Becoming a Successful
The term co-parent is actually a shortened version of cooperative parent. Cooperation is what co-parenting is all about. Sometimes parents who are in the middle of a divorce have no energy for cooperation. They are tired, defensive, hurt and often more than a little miffed at the other parent. And to top it off, the legal system does very little to encourage cooperation. More often than not it encourages competition and jockeying to determine who the best parent is. That is until the divorce becomes final and both parents are expected to magically turn off the competition and cooperate. Does this strike you as just a little crazy? It does me.
So how do you become a successful co-parent?
For most people, learning to be an effective co-parent is an ongoing process. Like any new skill, it takes time and practice to master it. Think about when you first became a parent. The task of parenting looked pretty huge, but over time most of us figured it out. We grew as parents as our kids grew. Sure we didn't always do things perfectly. But the vast majority of parents manage to know what to do to raise their children without too many bumps in the road.
Cooperative parenting is really just another phase of parenting. And while it may seem daunting and/or confusing at first, rest assured that with time, practice, good information and support you can become an excellent co-parent.
Why even try?
Ah, this question gets us to the real nitty-gritty of parenting after divorce. Becoming an effective co-parent is something you do for your children, not for yourself. And because this is such an important concept, I am going to invoke "Yoda-speak" to help you remember it. If you care about your children, then co-parent you must.
If you're not a fan of Star Wars and would simply like to know why co-parenting is the best choice for children, think about this. The biggest predictor of poor outcome for children is parental conflict. When parents expose their children to their ongoing unresolved conflict, children pay a price. This is true whether parents are married or divorced. Parental conflict is toxic for children. I'm not talking about your average, garden-variety argument here. I'm talking about unremitting, ugly arguing, fighting, violence, name calling family-war-zone conflict.
Sadly, many parents think that this is the only way to deal with their child's other parent after a divorce. There is a much better, child-healthy way for divorced parents to communicate and raise their children. It is working as a team and learning to cooperate as parents.
The Principles of Co-Parenting
Take me from co-parent back home
- Make decisions regarding your children based on their best interests. Your children's needs become your number one priority.
- Work to keep your personal and emotional needs separate from your parenting decisions.
- Treat your child's other parent as you would like to be treated. Be respectful.
- Make all important decisions or changes for the children in consultation with the other parent.
- Communicate directly with each other. Never communicate through your children - no matter how simple the request. Make use of e-mail, the telephone or good old snail mail for your communication. There is a wonderful program online called our family wizard that helps divorced parents share information about their children and keep track of the millions of details that go into caring for a child.
- Sincerely support a good relationship between your children and their other parent.
- When you speak about your child's other parent, use positive or at the very least, neutral comments. Insist that family and friends do the same.
- Never 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 them directly. Don't encourage or support your children to complain about the other parent. If there is a problem encourage your kids to talk to the other parent.
- Share information about your children with each other. This is definitely not a game where the one with the most information wins. Your child wins when both of you have information.
- Make sure that your children have what they need at each home. Easily move clothing, toys and other child belongings between homes. Cheerfully fix problems that occur when something isn't where it is needed.
- Take care of financial responsibilities. Pay support and other expenses promptly and without conflict. Notify the other parent when you have taken an action that will affect him/her. For example scheduling a medical procedure.
- Make decisions as a parenting team. Never involve your child until you have made a decision. It's not playing fair to first tell your child and then discuss with the other parent.
- Decide on the values you want your children to learn. Design your parenting style and the decisions you make to reinforce those values. Communicate about house rules, routines, bedtime, schedules, school expectations, discipline. 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 and your co-parent 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.