Co-parenting is a concept many may not even be aware exists. In today’s world of blended families, co-parenting is the most important way for parents to work together to put the needs of their children above any personal conflicts.
Co-parenting can take many different forms. Some co-parenting relationships may only involve the biological or primary parents of the child(ren), while others may include stepparents, grandparents, caregivers, and even in some cases, older siblings. The key to any successful co-parenting relationship is to define the relationship and establish guidelines that everyone understands and abides by.
Here are a few guidelines to get you started. However, you will likely add to these as you define your specific guidelines and roles. The relationship will also change and grow with the child as well, so will need to be reassessed occasionally.
The primary component of any effective relationship is communication; co-parenting is no different. Often communication is the main reason couples end up apart, so it is the biggest hurdle to effective co-parenting. However, it can be easier once parents are out of the situation.
Everyone has their own ideas of how things should happen in any relationship. As human beings, we often get confused between what we expect of others and what they think we want or need. Clearly communicating your own expectations and listening to one another will lead to more positive outcomes.
Setting and Sticking to Clear Boundaries
One of the hardest aspects of effective co-parenting is setting clear boundaries. Parents are often coming out of conflict, so moving to realistic and clear boundaries will feel like a step backward for many people. Each situation will be unique, but one of the most common boundaries for co-parenting is keeping personal conflict between the parents out of their parenting relationship. While difficult, this will allow the parenting role to be the most important one and allow personal feelings time to be understood.
Flexibility is important in any relationship. Everyone has their own lives and responsibilities, making co-parenting extremely difficult when individuals cannot be flexible. Keeping each other up to date on the child’s schedule, and anything that directly affects them will help to prepare for any instances when there may be a conflict. This will allow both parents time to make alternative plans when necessary.
One way that many successful co-parents ensure that there are no misunderstandings is to use a joint electronic calendar between the parents, and child if they are old enough. This helps to avoid any of the “I didn’t know” misunderstandings.
Agree, or at least Agree to Disagree
No two people who were in a relationship that ended, for whatever reason, are always going to agree. When it comes to what is in the best interest of the child, there are going to be times when either side will claim or even demand their point of view is the right answer. These are the times when each parent will have to be a bit more flexible, compromise or simply agree to disagree if there is no way to compromise. This does get significantly easier with older children that can give their own input.
The BIG No-Nos of Effective Co-Parenting
Do NOT use Manipulation
It is all too easy to fall victim to bad habits. One of the worst habits that many people have and may not even realize is regularly using slight manipulations to get what they want out of a situation. In effective co-parenting relationships using manipulation will likely come back to haunt, or even worse have a negative effect on the child. Taking time to understand personal motives can help reduce or eliminate manipulation.
Do NOT Jump to Conclusions
Many people assume they know what another’s thoughts and motivations are, especially in long-term relationships. The problem is that is extremely unlikely, even in the best of circumstances. We may believe we have an idea, but we can never truly know.
Co-parenting involves constant interaction with several occasions to make inaccurate assumptions. Play it smart and when in doubt, if it even matters ask. Knowing the truth is much better than what our imaginations may make us assume.
Do NOT Use the Child as a Go-Between
This is the big one. Parents should never use their children as a moderator for their communication. It does not matter if every word is positive, it should not be the child’s responsibility. Be the adult and have a direct conversation in any way you can, let the child love you both.
If you need help with your co-parenting counseling, call us today 916-426-2757
Lori Hunter, LMFT specializes in working with families, co-parenting and those high conflict couples struggling with relationships. She helps couples build intimacy, teaching effective emotional processing techniques that directly improve thoughts and behaviors.