If you’re co-parenting, it’s safe to say that your once-intimate relationship with your partner has morphed into more of an enterprise.
Gone are the days when you’d nurture your relationship and care for your child as a side effect of your loving relationship.
Many co-parents have found that while co-parenting can be rewarding as a parent, it can be downright tough too.
Co-parenting is an agreement between two parents to care for and raise a child with equal responsibility. Co-parenting is unlike traditional parenting because the parents have no intimate relationship. The sole focus of a co-parenting relationship is on the child and what’s best for the child.
If you’re in a co-parenting relationship or about to enter one, you’ll want to gather more intel to know how to handle it. Read on to learn the ins and outs of co-parenting in real life.
Understanding What It Means To Co-Parent
The definition of co-parenting aside, it can be quite grueling to be a co-parent because it means you need to put your differences of opinion aside and do what’s best for your child.
Co-Parenting Legal Definition
Legally speaking, co-parenting arrangements are set in place after divorce. Both parents are required to participate in the upbringing and activities of their children jointly.
Uncomfortably, this may require considerable public and private interaction between the parents. Both parents must commit to being civil and set differences aside to benefit the children involved.
Examples of Co-Parenting
Co-parenting can sometimes be confused with other similar types of parenting options where both parents have input in the child’s life and upbringing that may include a substantial amount of contact through email, telephone, text message, and face-to-face meetings.
Below are some examples of co-parenting and similar parenting setups. Researchers have discovered that there are three main types of co-parenting:
First into the spotlight is parallel parenting!
Parallel co-parenting is a shared parenting approach set in place after divorce where parents agree to share parenting responsibilities but with very limited communication, which very often only happens in writing.
Second, cooperative co-parenting is a winner for all involved if they can get it right.
Cooperative co-parenting is for parents who agree that building a good relationship with each other to maintain low conflict will be best for taking action and making decisions that are best for the child.
This co-parenting style requires parents to make decisions, plan, and work together with the child’s best interests in mind. There’s no place for anger, hostility, or personal issues to get in the way of parenting.
Last, and certainly a showstopper is high-conflict co-parenting! It’s a showstopper because of the drama involved, and it can be extremely damaging to children.
High-conflict co-parenting is often fraught with poor communication, conflict, and situations where one or both partners either disengage emotionally or become too emotionally reactive.
It’s safe to say this is not the co-parenting situation you want to find yourself in!
Should Co-Parents Spend Time Together?
If there’s a minimal conflict between you and your ex-partner and you’ve agreed to co-parent actively for the sake of your child, you may wonder if it’s okay to spend time together.
It’s becoming increasingly “normal” for ex-partners with very young children to spend time together, but it should be done cautiously.
Undoubtedly, spending time together with your child will provide your child with comfort, but experts have found that too much time together, such as ex-partners spending a vacation together, may have negative effects on you and your child too.
For instance, your child may get mixed signals or develop false hope, and you may experience conflict during the time together.
Therefore, spending time together should be planned and managed to ensure minimal impact on your child(ren).
Co-Parenting Communication Guidelines
- Set boundaries and stick to them.
- Keep communication light and brief.
- Never argue or fight in front of your child.
- Don’t drag children into arguments or include them at all. Disputes or disagreements should be handled in private.
- Stay on topic — don’t sway from it because you’re emotionally triggered.
- Be willing to compromise, as sometimes you require your co-parent to compromise for you too.
- Update your co-parent regularly so that they know what’s happening in your child’s life in terms of school, health, friendships, and similar.
Co-parents often face these challenges with themselves and the children involved:
- Scheduling with the other parent.
- Setting reasonable bedtimes for children and sticking to them.
- Not down-talking the co-parent (choose support and nonjudgment instead).
- Finding a balance in terms of control and input.
- Inconsistencies that cause discomfort.
- Different parenting styles and moral outlooks.
- Accepting new partners who may have a role in the child’s life.
- Civil communication (communicating without getting angry or letting emotional triggers get in the way).
Inappropriate co-parenting relationships usually involve a lot of conflicts. In short, inappropriate co-parenting is nonsupportive and volatile.
These co-parenting relationships include so much strife and disagreeability that the parents cannot make decisions, agree on schedules, or tackle bigger issues such as healthcare, schooling, or moral upbringing without major blowups and intense arguments.
To avoid inappropriate co-parenting, it’s vital to establish and stick to an official co-parenting plan with agreed-upon boundaries.
Co-Parenting While in a Relationship
- Look into the legalities of dating as per your divorce and the parenting plan you have in place.
- Wait a suitable time before you start dating seriously.
- Don’t expose your children to multiple partners — be selective and sure before you introduce children to a new partner.
- Discuss or at least notify your ex-partner so that there’s no surprise. Keep details to a minimum.
- Never push a new partner on your children; if your ex-partner is concerned about the situation, listen, and be understanding.
- Don’t get into an altercation or a screaming match with your ex.
- Make sure that you manage interactions between your child and the new partner.
Co-Parenting Effects on Children
The effect of co-parenting on your child will depend on the type of co-parenting situation you have. Positive co-parenting can help reduce your child’s anxiety and stress levels, thus providing stability for your child.
On the other hand, if you’re doing things wrong and have a co-parenting situation filled with negativity, anger, and volatility, it can have a major negative impact on your child.
It can lead to insecurities, feelings of being unsafe, chronic stress, anxiety, and the inability to select future partners effectively.
Is Co-Parenting the Same as Joint Custody?
Co-parenting and joint custody may seem interchangeable, but they are not. “Joint custody” is a legal term, whereas “co-parenting” is a parenting style.
This means a person can legally have joint custody of a child, but that doesn’t mean they have to co-parent.
The main difference is, therefore, legal vs. relational. It’s perfectly okay to adhere to the divorce decree instead of co-parenting, especially if you were involved in a toxic or abusive situation.
When Does Co-Parenting Get Easier?
If you’re in a co-parenting situation where you wonder when it will get easier, you won’t like the answer.
There’s no definitive answer to this question, but most experts will agree that you will probably get used to co-parenting and, over time, settle into it.
However, the reality is that co-parenting doesn’t “get easier.” It’s a challenge, and it may be challenging well into your child’s adulthood.
Let’s face it; co-parenting is not for the faint-hearted, but if you can develop a parenting plan and keep reminding yourself of the impact of a positive and supportive co-parenting situation on your child while working with your co-parent to focus on the best interests of the child, it is something you can get right.
Jayme is a professional writer, vegan nutritionist, and relationship & communications counselor. As an avid reader, researcher, and writer, she is constantly expanding her interests and looking into new avenues of mental health awareness and self-care. She lives with her two rescue dachshunds in Hampshire in the United Kingdom.