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Your romantic relationship didn’t work out, but you and your ex have a lasting bond: a little one. Children are truly special blessings. They also mean that you’re forever tethered to someone who, under different circumstances, you’d likely only check out periodically on Instagram. Healthy co-parenting requires building a muscle most folks don’t innately have, then continuously strengthening it. You should strive to be the best co-parent you can for your sanity, and your child’s—they are always watching. Kids take mental notes on their parents’ behavior and use them to develop their own. They also internalize their parents’ stress and unhappiness. Exes with healthier relationships are more likely to have well-adjusted, confident, and happy children. #Message.

Mother’s Day can present unique stress on co-parenting exes. Caring, mature fathers should aim to model good social skills and loving behaviors for their youngsters. But what do you do if your desire to be an awesome dad directly conflicts with the state of your relationship with your ex? In the words of our Forever First Lady Michelle Obama, you “go high” even if your ex has gone low. Here’s how.

1 Keep Things Kid-Focused

Talk to your little one about Mother’s Day. Discuss the important role moms play in the lives of children and ask how they would like to celebrate their mama. The gift should be age appropriate. Younger children tend to focus on crafts, while tweens and teens often want to give bigger gifts. Help your older child create a realistic budget—make sure they contribute something to the pot—and purchase something for their mommy. Remind your youngster that the gift doesn’t have to be monetary— it can be a special task, presentation, art… whatever sings to them.


2 Big Gifts Aren’t Necessary

You’re not off the hook if your child is too young to give a gift, but you don’t have to pull out that black card either. If your little one is literally a baby, a small token that can be presented as a gift from the child is appropriate. If your child is a bit older, allow them to pick out a gift that a teen with a part-time job can afford. Be mindful of the price point of the present. Spending too little is an insult, but paying for a pricey gift can send mixed messages to both the mother and child. Keep it classy and modest.


3 Plan Your Visit

Each co-parenting relationship is different. Some exes spend time together on special days for the sake of the children. If this is the case, come up with a clear plan for the duration and activity during your visit. For example, do you want to be there when other extended family members or a new significant other are present? Are you coming inside, or just dropping things off? Talk to your ex ahead of time to make sure you both have the understanding to avoid awkward moments.


4 Give a Sincere Thanks

Gifts aren’t the only way we show appreciation. You can show your gratitude with your words. A card, text, or brief exchange are all great ways to let your ex know that you honor her efforts on this special day. Use Mother’s Day as an opportunity to fortify or improve your relationship as friends by keeping your exchange simple and heartfelt.


S. Tia Brown is a journalist and licensed therapist. She’s also a big fan of Jodeci and giving practical life skills.