What Is Co-Parenting
Co-parenting is a collaborative arrangement in which two or more individuals, often, but not always, separated or divorced parents, share the responsibility of raising a particular child. It can include deciding how the child will be educated, treated, and involved in extracurricular activities as well as providing emotional and financial support.
The definition of co-parenting varies depending on who you ask.
But using the abovementioned definition, the individuals involved can be married, never-married, or divorced couples regardless of the couple’s sexual orientation and whether the child is biologically linked to their caregivers.
There is no assumption that co-parenting has been a romantic relationship.
In some cultures, young mothers co-parent with their own mothers. In others, caregiving is a shared responsibility of multiple group members. Co-parenting can sometimes occur even if one parent is absent or uninvolved since both parents are expected to share caregiving duties1.
The implementation of co-parenting can also take many forms. While some parents live together, others have different arrangements, but they still raise their children together.
How Co-parenting Works
Four major, interrelated components can affect the outcomes of co-parenting2.
Disagreements about childrearing are associated with more behavior issues in preschool, kindergarten, and adolescence.
Boys’ moral reasoning, sociability, and alienation, and girls’ self-confidence, responsibility, social skills, ability to cope with adversity, and freedom of expression are all linked to them3.
However, childrearing disagreement itself may not necessarily result in negative family outcomes. Parents who “agree to disagree” may maintain high levels of co-parenting support, actively negotiate disagreements, and reach compromises for family management.
Negative effects only arise when acute or chronic disagreement disrupts parenting or other co-parenting aspects, leading to coordination difficulties, mutual undermining, criticism, or hostile interparental conflict.
Division of Labor
Another major component of co-parenting is the division of duties, tasks, and responsibilities related to childcare, household chores, and ongoing legal, medical, and financial issues related to the child.
The actual division of tasks is not as crucial as whether the parents are satisfied with the negotiations and the resulting division of responsibilities.
Parents are usually satisfied when the division aligns with their expectations and beliefs regarding childrearing contributions.
Unmet expectations may cause feelings of unfairness and resentment, increasing parental stress and depression and possibly affecting warm, sensitive interactions with the child4.
The level of support each parent provides to the other can immensely affect the outcome of co-parenting.
This support can take several forms, such as affirming the other’s abilities and competence as a parent, acknowledging and respecting the other’s contributions to child-rearing, and upholding the other’s parenting decisions and authority.
In a healthy co-parenting relationship, both parents work together and try to bolster each other’s roles in their child’s life.
However, when one parent undermines the other through criticism, disparagement, and blame, or if they adopt a competitive approach, the co-parenting relationship becomes strained, ultimately impacting the child’s upbringing and emotional well-being.
The support and validation of a co-parent increase parental self-esteem and self-efficacy, which is associated with better academic and social-emotional adjustment in children5.
On the other hand, co-parental undermining may leave them feeling overwhelmed or flooded with negative feelings.
Joint Family Management
Co-parenting management involves three types of family interactions. Parents
- Manage their co-parenting communication behavior. For example, they can be friendly or hostile.
- Set boundaries involving or excluding other family members in the interactions. Some parents may drag children into interparental conflicts.
- Exhibit varying levels of involvement in family dynamics. For instance, they may choose to assume a leading role or take a step back and withdraw from certain situations.
Co-parenting can arise from various circumstances, but when it’s due to a divorce or separation, certain steps can be taken to facilitate a smoother co-parenting process.
To create an effective co-parenting plan and a stable environment for your child, keep in mind the following recommendations.
Change is one of the best predictors of a good, healthy co-parenting relationship.
This includes modifying how parents think and feel about their ex-partners and avoiding conflicts.
Those who prioritize their children, regulate challenging feelings, and choose their battles wisely regarding time and money tend to be more effective co-parents6.
Establish A Basic Level of Agreement
If co-parenting arises due to a divorce, the child may experience a wide range of overwhelming emotions. To reduce the confusion and adverse effects of separation, try to reach a consensus on basic aspects of the child’s life.
Establishing collaborative agreements on education, health, and safety can help the child navigate this challenging time with greater stability and support.
If necessary, document this in writing to prevent any confusion or ambiguity in the future7.
Agree To Disagree
It would be ideal if the two co-parents could reach a consensus on fundamental parenting principles or childrearing values.
Unfortunately, some parents cannot achieve it, not even the simplest agreements.
Exposure to chronic conflicts between parents is linked to problems in the child’s social functioning, behavior, and mental health8.
If you cannot agree on certain issues, rather than arguing over them, agree to disagree.
As long as the differences in parenting do not cause harm to the child, respectfully agree on using the preferred parenting style when the child is in each parent’s care.
Don’t Undermine The Other Parent
Undermining is not limited to overt and hostile criticism or name-calling. It may also be subtle and innocuous, such as interrupting the other parent or intervening to reverse the other parent’s disciplinary decision.
This behavior may result in parent alienation, confusion, and opportunity for manipulation by the child.
It is correlated to lower self-sufficiency, higher rates of major depressive disorder, lower self-esteem, and insecure attachment styles in the child9.
Explain The differences
When you and your co-parent inadvertently make different child-rearing decisions, you don’t have to agree with it, but you also don’t need to undermine it.
For instance, you can say, “I apologize that your dad decided to take away your iPad as a punishment. Although I might disagree with his choice, I respect his decision, and you should, too. Your dad and I make different parenting decisions based on our individual experiences, but our shared goal is to raise you well together.”
By doing this, you can tackle the issue of having different parenting styles without speaking negatively about the other parent or undermining their disciplinary measures. Additionally, this approach helps teach your child the importance of respecting different perspectives.
Create a Schedule
Establish a clear and well-defined plan outlining how time will be divided between parents.
This plan should include specific details about pick-up and drop-off arrangements, scheduled activities, and any other aspects related to the child’s daily life.
Having a comprehensive plan in place helps minimize misunderstandings and ensures a more seamless co-parenting experience for both the parents and the child.
Flexibility in Rules
When dividing tasks between parents, deciding how strict or flexible the rules will be is important.
Some couples make strict rules, while others are more flexible and adjust when needed. A mix of structure and flexibility is usually best, but during difficult times like when a child starts school, being more flexible can help.
On the other hand, if the co-parents often argue and can’t negotiate well, having more structured rules can help reduce conflict and avoid disputes.
In general, parents who are flexible with their schedules while maintaining some consistency are happier about their co-parenting arrangements6.
Choose Technology Wisely
When co-parents maintain an amicable relationship, communication technologies like cell phones and online schedules can facilitate planning and joint decision-making for their children despite living apart.
Keeping the lines of communication open is also easier with them.
However, such technologies do not necessarily improve co-parenting when parents have a contentious relationship.
For example, some contentious parents may use these tools to withhold information or limit the other co-parent’s input in child-rearing decisions10.
Even if parents don’t always see eye to eye on how to raise their children, they can still be there for each other.
Coparenting support might mean something as simple as passing a toy to the other parent when they ask for it while playing with the child.
Supportive coparenting can make a big difference in how confident and capable parents feel in their parenting abilities when dealing with difficult situations11.
Positive communication between parents is important to the success of co-parenting and the child’s outcome.
But in cases where the separation is high-conflict or hostile, co-parents may not be able to support each other.
Support from friends or family can be very helpful in enhancing self-efficacy in such unhealthy situations.
Social support can make a big difference in parents’ mental health12.
Seek Professional Help
Co-parenting can be a challenging task, and it’s not uncommon for conflicts to arise between co-parents, which can negatively impact the child’s emotional well-being.
Seeking professional help from a family therapist can provide a safe and neutral environment for co-parents to work through any issues they may be experiencing.
A family therapist can help co-parents communicate more effectively, build trust, and establish clear boundaries, all of which are crucial for effective co-parenting.
Ultimately, investing in professional help can lead to a more positive and healthy co-parent relationship, which benefits both the parents and the child.
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