarried, and their partners who are equally committed to their family values. They’ve shared their insight into tackling tough subjects and this year’s back-to-school decisions for co-parents with LittleThings.

Nikki DeBartolo and Ben Heldfond have been in a happy co-parenting relationship for over a decade. The two share a teenage son, Asher, who happily splits his time between both parents, who have also since remarried. In their journey, they learned a thing or two about what it takes to put your child first and really make things work.

Now they’re sharing that expertise with LittleThings. We asked the parents how they felt being in quarantine has impacted the co-parenting relationship.

“Personally, speaking about our relationship, Ben and I have benefited from quarantine. We found ourselves talking more and making decisions for what was best for our family as a whole,” Nikki noted.

“When the mandate to quarantine first started, we both sat down and had a level-headed conversation, agreeing on parameters, guidelines, and rules that both families were going to follow,” Nikki continued.

“We wanted to make decisions based on what was best for our son, Asher, since he was going to be between both houses.”

Putting Asher’s needs front and center has been paramount in keeping things positive between the ex-spouses.

Putting your child first can be harder than you think in practice. Nikki and Ben say that staying zeroed in on that focus makes all the difference.

“The one thing that parents don’t focus on, whether they are co-parenting together or apart, is prioritizing what is important for their child’s education. We might have different parenting styles, but our commitment to our son makes those differences go away.”

“Our solution to these differences is simple, but not always easy in practice,” they admitted.

“The first math equation we are taught is 2 + 2 = 4. When you are parenting a child with four parents, you might get four different answers, but for us, the only person that the answer has to be 4 is for our son. It’s extremely important to develop a common ground and understanding so you can make decisions based on what is best for your children.”

Many parents are seeing how difficult making decisions can be as they determine what to do about the school year ahead. Ben and Nikki shared how they are tackling this difficult decision.

“For us, it comes down to communication and compromise with everything. This has helped us through 13 years of minor and major decisions in our son Asher’s life,” they explained.

“We might not always see eye to eye, but we try to see things the same way when it comes to him, which makes it so much easier,” they continued.

“If we learned anything from our personal experience, it would be to encourage other co-parents to make a pros/cons list, talk to the school districts, doctors, teachers, and more before making any decision.

“Once you have everything laid out, it’s pretty easy to converse around it. The decision of sending your child back to school this fall not only affects our children but everyone in our family.”

Parents, especially when co-parenting across different households, should make decisions with the goal to keep things as consistent and stable for their kids as possible. It’s tough to do during these inherently fluid times, but it’s not impossible.

“For us, we made it a #1 rule that our son, Asher, couldn’t play ping-pong with us and pin us against each other. For example, if one of us says no and he goes to the other, that is not how it works.

“If one of us says no, the answer is no. We started implementing this rule when he was a child and we also have a group text chat with all four of us that he has to ask permission in always before doing anything. He needs at least two of the same answers before it is allowed.”

If you’re new to co-parenting and find yourself learning the ropes right now, Ben and Nikki also have some advice on what’s the best medium for conversations big and small.

“It really depends on the topic of the conversation. For smaller conversations, we communicate via text; however, it is so important to talk on the phone or Facetime for any serious or ‘big’ conversations,” they noted.

“Especially in the beginning, we encourage all co-parents to communicate in person since too much gets lost in translation, out of context, and taken the wrong way. Use your best judgment, but communication is a big foundation to maintain some ‘normal’ with your co-parent.”

Nikki and Ben celebrated each other on National Parents’ Day, July 26. They’ve kindly shared their keys to showing appreciation and respect for your co-parent on this and every other holiday that celebrates family.

“This is so important. National Parents’ Day is a great time to acknowledge parents for everything they do; however, that doesn’t mean we stop being parents the other 364 days of the year,” they noted.

“When we broke our vows to each other, we were dedicated to never breaking our parental vows to our son, Asher. Part of that was never speaking poorly about the other parent in front of him, as well as on holidays that are dedicated to mothers and fathers, we always try to express our gratitude towards one another,” they said.

“The most important way we show respect for each other is through our actions. We listen to each other and don’t get wrapped up in any negative mentality. Just like it took both of us to end our marriage, it takes both of us to make this post-marriage co-parenting relationship work.”