PARENT EDUCATION: What Is Co-Parenting and Why Is It Important?

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By Kristen Olson-Gaia, Clinical Intern

Co-parenting is when parents work together to raise children for whom they share responsibility. It defines a relationship in which the parties are not involved in an intimate relationship with each other anymore. The relationship focuses solely on the child or children who are the product(s) of that former intimate relationship. Unless there are serious issues like domestic violence, co-parenting is the best way to meet your child’s needs. Co-parenting also means the child will maintain good relationships with both parents.

Even though the divorce rate in the United States is dropping, there is still a large marriage divide affecting working-class and poor families. According to data from the 2018 Census, only 24% of Americans in the lower-third income bracket have an intact marriage.

With divorce still prevalent, parents need to develop healthy and effective communication strategies to jointly raise children. Studies show children from divorced homes have more psychological problems, with higher anxiety and depression rates.

Children benefit mentally from co-parenting due to:

  • There being cohesion on rules.
  • Similar discipline and expectations put in place in both home settings.
  • Parents providing good examples of communication between adults.

When parents are not able to establish or maintain an amicable co-parenting relationship, their child will suffer. A child may struggle to develop maladaptive coping skills while trying to gain control amidst chaos.

How Do You Successfully Co-Parent?

It’s important to separate the personal relationship from the co-parenting relationship. Your relationship with your intimate partner ended for a reason. So, it can be difficult to look past the personal issues and navigate the transition to a co-parenting relationship. It may be helpful to view the co-parenting relationship as a completely new connection with your ex – one focused on the well-being of your child.

Keeping emotions out of your discussions can be difficult. Especially in the early days of navigating the co-parenting relationship. There are many decisions you will need to make as a parent, and those decisions become more complicated by living in different households. Remember, not all will be the same for the child going back and forth.

While it is important to work together to make major decisions affecting your child, it is not necessary every aspect of both households be the same. Acknowledge this and know it is okay.

Children are capable of understanding there may be different structures in different places. They do not, and are not expected to, follow the exact same rules at their grandparents’ house as they are at school or at a friend’s house. Try to focus on rules you want to universally impose such as bed times, off-limit activities and curfews. You can allow for flexibility in other areas.

Again, while consistency is important, remember it is completely normal to parent differently than your ex. They are entitled to their parenting decisions as much as you are.

How Can I Be a Good Parent After a Divorce?

When a child is confident in the love both their parents have for them, they adjust more easily to divorce. As you transition from your roles as intimate partners to roles as co-parents, remember to be kind to yourself. Allow yourself some time to grieve the loss of the family you had envisioned and accept the newly created family dynamic.

Even though co-parenting focuses on the child, know that parents work on themselves as well during this process. If one parent hasn’t moved on from their past relationship, the hurt, sadness and anger will follow into the co-parenting relationship.

To make this transition easier, it can be helpful to view your past intimate relationship as a completed one rather than a failed one. Give yourself the opportunity to work on yourself. The happier you are as in individual, the easier it will be to co-parent with your ex.

Not every interaction with your ex will go well. It’s important during these times to remind yourself your children benefit from your willingness to amicably co-parent. If you find yourself becoming emotional, give yourself some time to calm down and refocus on your role. It is okay to tell your ex you need to take a break before continuing a conversation. Same with coming to a decision because your emotions could threaten to cloud the issue.

Try to remain accessible and available to your co-parent when they are reaching out. Now, you do not need to respond to everything your ex says or does if it does not concern co-parenting. If they are straying from the topic, you can ask them to stop and begin engagement again once you are both back talking about your child.

Remember, your children are watching and learning from you. Chances are they are well aware of tension between parents. So, if they see you communicating kindly and respectfully with each other, they will learn disagreements can still lead to a common goal.

How Do You Co-Parent Without Fighting?

Transiting from an intimate relationship to a co-parenting one is difficult for every member of the family. If two people no longer see eye-to-eye, it is common they will also have difficulty seeing eye-to-eye in a co-parenting relationship. Hopefully, both parents can at least agree the health and well-being of their child is of upmost importance.

Co-parenting counseling can help parents learn how to easily and effectively operate by encouraging them to:

  • Communicate openly and fairly.
  • Listen to both parties’ concerns and opinions.
  • Make joint decisions.
  • Create cohesive home settings for the children.

When you are co-parenting, tensions can run high. It can help having someone to talk to when times are difficult. You never want to bring your child into adult situations and problems. In a co-parenting relationship, your child is already sensitive to potential tensions. The better you are navigating the ups and downs of a co-parenting relationship, the better off your child will be in the present and in the long run.

Anchorpoint’s parent counseling services can help you or someone you know who is struggling supporting their child or teen. Our family counselors teach parenting skills and child communication strategies. Call at (412)-366-1300 or use our Digital Intake Form to schedule an appointment today. Hope is only a phone call away.