Co-parenting is when two people share the responsibilities of raising one or more children, but do not live together. This generally occurs in the aftermath of a divorce, separation, or break-up. When children are involved, it’s important to put bitter feelings aside and develop an amicable relationship with your ex. This will help steer the conflict away from the kids with minimal scarring so they will feel reassured by both parents’ unconditional love and support.
Ideally, co-parents will continue to do family activities together while maintaining their friendship. Some even go on family vacations together. One example is estranged high profile actors, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, who seem to have a great relationship, go on family outings, live on the same property, and share daily responsibilities with their three young children.
However, a more common co-parenting scenario is where the parents live in separate residences, while collaborating on parenting responsibilities while communicating amicably. More like colleagues than friends, if only for the sake of the children.
Unfortunately, some parenting relationships become adversarial and hostile with the kids placed smack-dab in the middle of the battlefield. This creates a lot of stress, fear, and resentment for children that can cause deep emotional scars that last well into adulthood. In this situation, a parallel parenting type of arrangement may work better because it minimizes the amount of contact parents have with each other, while allowing the kids to interact with both parents.
When parents work together as partners, children feel secure in the love of both parents and know they are more important than the discord surrounding the split. This reassurance gives them the ability to adjust to the inevitable transitions taking place. Co-parenting establishes similar guidelines and procedures in both households including routines, discipline, and rewards which provides much needed consistency and structure.
Here are some tips for creating a more harmonious co-parenting arrangement:
- Develop an effective parenting plan to keep the focus on the children and not on the rocky relationship.
- Remain calm and flexible when life gets in the way. Sometimes plans need to be changed or someone may get sick.
- Both parents should back-up one another and be consistent with bedtimes and schedules.
- Never badmouth the other parent in front of your child because it will make them feel very uncomfortable. You may even see some unpleasant behavior develop out of the negativity.
- Be open and honest when kids ask questions. The last thing you want is for them to internalize and blame themselves for the break-up.
- Don’t use your child a messenger for communicating with your ex. Talk to the other parent directly or use another adult as a facilitator.
Sometimes, even with the most amicable of splits, establishing an effective co-parenting plan with your ex can be difficult. And, in a high conflict relationship, therapeutic intervention is almost always needed. A qualified mental health professional can provide parenting and dispute resolution coordination, and post-divorce family therapy for all members of the family.