What is co-parenting?

what is co-parentingIf you have children and are going through a divorce or separation, co-parenting is an issue that must be addressed if both parents are going to remain involved in the children’s lives. Before we get into why co-parenting is important, and how it works, I want to get clear on what “co-parenting” is so we are all on the same page.

Defining the terms “co-parent” and “co-parenting”

Starting with the Mirriam-Webster definition of “co-parent (noun): a person (such as a noncustodial parent or cohabiting partner) who shares parental duties with a custodial parent.”  My definition of co-parenting gets rid of the idea that co-parenting is tied to any particular type of access schedule. Instead, I use the term, I’m referring to both involved parents as a “co-parent” and define co-parenting as a relationship in which both parents contribute to the raising of their child(ren).

Different kinds of co-parenting styles

I’ve heard from many parents that when they hear the term co-parenting, they associate it with a specific type of co-parenting style called cooperative co-parenting. In this style of co-parenting the parents are able to communicate, resolve conflicts as they arise, and stay focused on the wellbeing of their kids. Cooperative co-parents are able to work collaboratively, maintaining the best interests of their children as the highest priority.

There are many other types of co-parenting relationships, styles or dynamics, that can develop when a relationship is more contentious. One such common style is parallel parenting. Communication and interaction between parents is very limited when parallel parenting. Contact is limited, by design, to avoid conflict between the parents. The parents may only communicate in writing or through a third party. With parallel parenting, in many ways the child is living two separate lives.

Another dynamic that you hear a lot about is high conflict parents. In those cases, the parties frequently communicate about the children. They communicate about day to day issues such as transition details, as well as bigger issues like school. However, they frequently disagree on even small issues, and are unable to reach agreements. When they do come to an agreement, one or both parents will refuse to follow it. Their communications often lead to conflict, confusion and chaos.

All three of these, cooperative, parallel and high conflict, are broad classifications with nuances and variations. Cooperative co-parenting without court involvement is the goal, but in reality, it is not always possible. Cooperative co-parenting is hard, and doing it with a toxic ex is even harder. In some cases where safety is concern, the communication and interaction needed to co-parent might make it impossible. But generally the goal is to create a cooperative co-parenting relationship.

How can you successfully co-parent?

You might be thinking – we fought during our whole marriage, how are we going to get along now? Remember, conflict is normal during divorce and separation. It is common for unresolved issues from marriage to come up during this time of high stress and emotion.  If not checked it can draw you back into the same downward spiral of conflict. The key is to create a new co-parenting relationship that is distinct from the romantic relationship you had with your partner, focused on a shared goal of parenting your children.

So, how can you keep things on course and set yourself up for a successful co-parenting relationship? The critical time frame that can really determine the trajectory of your divorce and co-parenting journey is the very beginning. You and your spouse have made the decision to divorce, and now face the question of what next. How are you going to co-parent your children while you figure out the details of your separation and start the divorce process? Here are some things to focus on when navigating co-parenting early on:

  • Find a method of communication that is effective for resolving day to day issues. Consider and agree how you will approach the bigger, important issues too.
  • Promote a positive image of your co-parent to your children.
  • Agree and set boundaries for this new co-parenting relationship around issues like discussing new partners.
  • Present a united front – both parents support the others decisions in discussion with their children. If there is disagreement about a decision, it is discussed without the children involved.

If you are struggling to co-parent without conflict, or are just thinking about separating and concerned about how co-parenting would work, co-parenting coaching can be a great avenue to explore. Coaching can help you gain a new perspective on parenting issues, and the tools and skills to co-parent with less conflict and more cooperatively.

Allison McFadden is a Divorce and Co-Parenting Coach.  She has helped clients navigate divorce for over a decade, first as a family law attorney, and now as a coach.  She decided to focus exclusively on coaching because individuals should be in control of their own destiny, not the default, and decisions about children should be made by their parents.  She can help you navigate your divorce with purpose and dignity – learn how she can help you create a roadmap forward here.

This information is provided for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship.

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