“Your own emotions must take a back seat to the needs of your children. Co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your child’s happiness, stability, and future.” – Family lawyer Liz Porter (D Magazine, Oct. 2011, p. 134)
“Positive co-parenting” or “parallel-parenting” are phrases that are thrown around quite a bit, but which often amount to little more than empty slogans. Many divorced parents would have difficulty even defining precisely what co-parenting means. In order to be effective parents across two households, each of you needs to adhere to a basic set of guidelines that are reinforced in your everyday life.
What is co-parenting? Important Guidelines for Parenting Apart
Co-parenting guideline #1: Promoting healthy parent-child relationships
Each person needs to be an advocate for the other parent. They need to encourage the relationship at every turn, and do everything possible to ensure their child will see their mother or father in a positive light. Specifically, this means…
- Going out of your way to say positive things about the other parent in the presence of your children.
- Helping children recognize the other parent through cards or gifts for special occasions, such as mother’s day or father’s day.
- Talking about what attributes you find admirable in the other parent.
- Praising children for their efforts to connect with the other parent.
- Encouraging your child to connect or spend time with extended family on both sides.
Co-parenting guideline #2: Supporting the other parent
Parenting quickly degrades and becomes a loathsome process when parents don’t support each other, and this principle holds true whether parenting out of one household or two. Co-parents should support each other in the following ways:
- Make yourself available to help the other parent in times of need, such as taking the kids if they need to work late.
- Supporting the other parent’s decisions, even if you don’t agree or wouldn’t have made the same decision yourself.
- Reinforcing – not circumventing – the other parent’s discipline attempts.
- Making it clear to kids that they are to follow the other parent’s rules at the other house, even if yours are more lax or differ in certain ways.
- Supporting the authority of any step-parents or other adults who may enter the picture.
Co-parenting guideline #3: Showing Respect
When respect for the other parent is lacking, all other aspects of co-parenting tend to unravel rather quickly. Respect is conveyed in the following ways:
- Establishing and respecting boundaries with each other.
- Asking for the other parent’s input and advice on parenting decisions, whether big or small.
- Expressing interest in the other parent’s opinions and viewpoint, even if you don’t agree.
- Complimenting them on tasks done well, whenever the opportunity arises.
Co-parenting guideline #4: Communication & coordination
Parents can’t stay on the same page and remain partners in parenting if they barely talk to each other. Regular communication between the two of you regarding the children is fundamental. This means…
- Talking over what you plan to do with the child in the future.
- Giving regular status updates as your child transitions from one home to the next. Are they upset about something? Tired? Do they have homework to do?
- Knowing what the other parent is doing at their house.
Co-parenting guideline #5: Striking a healthy balance that shares parenting duties
Balance is a key part of effective co-parenting. This means sharing parenting duties so that each person takes on the role of the “fun” parent as well as the enforcer. Problems emerge if one parent is consistently wishy-washy or overly lax and indulgent, thus leaving the other parent to do all the disciplining.
- Share parenting tasks so that all the hard work doesn’t fall onto one parent.
- Lavish the kids in equal amounts between you.
Co-parenting guideline #6: Keeping the peace
Parents must put past hurts aside and make a concerted effort to keep things civil between each other. Civility is achieved by…
- Resolving conflicts in a private setting, not in the presence of children.
- Resolving disputes without placing children at the center of them.
- Accepting compromise and acknowledging that you may not win every battle or get everything you want.
Co-parenting guideline #7: Maintaining consistency in parenting
Consistency in co-parenting does not require that parents do everything exactly the same. But it does mean…
- Maintaining consistent expectations for respectful behavior across households.
- Trying to maintain equitable discipline / comparable rewards and punishments.
- Trying to keep daily routines similar (homework is done at a certain time, bedtimes are kept consistent unless it’s a special occasion, etc.).