What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is a term used by professionals but rarely by parents themselves. Co-parent is actually a shortened version of cooperative parent and cooperation is basically the key to making things work between ex partners.
However, if you are in the middle of a divorce or leaving a long term relationship often you will be so exhausted you will have no energy for cooperation.
Most parents are tired, defensive, hurt and more often than not want to take out revenge on each other rather than be cooperative. More likely you see co-parenting as short for competitive parenting!
You might be competing as a way of showing your child they still matter or to off set your feelings of guilt. After all, few parents want to feel responsible for upsetting their children.
So how are you expected to put all your hurt and anger to one side avoid the competition and cooperate with each other?
Learning to be an effective co-parent is an ongoing process that will last as long as your children need you.
Like any new skill, it takes time and practice to feel you are doing it well (or well enough) and there will be many times when you will feel you are getting it wrong and finding it really hard going.
But think about when you first became a parent. The responsibility will have felt overwhelming you will have worried about getting it wrong but over time most of us figure out a way of our own and grow in confidence.
The same can be said of parenting after a relationship has broken down - you won't always get it right but there are some basics to think about that will help along the way.
- Respect each other's parenting style. Your ex might have different approaches to mealtimes, bedtimes and entertainment but don't interfere UNLESS the child is at risk of harm.
- When you speak about your child's other parent, use positive, or if not positive then neutral, comments. Try and encourage family and friends do the same.
- However tempting it is, don't question your children about the other parent or encourage them to act as spies.
- If you have questions about what goes on at the other parent's home, ask your ex directly.
- Don't encourage children to complain about the other parent. If there is a problem encourage them to talk to their other parent about it.
- Try and keep your feelings about your ex separate from your parenting decisions.
- Treat your child's other parent as you would like to be treated yourself.
- Try and make sure all big decisions or changes for your child are made in consultation with the other parent.
- Whenever possible communicate directly with each other. Never through your child even when they are older - even on small issues.
- Remember texting and emailing can be useful but sometimes things can be misinterpreted.
- Share information about your child with each other. It should not be a competition around who has most information.
- Make sure that your child has what they need at each home. Don't expect your child to carry the burden of ferrying stuff backwards and forwards between homes.
- Keep to financial arrangements and notify the other parent about any issues that will affect him/her.
- Make difficult decisions together and don't involve your child until you have agreed.
- Decide on the values you want your child to learn. Communicate about routines, bedtime, schedules, school expectations, discipline etc. You may not always agree about these and in some cases there will be different expectations at each parent's home. But it is important that you discuss what goes on at each of your homes.
- Keep each other updated on your contact information. You should each know the other's address, telephone, work number etc.
You may also like to visit the Parenting Information Programme on the National Family Mediation website.
Follow this link for further information on what to expect after a separation