There are many ways to have a family. Co-parenting is one of them. And while there are some useful strategies that may help you navigate this journey, ultimately there’s no single right way to do this. Basically, you find what works for you.
The good news is, if you can find your groove, co-parenting can work really well. After intensive research into the matter, Dr. Linda Nielsen of Wake Forest University has this to say:
“…independent of parental conflict and family income, children in shared physical custody families—with the exception of situations where children need protection from an abusive or negligent parent—have better outcomes across a variety of measures of well-being than do children in sole physical custody.”
In short, co-parenting can be an awesome life choice that benefits everyone involved.
What is co-parenting?
What does co-parenting mean?
Let’s kick off with a definition of co-parenting:
Co-parenting can mean a few things, but at its baseline, it’s all about raising kids with another human being with whom you are not in a domestic or romantic partnership. Sometimes this is the result of a divorce or separation. Sometimes this is the result of never having lived together to begin with.
Co-parenting may mean:
Shared custody where parents do not live together but are both equally involved in raising their kid(s). The law recognizes both parents’ homes as the child’s legal addresses. This situation asks a lot of both sides and can be really challenging at times. How, for example, do you now share this important responsibility with someone you may never really want to see again? If this is where you’re at, the goal is to try to separate your romantic involvement from the job of parenting. So much easier said than done, but all we can do is try.
Platonic parenting. This is when people who are not involved romantically make the decision to parent together. The idea is growing in popularity as many people begin to question traditional ideas of what a family unit is.
Bottom line—it is totally possible to raise happy, healthy children in a co-parenting arrangement.
Co-parenting allows us to ask big questions:
What if romance and parenting are not always compatible ideas? Are there brave ways to go forward, with openness and honesty, that allow everyone involved to be seen, included, and enriched?
What is the difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting?
The difference between co-parenting and parallel parenting is the level of interaction you have with one another as parents.
Co-parenting means that you do it together (but apart). You are a team that works cooperatively to make the best decisions for your child or children. You strategize, check-in, discuss and confer.
Parallel parenting means that you don’t communicate with one another much. Basically, you’re not doing any parenting problem-solving together. This might be the right option for you if you want/need to have little to no contact with the person you are parenting with. This method allows both parents to be very involved in their kids’ lives without having to be involved with each other.
What is good co-parenting?
There is no easy answer to this question. Every situation is different and calls for a unique response. Knowing how to be a good co-parent is all about responding openly and honestly to what is presented to you on a daily basis.
Here are strategies that can help you steer the ship:
Firm up the boundaries. Co-parenting is an excellent lesson in boundary setting. If you can, set up strict parameters right from the get-go around the things that matter most to you. One example of this could be that last-minute bailing on plans is not allowed.
Open dialogue and communication. Seriously. This is everything. No matter how many ground rules you lay and no matter how organized things are, life happens. Schedules fail, emergencies bust in, and everyone messes up at least once in a while. Ultimately, you’re sharing children, not inanimate objects. Feelings will get hurt along the way. Your best defense against this is good, open, real communication. Don’t let things fester. Don’t let issues go unaddressed. Talk in “I Statements” (I feel, I want, I need) where you take full responsibility for what you are expressing to the other person.
Commit to consistency. So, there’s no way that everything in the two different homes is going to be consistent across the board. But you can at least try to get as close to consistency as possible. This may look like deciding together on how much daily screen time your kids are allowed—and then sticking to it.
Be upfront about who is allowed around your kids. Decide together who is allowed near your kids. If you’re co-parenting while in a relationship, this is particularly important. We’re all human—all sorts of sensitivities may emerge. Come up with a game plan together (ahead of time) about who is allowed close and when. Keep the roles clearly defined. New relationships can actually be good for your kids in many instances, provided everyone feels respected, heard, and involved.
Talk positively about one another. Even if your ex is being the biggest [insert expletive here] and you’re so insanely fed up with them you could burst, try to keep it between the two of you rather than bringing your kids into it. This can be hard. Very hard. But committing to talk positively about each other creates a much safer, happier environment for everyone. (That doesn’t mean you can’t vent to your bestie when your kids are not around. That’s totally allowed.)
Finally, be kind to yourself. Co-parenting can come with all sorts of emotional triggers for everyone. Try not to give in to feelings of guilt. Be gentle with your heart.
(And it’s not a bad idea to navigate this journey backed by your mama community.)
It’s really time we normalize talking about how hard and how great co-parenting can be.
It’s okay to feel like you don’t have everything together at all times. You’re doing the best you can with what you have.
Good luck, mama! You can do it!