Co-parenting involves two parents having an active role in their children’s lives when they are no longer in a relationship together. How can this be done successfully? What are the big NO NOs? What has been my experience? Read on to find out more..
Introduction to Co-parenting
A relationship breakdown is rarely easy. Strong emotions and big changes can cause a magnitude of stress for both parties but it becomes even more difficult when there are children involved. Research tells us how important it is for children to grow up with security and stability in their lives, so when two parents don’t get along – it can have deep and lasting impacts on that child’s life and future. Sharing custody can be complex, frightening and emotional but many have proven that it can be done successfully. When there is a willingness to work together and do what is in the best interests of the child, co-parenting can be a much better option than remaining in an unhappy relationship to raise children.
What exactly is co-parenting?
Co-parenting involves two parents having an active role in their children’s lives when they are no longer in a relationship together. If there were issues during the relationship, or if the split was particularly hostile, co-parenting can be extremely challenging. Joint custody arrangements can be fraught with stress and frustration – especially in circumstances where there is a contentious relationship between the two parents. There might be concerns around a parent’s ability to provide a safe and loving environment and there may be other stressors involved like financial issues, child support, ongoing conflict and lingering resentment from the breakdown of the relationship. It is very unique to individual circumstances as to whether you involve the family court system or whether you can make arrangements with the other parent privately.
Under a co-parenting arrangement, both parties may be involved in making shared decisions in relation to the child. This includes a need for cordial interactions with each other when transferring the child from one home to the other and some communication is required to be able to jointly decide the bigger issues relating to that child’s life. In order to ensure an effective co-parenting relationship, it is important to stay calm and consistent and put strategies in place to help resolve any conflicts that might arise. Sometimes this is easier said than done and there may be times where the child/ren involved witness conflict, arguments or disagreements but it is so important that parents have time and opportunity to discuss issues without the child present if there is a chance of such conflict.
Here are 10 indicators that a co-parenting arrangement is functioning effectively and successfully: 10 Signs of an Effective Co-Parenting Relationship (verywellfamily.com).
How do you successfully co-parent?
Many experts now recommend the use of a formalised co-parenting plan to support this kind of arrangement to be successful. A co-parenting plan will set out the details of the day-to-day roles and expectations to ensure appropriate communication and a team approach to raising the child together. The co-parenting plan should include strategies and protocols for making decisions about the child’s education or medical needs, and it should also involve a clear decision-making guideline. It is beneficial for a co-parenting plan to detail who is responsible for what in terms of finances and laying out clear expectations surrounding a contact schedule is essential. Incorporating how to handle special events and holidays is beneficial and sometimes parents will need to determine what will happen in circumstances where a child is ill and needs to stay home from school or childcare. Once a co-parenting plan is complete and is in place, both parties will need to agree on a process for adjusting the plan in the future as required.
Co-parenting: getting the balance right | Raising Children Network offer some very useful advice and tips for successful co-parenting and urge individuals to be flexible, communicative and tolerant within a co-parenting arrangement. Above all, it is vital to understand the importance of the child being able to feel connected to both parents and to know that they are loved and cared for – this will help the child to thrive despite the complexities of living within a world where custody is shared.
What is the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting?
Whilst co-parenting involves two parents working together to raise a child despite living separately, parallel parenting occurs when both parties are unable or unwilling to interact appropriately or problem-solve together. Under a parallel parenting arrangement, both parents keep everything completely separate and communicate minimally. This arrangement is certainly not ideal for children and should therefore be a last resort option for separated parents who just can’t work together. Parallel parenting means that children will have less consistency in their world and may feel confused at having to divide their lives in two. Whilst parallel parenting should be explored when all other options are exhausted, here you will find a helpful guide for developing a parallel parenting agreement: How to Create a Parallel Parenting Plan That Benefits All (healthline.com)
What co-parents should not do!
A poor co-parenting relationship can certainly be damaging to a child. Endless animosity and fighting can leave a child feeling unsafe, insecure and unsure about themselves and how they fit into the world. Whilst the whole situation can be exhausting and even infuriating at times, it is never ok to speak negatively about the other parent in front of the child and it is never ok to intentionally alienate the other parent and shut them out of their child’s life. Parental alienation occurs when a parent undermines the child’s relationship with the other parent and this can be emotionally damaging for both the child and the parent impacted. In recent years, the court system has become more aware of parental alienation and if it is proven that this is occurring, it can certainly impact on the outcome of a court order. Dealing with an ex-partner can certainly be problematic, but here you will find some helpful advice about co-parenting with a difficult ex: 9 Tips for Co-Parenting With a Difficult Ex – Divorce Magazine
What has been my experience with co-parenting?
When Andy’s father left us to move overseas for a year, when Andy was 3 years old, I was left to make all the decisions as a single mother with no support so co-parenting was non existent for me at that time. When Andy’s father returned after 1 year and wanted to take an active parenting role, Andy would stay at his place every second weekend and it continued like this for several years where I would continue to make the majority of the decisions regarding Andy’s health, schooling and general upbringing. At times I would offer Tom (Andy’s father) the opportunity to contribute to decision making, to which he would sometimes offer an opinion, and other times he was happy to trust me and the decisions I was making for Andy.
After several years, Tom decided he was more available more often and wanted to spend more time with Andy. After consulting Andy, who was now much older and capable of expressing his opinion and desire for where he wanted to spend his time, it was decided that care would be split 50/50. This became difficult for me as I was now spending much less time with Andy, where I had become accustomed to spending the majority of my time outside of work, parenting him, spending quality time with him and making those important decisions. All of a sudden the 50/50 care arrangement came with a feeling of losing something. It wasn’t just the feeling of losing my quality time with Andy but I was also struggling with feelings of losing control, losing my baby, losing authority and also losing my favourite company!
There have been a few times lately where communication with Tom has become quite difficult. This means that conversations regarding Andy’s well-being as well as care arrangements and sometimes changes to them are stressful. Whether this has occurred due to changes and stresses in Tom’s life, I am unsure, but it has meant that simple exchanges can lead to arguments, conflict and musings of whether a co-parenting arrangement or a parallel parenting arrangement might be more appropriate. We have never involved the family court before and while I would like to avoid involving the courts, I also need to think about my own mental well-being, about the best interests of Andy and whether mediation and minimal engagement with Tom might be the healthier option for all involved.
It has taken quite some time for Andy’s father and I to get to a point where we both communicate amicably, in a calm manner and with Andy’s best interests at the forefront of both of our minds, but my biggest take aways and advice for others are as follows;
- Communicate with the other co-parent as if you were conversing with a work colleague – professionally, assertively and without reacting emotionally
- Make intentions and requests clear, and converse politely
- If conversations are difficult, stick to email or texting
- Never argue in front of your child/ren
- Never speak ill of the other parent in front of your child; teach your child to respect both parents equally
- Listen to your child – they will most likely communicate how they are feeling about the co-parenting arrangement and whether they want more time with either parent – however it is important to consider whether they are old enough to make those decisions
- Enjoy your child free time as much as you can! Socialise, take care of yourself and do things you enjoy. Self care and social time will make you a better parent!
Summary of Co-parenting
Parents who manage to successfully co-parent their children after a relationship breakdown are to be commended. There is no doubt that for the success of a co-parenting arrangement, both parties must be willing to communicate and compromise and to always, always put their child first. Whilst the two parents may no longer be in a romantic relationship, they will forever be bound together by the person who matters most to them – their child. It is therefore a good idea to make all attempts possible to put in place supports and structures that will help the co-parenting arrangement be one that ensures that the child has the opportunity to grow up in a safe and secure environment no matter what the circumstances of the parents might be.
Please share with me your experience with co-parenting, whether you are new to single parenting, or if you gained something helpful or insightful from my article! I would love to hear from you!