Co-parenting is a term that divorcing parents might hear a lot. One of the most common misconceptions we hear is that to be working together as co-parents, you have to like each other and/or agree on every aspect of parenting. This is not the case, nor is it realistic for many divorcing parents. But not seeing eye-to-eye on every aspect of parenting does not mean that divorcing or separating parents can’t be successful co-parents for their children.
At COCD, we recommend a two-fold approach to establishing a successful and realistic co-parenting relationship:
- Relate to each other in a businesslike way. This means that parents are emotionally detached from each other, keep conversations kid-focused, address one issue at a time, communicate in a respectful way, and stay present and future focused.
- Work Cooperatively. If parents cooperate following a divorce, children adjust better. Remember, you don’t necessarily have to like your co-parent in order to work cooperatively with him/her.
With this approach applied, we work with parents to develop a customized, workable co-parenting plan. The details of that plan will vary from family to family, but might include tools like a co-parent calendar, which outlines children’s schedules, and roles and responsibilities for each parent. Here are the goals that our staff focuses on with divorcing and separating parents to help them establish and maintain an effective co-parenting plan and relationship:
- Put the Children’s Needs First. Following a divorce or the end of a relationship, it is generally best to put children’s needs ahead of adult needs. This does not mean that you ignore the needs of the adults, just that children’s needs, as determined by the parents, should come first. Also, this does not necessarily mean children always get what they want.
- Make Sure All Parenting Bases Are Covered. First and foremost, your role is to be a parent whether you are married, living together or not. This means parents, together and individually, must meet the needs of their children. This includes: love and nurturing, teaching children how to communicate and have productive relationships, and helping children develop a sense of personal identity.
- Keep Children Out of the Middle. This requires adults handling issues directly with each other. Children should not be asked or expected to be involved in parenting decisions, used as messengers, asked for information about the other parent, asked to keep secrets from a parent, given financial or legal information, or put in a position of hearing negative things from one parent about the other parent.
The goals and recommendations above are a starting point. Translating these ideas into action often takes guidance and coaching to establish effective patterns of relating and communicating as parents, and specific plans need to be crafted around each family and their needs. COCD takes a holistic approach to supporting divorcing parents, with the establishment of a successful co-parenting relationship and plan as our end goal.
By COCD Clinical Director Denise Breinig-Glunz