The term ‘co-parenting’ has almost become a buzzword that appears in different magazines and in segments by celebrity doctors and specialists on television. Co-parenting is essentially what it sounds like – parents sharing the responsibilities and duties of raising their child. Co-parenting comes into play when the parents are not in a relationship with one another – whether separated, divorced, or never having formalized the relationship.
Using a carefully thought out co-parenting plan helps parents create a unified front in terms of taking care of and relating to the children. Many parents are able to set aside their own conflict and act as a team for the sake of the children. This seems incredibly reasonable and understandable, but the question remains: How can parents actually form this united and unified front?
The same celebrity doctors and specialists who throw around the term ‘co-parenting’ are also not shy about giving advice on how to actually put it into practice. However, much like every other aspect of family, co-parenting is unique to each specific situation and must be addressed and tailored to the needs and dynamics of each family. Co-parenting may come more naturally or easily to some parents, but for others, it can be prove to be a challenge. Differences that previously strengthened the relationship can become frustrating if the parents are unable to accept their differences and focus on each parent’s strengths. There are some considerations that might ease the process and make co-parenting pleasant and, most importantly, productive.
A good way to help ease any tension is to hash out details on paper and think about the practical consequences of putting the plan into action. Ask yourself whether this plan really work for this family? Couples may choose to create a Parenting Plan (see a sample Parenting Plan here) that can detail different elements of the family and each parent’s responsibilities. It is always best to focus on practicality (what really works for your family) rather than what others are doing. Parenting Plans can be negotiated directly between the parents or with the help of a mediator, lawyer or family specialist. An important thing to remember is that the Parenting Plan, much like co-parenting in general, will be tailored to each family’s specific needs. Parents may choose to include vacation and birthday schedules, how to handle the decision-making process, how the child’s special needs will be met and preferences for communication between the parents and also between the parents and children. It is also important to consider how the children will be brought into the decision making in a healthy way.
The following are some considerations that may allow for a smoother co-parenting experience:
- Keep your focus on the children/family and their best interests;
- Communicate clearly about your concerns rather than making assumptions;
- Have open and honest communications about guidelines you would like to have set for the children;
- No matter the relationship you have with your ex-spouse, don’t ridicule him/her in front of the children (or allow the children to ridicule them in front of you);
- Do not have the children bear the burden of adult/parental issues or force them to choose sides.
- Be flexible in evaluating the plan.
- Consider re-evaluating the plan as the children mature.
Co-parenting can be a challenge no matter how the parents get along (or don’t get along). However, by keeping the focus on the children and maintaining healthy relationships through open and mature communication, parents most certainly can work together and create a unified front.