Co-parenting is a term often used by professionals but rarely by parents themselves. ‘Co-parent’ is a shortened version of ‘co-operative parent’, and co-operation is essential to making things work between ex-partners.
However, if you are in the middle of a divorce or leaving a long-term relationship, you might feel like you don’t have the energy for co-operation.
Most parents are tired, defensive, and hurt, and might feel more inclined to take revenge on each other than be co-operative. You may start to see co-parenting as short for competitive parenting!
You might be competing as a way of showing your child they still matter or to offset 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 co-operate 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.
Think about when you first became a parent. The responsibility may have felt overwhelming you probably worried about getting it wrong but, over time, most of us figure out a way to 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 try not to interfere. Unless the child is at risk of harm, you should try to accept the differences.
- When you speak about your child's other parent, use positive or neutral comments. Try to 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.
- Whenever possible, communicate directly with each other. Never communicate through your child, even when they are older, and even on small issues.
- Texting and emailing can be useful but sometimes things can be misinterpreted.
- Share information about your child with each other. There should not be any competition around who has the most information.
- Make sure your child has what they need at each home. Your child shouldn’t have 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.