Co-Parenting Shared Children, Shared Homes.
Co-Parenting – The Struggle is Real
The term Co-Parenting describes the way in which two individuals in a divorce situation make a practice of supporting each others’ rights and their relationship as parents to their shared children. Some parents can establish well adjusted relationships with each other and their children without the help of a family counselor or mediator, others should be proud of their choice to seek professional help to protect the well-being of their children. The literature and research on the negative effects of divorce upon children is based on the conflicts that erupt when parents are not on the same parenting page. Even worse, conflicts arise when typically well-intentioned parents either consciously or unconsciously sabotage the relationship that their former partner has with their child. Conscious and constructive co-parenting has specific unwavering goals, formulated with the child’s needs, age, and stage of life in mind. Co-parenting for small children under 10 years of age:
- Both parents are encouraged to make decisions about the kids together, in an air of collaboration and trusting that each parent has the child’s best interest in mind. Matters of discussion can range from visits to the doctor to educational choices. Parents solve these problems together and genuinely ask for each other’s opinions.
- Children are encouraged to turn toward the other parent for support, care, and problem solving. For instance, if the child is struggling with a math assignment while with Mom, a co-parenting collaborating Mom will say: ‘Your dad is really good at math and would love to help you, why don’t we facetime him?’
- Show enthusiasm after visits with the other parent, engage your child by asking about the visit. This is not to investigate the other parent but to encourage the loving relationship that the child has with that parent. Be aware of your facial cues and tone of voice when you’re asking these questions. Ask things like, ‘What was the highlight or best part about your time with mom or dad?’ When the child answers, follow up with a positive remark like, ‘Wow that does sound nice, I am glad you had that experience.’
- Keep consistency in your schedule and do your best to navigate any changes to the agreed upon custody arrangement in advance. This is helpful for your co-parent and for the kids who need consistency.
For older children or those over the age of 10 there is a different protocol to keep in mind. A child’s needs change with growing. In the teen years and young adulthood, friends and other people take a leading role in the life of the child. Both parents must recognize and encourage this.
- Encourage the child to enjoy time with friends and recognize that they may desire to deviate from the custody arrangement.
- Integrate friends into your time with the child. Try to build relationships with the families of the child’s friends and have them participate in visits.
In the majority of parenting and family situations the children will want to have a positive relationship with both parents. In situations where one of the parents states that the child does not want to have a relationship with the other parent, we should always explore the possibility that the child has been exposed to critical statements from the other parent. The child may also have been forced to ally with the primary custodial parent. Parental alienation is a third possibility. Forced alliances happen consciously or unconsciously. Parents don’t necessarily tell their children to dislike the other parent. The message can lie in the tone of voice when speaking to the co-parent on the phone or in a subtle roll of the eye when the kids talk about what they did during their time with the other parent. As a closing note on co-parenting, not all parenting relationships will be able to be achieve this level of collaboration. In the case of abuse or neglect by either parent the child’s welfare and well-being takes precedence over the relationship with the abusive or neglectful parent.