What Is Co-Parenting? The Pros And Cons To Consider
The options for parenting children after divorce or separation have expanded in recent decades. While many parents have had to fight for custody over their children, a new way of raising children after separation has gained popularity among families: co-parenting. Co-parenting is an alternative to parallel parenting, in which parents disengage with each other after separating. In co-parenting, the parents maintain open communication as they seek to establish a new home life for their children.
When done well, co-parenting can offer many advantages for the children involved. This style of parenting, however, may not be right for all families. This article will cover the advantages and challenges of co-parenting to help you decide whether co-parenting could work for your family.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting refers to the process of divorced or separated parents continuing to raise their kid(s) together even after they have separated as a couple. Rather than two parents taking each other to court to gain custody of their children, parents continue to work together in deciding what is best for their children. This can include their child having equal time with each parent or for each parent to have equal rights in decision-making, even if their child is at the other parent’s house.
In contrast to co-parenting, many separated parents decide on a parallel parenting plan, in which the parents interact as little as possible with each other but maintain relationships with their children. Parallel parenting may be necessary if conflicts or animosity between the parents are too great for co-parenting to be successful.
What are the pros of co-parenting?
One of the clearest pros of co-parenting is that it can be beneficial to the children involved. Working together to make life post-divorce as normal and easy for the child as possible is likely to help unify the parents and kids. For example, ex-partners may work together to create a set of rules and a discipline plan that is followed at both your houses. The consistency of parenting styles at both houses can help prevent further disruption to the child’s life. Parents who coordinate their parenting styles can present a united front for the family unit, even though they are now divorced. This joint interaction can create a stable environment to help child adjustment to the divorce.
Some co-parents go a step further in creating consistency for their child by creating a “bird-nesting” plan for their families. Bird-nesting is when the children continue to live in the family home, and the parents take turns rotating who is at the house with the children. Instead of a child having to navigate two households, the parents do the traveling. Some parents find that this plan is fairer to the child since the divorce was not their cause or choosing. In essence, this plan places a larger inconvenience on the parents instead of the children.
Co-parenting plans can be beneficial to everyone involved because they work to diffuse tension after a divorce, prioritizing that the children grow and develop in a more stable environment.
What are the cons of co-parenting?
Although co-parenting can have many benefits and advantages, it can be important to consider its cons as well. Some of the potential downsides that might make co-parenting challenging or unfeasible include:
You have to set aside your feelings
When you’re co-parenting with your ex, you must learn to set aside or control the negative feelings that you may have toward them, especially in front of your children. You’ll likely need to set aside your personal conflict with your former spouse in order to work together as a team while raising your children.
It is not possible or healthy for everyone
Co-parenting may not be a feasible option for all parents after divorce. For example, co-parenting with an ex who was abusive in any way can prolong an unhealthy situation for you and your children. If you continue to feel disrespected or unsafe around your ex, this can negatively affect your children as well. The emotional well-being and safety of you and your child must come first. In such cases, an individual parenting plan may be more appropriate.
Tips for successful co-parenting
If you want to move forward with co-parenting, the following tips can help you and your ex create a successful plan.
1. Prioritize healing from your relationship
It’s common to feel hurt over a broken relationship or dissolved marriage. Even if you choose to co-parent, working together with your ex can still be incredibly challenging. It can be helpful to allow yourself time and space to heal and grieve. Processing your emotions with a therapist can be one way to prioritize your well-being. A therapist can help you make peace with the past and cope with your feelings more effectively.
2. Have a routine but be flexible
During and after a divorce, it is likely that your children’s normal routines will be disrupted. It can be helpful to work with your ex and children to create a new routine that everyone can follow and count on. This could include establishing a common calendar, so the kids know which parent they’re spending time with on what day, or even creating set times that your whole family spends together.
Being flexible can be important too. There may be times when it makes more sense for your ex to provide child care for the kids during your designated days with them. For example, your ex may have a family reunion that falls on a weekend when you were supposed to have your kids. If you don’t already have major plans with your child, try to be flexible with your ex in allowing them to take care of the child for the day. Remember, co-parenting requires working to do what is in the best interest of your child even if it can sometimes mean not getting your way.
3. Keep communication with your ex open
You may wish to end all communication with your ex after a divorce, but co-parenting requires maintaining the lines of communication open between you and your ex. This does not mean that the two of you need to be close friends or in constant communication. However, effective communication does mean being consistent at answering their calls and responding to their text messages.
It can help to establish boundaries about when you’re available to communicate or create a weekly schedule for when to communicate about your children. (Emergencies, of course, would be exceptions.) Creating a communication plan with your co-parent can include establishing regular times to communicate, how you wish to communicate (phone, email, text, etc.), and what you’ll need to talk about regularly, such as your children’s schedules, school events, and doctor’s visits.
You might also talk with your co-parent about how you’ll handle conflict when it arises. Having a consensus about how you will resolve conflicts can help you handle them without disrupting your children’s lives. As in any team effort, respectful communication can be an important part of successful co-parenting.
4. Set boundaries with your ex
It can be essential to set boundaries in any type of relationship. Co-parenting with your ex requires that you maintain some kind of relationship with them. Doing so can blur some of the lines that would otherwise exist if you weren’t co-parenting. For example, when you start dating again, your ex may feel like they can weigh in on who you’re dating because that person may spend time with your children. You may prefer to set a boundary with your ex about commenting on your dating life. Remember that respecting the boundaries that your ex establishes for their life can also be essential.
5. Don’t speak negatively about your ex in front of your kids
This is a tip for any divorced couple, whether you’re parenting together or not. Do your best to avoid talking negatively about your ex in front of your children. While you may continue to have unresolved issues with your ex, they do not need to be passed on to your children. Your children can benefit from having positive relationships with both of you. If you frequently speak negatively about your ex, you may find that your children refrain from telling you about what they did while staying with their other parent. This may cause an emotional distance between you and your children.
6. Remember who the parent is
Just because you and your ex are working together to make things easier on your children does not mean that the kids are in control. While it can be important to allow your children to weigh in on some decisions, you and your ex are still their parents. There are parenting decisions that the two of you will need to make together that your children don’t need to be included in.
7. Find a support system
Having a support system to turn to can help you manage the challenges inherent to parenting, especially post-separation. A support system of trusted friends and family can help encourage, motivate, and comfort you as you transition from your past relationship into co-parenting.
A support system could also include a support group for newly divorced and separated parents. Talking with others who are going through similar situations can help grant you new perspectives and a sense of community. They may be able to provide you with insight into how they have formed healthy co-parenting relationships.
Therapeutic guidance for parents post-divorce
As you adjust to life after a breakup, you may find that therapy can offer a source of support. A therapist can help you move forward into becoming a positive influence as both a person and parent in your children’s lives. If you’re struggling with the demands of your new parenting schedule, it may be helpful to find an online therapist, like those at BetterHelp, instead of meeting in-person. Parenting tends to be a full-time job, which can make attending in-person therapy sessions difficult. Online therapy allows you to meet with a therapist from anywhere you have an internet connection and a smart device.
Research has shown that online therapy can be just as effective as in-person therapy in addressing a number of mental health concerns. In a 2019 study of an eight-session online mindful parenting intervention, researchers found that mothers with high parental stress showed compelling improvements in self-compassion and a reduction in symptoms of anxiety and depression. The program included meditations, visualization techniques, and writing exercises. Researchers noted that the intervention appeared to be efficacious in improving mothers’ mental health and could be applied to other online therapy programs.
What are some challenges of co-parenting?
One of the key challenges of developing a co-parenting relationship is that you have to have continued involvement with your ex-partner, as you must connect regularly to discuss and make decisions about your child. That’s why this parenting style is not possible for all families, since it requires a safe and amicable relationship between the parents and fairly equal, healthy joint custody arrangements at a minimum.
What are the hardest parts of co-parenting?
Regularly interacting with, compromising with, and making decisions together about your children with your former partner can be difficult. Keeping open, healthy communication, handling disagreements, each managing your own emotions, and maintaining consistency in the parenting practices on which you collaboratively decide can all be challenges related to joint custody co-parenting.
What is acceptable co-parenting?
Co-parenting is typically only an acceptable solution if both of you, as parents, can engage with each other amicably and without hostility. If not, it won’t be possible to come to agreements on or even calmly discuss important matters regarding your child.
How do you set boundaries in co-parenting?
There are many different types of boundaries you can set to create an effective co-parenting situation and to help defend yourself and your child. Examples could include not raising your voices in co-parenting discussions, not speaking ill of each other in front of the child, and waiting a certain number of months or years before introducing new romantic partners to the child.
What are the long-term effects of co-parenting?
Toxic parenting behaviors or environments can cause negative long-term effects on children, regardless of whether the parents are together or co-parenting separately. The same can be said for positive parenting behaviors and positive long-term effects. If co-parents can cultivate a healthy, calm, productive relationship that allows them to make positive parenting decisions, positive outcomes are more likely over the long term.
Note that as peer-reviewed studies from only high-quality sources suggest, children who are exposed to significant, repeated conflict could experience ill effects on their mental and behavioral health over time. When this conflict is a result of a poor relationship between their parents, they may have an extremely difficult time mentally and emotionally as a result. That’s why the quality of the relationship between the parents in the context of co-parenting is one of the most important factors when it comes to ensuring the child’s future well-being in this regard.
Is co-parenting better than staying together?
Different parenting styles and situations work for different families. If it’s no longer possible for the parents to stay together healthfully, creating a co-parenting plan can be a reasonable and valid option when approached in a mature and mutually respectful fashion. Avoiding significant exposure to conflict for the child is typically a key goal as you decide what the best parenting situation might be right for your family.
How do you manage co-parenting?
Setting boundaries, maintaining an amicable relationship with your partner, keeping open lines of communication, not involving the child in any conflicts with your partner, and keeping your child’s best interests in mind in all decisions are some tips for successful co-parenting. These strategies can help your child feel safe and help you and your former partner create a loving, supportive environment for them.
What are the disadvantages of coparenting?
One potential disadvantage of co-parenting is that it’s not right for every family. Another is that it can take time for the child to adjust to the new format of their lives. This can lead to conflict at first, or to seeing the child adjust more easily to one parent’s home and lifestyle than the other’s.
How often should you communicate with a co-parent?
How often you communicate with your co-parent is a decision that must be made with your unique situation and circumstances in mind. Many parents choose to check in with each other weekly as a baseline to offer a helpful report about what the child has been up to and how they're doing. However, more frequent check-ins could be needed if the child is going through an especially difficult period where they need more support, if a child has certain medical needs, if there are multiple children involved, or if there’s something specific to provide an update that one parent missed, such as parent-teacher conferences or a significant behavioral issue.
What are the effects of conflicting parenting styles?
Conflicting parenting styles can be confusing for the child. Since children generally thrive on consistency and routine, the disruptions that conflicting styles can cause may negatively impact their well-being. It can also create confusion or even guilt when they face one set of expectations with one parent and another set with the other. That’s why consistency is considered an important part of co-parenting.
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