Co-parenting is a term used in divorce, HOWEVER it should NOT be exclusive to divorce. The truth is that married couples are often guilty of parallel parenting rather than co-parenting. While parallel parenting means both parents are showing up for the child, they are often giving the child conflicting messages. Parents who choose to co-parent operate from a shared set of values, a vision for their child and a strong communication base. Co-parenting is the best solution for children.
Why Parallel Parenting is Often the Norm
Whether married or divorced, parents tend to parallel parent more than co-parent. Today’s parents have their individual interests and pursuits. Often, they are overwhelmed with pursuing a career, caring for the children and caring for themselves. There is a tendency to cut up tasks by strengths and operate individually more often than not. This is a strength when it comes to getting things done. It can be a weakness in staying on the same page. The result can be conflicting messages to the children. Children have more opportunity to “split” parents under these circumstances.
Parallel Parenting in Divorce
The circumstances that lead to parallel parenting are often the same circumstances that lead to divorce. As a result, the issue of parallel parenting is far more prominent as a divorce related issue. Parents in the divorce process are not only on different pages, they are often angry about it. Parallel parenting takes on a whole new meaning in this arena. Parents are often trying to prove one another “wrong” in every area including parenting.
Guess who the victims are? That’s right, the kids. When parents are parallel parenting AND fighting, the kids are often adrift, or even worse they are weaponized by the parents. The children find themselves being used as messengers, often with messages that enrage the other parent. The kids see the disparity between the parents, and quickly learn to play them off one against the other. Not only do they lose respect for their parents, but they begin to lose their own sense of self as well.
Desperate for a sense of self and seeing a need, children can become “parentified”. They begin taking on roles of the absent parent and in essence lose their childhood in the process. The child chooses to provide support for their angry, grief stricken parent. A role that is completely inappropriate for them.
The Co-Parenting Option
Co-parenting is the best solution for children. Co-parenting is simple but not easy. While parallel parenting is born out of breakdown in communication, co-parenting emerges out of conflict resolution and increased communication. This is the challenge; by the time parents are getting divorced, communication is not one of their fortes. Often parents will need the help of a third party to get them out of the deadlock that they find themselves in. Someone to help them end the fight, and restore a sense of common understanding and empathy.
Strengths of Co-parenting
Co-parenting creates safe boundaries for children. Kids know that the rules are the same no matter where they live. That the values are the same. Whether living together or apart, their parents are united in putting the children first. It allows kids to be kids. It keeps children out of the middle. Kids are no longer their parents’ messengers. They know that their parents love them. Co-parenting is the best solution for children. Children learn valuable lessons about conflict resolution when their parents resolve their conflicts and put their kids first. They learn how to build good working relationships by the example of their parents.
Creating A Co-Parenting Plan
The starting point is relearning how to talk to one another. A trained mediator will best facilitate this process. Their job is to help the parents identify the kind of fight that they have been having that is not working, to assist in both parents understanding the why of their positions and to help them deepen their understanding and empathy in the process. This can be a marital mediator for a married couple, or a parent cop-ordinator trained in mediation for divorcing couples.
Whether you choose to bring in a mediator, or hammer this out yourselves there are areas you will need to identify and agree on to have this work.
Discipline: For example, how will you both handle discipline in your household(s)? How willing will you both be to honor each other’s disciplinary choices and will these carry over when the children are on your watch?
Decisions: How will you make decisions? Will there be one decision maker? Will you divide decision making based on individual knowledge and expertise. Perhaps one of you will make decisions about schools while the other handles religious practices.
Communication: How will you both communicate about homework? About food? About friends? Will you go to parent conferences together? If separately how will you relay what happened to one another? WIll you text? Email? Call?
Scheduling: How will you manage the kids’ schedules? How much flex will you have when you both have conflicting scheduling needs? What will happen during the holidays? How will you manage a crisis?
Finances: Who will pay for what? What if there is a financial imbalance between you liek the loss of a job for example? What money will be put away for kids’ colleges? Who will handle medical? Dental?
If you have a toxic parent on the other side, co-parenting will not be an option. A toxic spouse will only see things their way and you will forever be at their beck and call. Toxic parents will remain critical and ostile even when you abide by your agreements. Parallel parenting is the only option and part of your parallel parenting plan will be how to mitigate the impact of the other parent on you r children without pointing the finger at the other parent. Many of my clients have found this particularly challenging and have experienced some amazing successes in mitigating the impact of the toxic parent on their children.
Closing the “Deal”
Putting an agreement in writing will make give it more power. If married, writing the agreement as an informal contract will give it more emotional force in oyur marriage. Once an agreement is in writing you have something to refer to. Getting divorced? Include your co-parenting agreement included in the record. Include what is court enforceable as well as non-enforceable. The act of having it go before the judge and both of you signing off on it will give it more emotional force in your lives. Many components of a parenting plan will be enforceable as well.
The basis of co-parenting is that you both want what is best for your children. You may find that circumstances are such that aspects of your agreement don’t apply to them. That’s OK as long as you are on the same page. As long as you focus on the well-being of your kids, co-parenting is the best solution for children.