The World of Co-Parenting

In a recent conversation with someone, a single parent, she talked about the importance of having yin & yang regarding interactions and discipline.  While all parenting should have that type of balance, it is especially important to have that when you are co-parenting.  Co-parenting is the experience of raising children as a single parent when separation or divorce occurs.  Successful co-parenting requires reciprocal interactions of each parent and relies on healthy, open communication, empathy, and patience; this can be especially difficult for people who experienced marital issues (resulting in a separation or divorce), but it’s imperative for your children.

While this process is certainly easier said than done, check out the Do’s & Don’ts of co-parenting.

Do’s:

  • Prepare for change. This is going to be a huge transition!  Nothing is more certain in life than change.  You need to willingly accept that most aspects of your life will radically change.
  • Rules should be consistent and agreed upon at both households. Co-parent as a team and aim for co-parenting consistency! Having similar schedules, rules, and discipline between both parents will make transitions easy for all people involved and will reduce confusion for the children.  Things won’t ever be EXACTLY the same and that’s okay.
  • Recognize that co-parenting will challenge you. You may need to make accommodations in your parenting style based on the needs of your children.  Don’t let frustrations from being challenged impact your relationship with your kids.
  • Embrace the fact that you don’t have to ALWAYS be doing something.Parents often feel the urge to be “the cool parent” or “the fun one”.  That’s not needed.  Spend quality time with your children and adjust to the new normal.
  • Update often. For co-parents who had tumultuous relationships, it may be emotionally painful to be in constant contact with your former partner about all changes in your life, but it is important to be in-the-know about these things.  Share information about grades, sleep-overs, camps, etc.  Your child should never be the primary source of information.
  • Acknowledge each other’s strengths. Each co-parent has valuable strengths as a parent.  Remember to recognize each other’s traits and reinforce this awareness with your children.  Speaking positively about one another teachers your children that despite your differences, you can still acknowledge and appreciate each other’s strengths.
  • Practice empathy. This is a huge change for everyone.  Try putting yourself in your former partner’s shoes and treat them the way you would like to be treated.  It seems like an elementary thing to say, but it’s easily forgotten.  Have empathy for your children, too.  Allow them to voice their feelings and validate their experience.  
  • Enjoy your time off. When it’s not your time to be with the kids, do something that is for YOUR benefit and yours alone!  Some may call this selfish, but I call it self-care.  Everyone needs to recharge their batteries.

Don’ts

  • Don’t burden your child. Children should not be exposed to emotionally charged issues surrounding your former partner.  Putting children in the middle of intense conflict and issues regarding your relationship can promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity.
  • Don’t put your child in the middle. This means don’t use kids as messengers!  When children are used to convey messages between co-parents, it puts them in the center of conflict.  Similarly, don’t say negative things about your former partner to your children.  Your child has a right to have a relationship with both parents free of any bias.
  • Don’t be an unbalanced parent. It may seem like a good idea to be the cool parent, but doing so generally fuels resentment as your children will be more reluctant to follow set rules and routines.  Children develop best with a united front.
  • Don’t give into guilt.Parent’s often experience an abundance of emotions when a separation or divorce happens and they are no longer in their children’s lives on a full-time basis.  Many parents experience guilt–which they convert into overindulgence in an effort to “make it up” to their child.
  • Don’t accuse. Discuss. Communication about co-parenting is VITAL. Discuss issues that arise appropriately and assertively.  Don’t fall back on passive-aggressive tones or finger-pointing.

Co-parenting is not an easy task.  Being a parent and a partner is already difficult enough, but when you add heightened emotion that is often experienced as a result of being in a co-parenting relationship, it makes everything that much more difficult.  At the end of the day, it’s important to push your feelings about your former partner aside and focus on what is best for the kids.  Doing this will allow you to work with your co-parent as a teammate.  It’s not only doable, but is beneficial for the children involved.  Successful co-parenting is a win-win for all.

Benefits of co-parenting

  • When children feel security and consistency from both parents, they adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and new living situations.
  • Children are mentally and emotionally stronger. After all, if children are exposed to conflict between co-parents, they can have lower self esteem and develop depression or anxiety.
  • Children better understand problem solving. Kids learn how to manage life by watching their parents–set a good example for them.
  • When co-parenting becomes the new normal, children need to know that they aren’t abnormal and this is something that will work for them and their family members.

For additional parenting tips & tricks, check out Positive Discipline!

By: Julie Burke, LPC
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