When parents split up, sometimes children get lost in the shuffle or become pawns in their parents' ongoing power struggles.

In the aftermath, raising children separately but cooperatively can be a challenge. Differing views on child-rearing may irritate an already painful wound. Kids may feel pulled in opposing directions.

What can parents do to make sure their children do not become "collateral damage" in what is sometimes a lasting bitter battle?

Parents can get educated and heed some advice from people successfully co-parenting.

Education opportunity

University of Minnesota Extension offers a program called Parents Forever, which offers courses and educational resources that teach parents about the impact of family transition and offers strategies that help both parents and children adjust to their new life.

The Parents Forever course curriculum - developed by the University of Minnesota Extension's Center for Family Development - is based on a wealth of research about divorce and its effects on children, as well as evidence-informed practices in the field of parent education.

The Parents Forever curriculum reflects the belief that if parents engage in healthy self-care, parent-child relationships and co-parenting relationships, their children will experience more positive outcomes after a divorce or separation.

Parents Forever courses are offered in-person or online. Douglas County's Extension office doesn't offer an in-person Parents Forever course, but nearby Otter Tail and Stearns counties do. The online version is available at www.extension.umn.edu/family/parents-forever/.

"What we have learned is that having both parents involved - when it's safe to do so - is really beneficial, in whatever that situation may look like for the parent," said Ellie McCann, extension educator with the University of Minnesota Extension in Moorhead.

Parenting cooperatively

There are plenty of horror stories about child custody and exchanges and who gets the kids for the holidays. However, there are also examples of successful co-parenting.

The Echo Press put out a call on Facebook for people who are successfully co-parenting.

Alexandria native Jay Johnson and DeAnne Misgen shared how they're making it work.

Jay and DeAnne were married for 12 years before they divorced in 2012. They have three sons - Aidan, 12, Myles, 8, and Graham, 5.

"The first six months or so [after the divorce] were a little rough between us, but pretty quickly smoothed out," DeAnne told the Echo Press.

She said people are always asking how is it that she and Jay can get along so great.

"I've actually spent a lot of time trying to figure out the answer to that question," she said. "Here's what I have come up with - we share the same morals and values - religion, education, what is important and what are priorities in life. It is much easier to raise kids together when you are not bickering over big items such as those."

Plus, she said, she likes Jay.

"He's a good guy. I like being friends with him. We remain friends because we share the same core values and morals."

Jay and DeAnne have agreed to always put the best interest of the kids above their own.

"For example, the flexibility with trading kids or times or letting the other person see the kids when it is 'not their parenting time,' etc. We do what makes the most sense for all of us," DeAnne explained. "We never keep track. It's never a situation where somebody is 'owed' back."

How did they settle on who gets the kids when?

"We worked out our divorce terms with our individual attorneys. We did not have to go to court. We agreed to the equal parenting time and the parenting schedule. We have actually tweaked the schedule some since the divorce decree was written, but again we were able to agree to the changes among ourselves," DeAnne said.

Ultimately, she said, the kids benefit from seeing mom and dad working together.

"It has helped them have peace with our divorce and be well-adjusted kids. I think we both believe it takes a village and working together makes the ride smoother for us all," DeAnne said.

Jay and DeAnne didn't take co-parenting courses like the one offered by U of M Extension.

"But I think they should be mandatory for anyone with children before a judge will sign a divorce as final," DeAnne added.

Moving on

Jay and DeAnne have both moved on in life. DeAnne is remarried. She and her husband, Jeff, have a son together, Quinn, who is 1 year old, and Jeff has three daughters from a previous relationship.

"Jay has been incredibly respectful and kind to my new husband and new family. That goes miles in my book for returning the respect and kindness," DeAnne said. "We all get along, we all work together, there are even times when Jay communicates directly with my husband on picking up kids."

Jay said getting closure on their relationship allowed them to move forward and be two positive people raising kid.

"I've had friends ask me about divorce and all I hear is negativity going on - I don't hear much about two people raising kids. Putting the kids first is our primary goal. If [DeAnne] is happy, my kids are happy and ultimately, that makes me happy," Jay said.

"I consider myself lucky; I know that I am in the minority of divorced couples that can get along and successfully co-parent, and I am grateful every day," DeAnne added.

Both Deanne and Jay live in Shakopee.

Pamela Knudson of Forum News Service contributed to this article.

ADVICE FOR COOPERATIVE PARENTING

Jay Johnson and DeAnne Misgen have three sons and divorced about three years ago. Since then, they've worked out a team approach to raising the kids and co-parenting in the best interest of the kids. DeAnne offers advice for what has helped them get to where they are today:

• We share the same morals and values. It's easier to raise kids together when you're not bickering over big items such as those.

• We put the best interest of our kids above our own. For example, the flexibility with trading kids or times or letting the other person see the kids when it is "not their parenting time," etc. We do what makes the most sense for all of us. We never keep track, it's never a situation where somebody is "owed" back.

• I value his opinion and input and always ask for it before making decisions that regard our children. He does the same. It's a mutual respect of still being parents together.

• We have a lot of good memories from our years together. Remember the sweet and let go of the sour.

• We genuinely both want the other to be happy, healthy and prosperous in whatever direction life takes us. Life is too short not to live a happy life! Do what is in the best interest of your kids; focus your effort on loving them more, [rather] than on hating your ex.