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A Guide to Co-parenting

Moving from being part of a married couple and working together as a family to being separated parents who are attempting co-parenting can be hugely challenging, particularly if relationships between the parties have broken down or are difficult. Inevitably divorce causes tension. It is common for jobs such as the organisation of childcare, or organising medical appointments, to fall to one parent. After separation, any job allocation structure can become disrupted, causing tension to mount further.

However, it is important to find a way to maintain a good relationship with your co-parent as children need a stable and secure environment. Being stuck in the middle of arguments between their parents can create distress and feelings of insecurity. Effective communication is key when co-parenting, helping build a healthy relationship as well as a secure environment for your child.

What is Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting is where both parents play an active and equal role in their children’s daily lives. It is the best way to make sure that your children’s needs are met and that they can maintain close relationships with both of you.

Research has suggested that the better the relationship between co-parents, the better the child’s mental and emotional well-being, and the less chance there is of anxiety and/or depression.

However, co-parenting can also be where you have chosen to have a baby with someone outside of a romantic relationship. In this scenario, you are like to be on good terms with the other parent and conflict is unlikely to arise. Maintaining that good relationship, however, is just as important.

What does it mean to be a Co-Parent?

Putting relationship issues aside, especially after an acrimonious split, isn’t always easy. Shared care arrangements can be exhausting, infuriating and stressful, especially if your relationship with your ex-partner isn’t great. You may be concerned about their ability to parent effectively, worried about financial issues or concerned that any resentment that is harboured can’t be overcome.

Making joint decisions, interacting with each other at drop-offs and pickups, or simply just speaking to someone who you would rather ignore, can seem like impossible tasks, but in order to co-parent effectively, you must establish a cordial working relationship with your ex-partner. This way you can remain calm, be consistent and resolve any conflicts that arise with as little tension as possible, and make shared care work, thereby enabling your children to thrive. Remember, children mimic their parents’ behaviour and often repeat what they hear.

Co-Parenting after a divorce or separation

Any underlying tension can create significant obstacles when it comes to childcare – from arranging medical appointments to which house the child will be sleeping at.

In the modern society that we live in today and with technological advancements, it is no surprise that there are now platforms which enable co-parents to remotely coordinate with each other to resolve these obstacles. A simple Google search with bring up several suggested apps to assist with co-parenting tasks and enhance communication between parents. These apps seek to offer a broad range of guidance from allowing co-parents to have combined calendars to coordinating schedules for the children and enabling parents to manage any expenses that arise. Some, for example Our Family Wizard, even have a setting which logs communication to provide a record for divorce proceedings, whereas others such as Parenting Apart, have a greater focus on coping with emotional issues as opposed to the practical elements. Another app to consider would be 2houses

The importance of communication and Co-Parenting

The success of any co-parenting relationship depends on your ability to separate your personal relationship with your ex-partner from your co-parenting relationship with them. It may help to view your relationship with your ex-partner as a completely new one – a blank slate – and also to adopt a more business-like approach to it. This is a relationship that is purely about your children and their well-being, not about either of you. Acting in your children’s best interests is your most important priority. The steps below may help you achieve this:

  1. Work as a team – residual tension may make maintaining a good relationship with your ex-partner complicated, but your child’s well-being should be the top priority of both of you, regardless. You are a team that is working together to raise a happy child. Be polite, respect each other, and focus on your common goal.
  2. Keep track of any expenses – one of the co-parenting apps mentioned about can help with keeping a note of any appointments or visits that you have for your child and help prevent any arguments about who spent what and when.
  3. See things from your co-parent’s point of view and listen to each other – try, where possible, to see things from your co-parent’s perspective. Is there a reasonable explanation for why they did something that you didn’t like? Were they stressed by an external factor, unwell, tired etc.? The perfect co-parent doesn’t exist but try to take a step back in order to understand what they did before judging them and getting angry.
  4. Compromise – there will be times when you are going to disagree with your co-parent but be open and flexible. Find an agreement that meets everyone’s expectations. For example, birthdays can often be a contentious topic, but if it is your co-parent’s birthday and it falls during your time, why not let them have that day together. It is then more likely that the sentiment will be reciprocated when it is your birthday. In addition, entering into a parenting plan can help each parent understand what their responsibilities are, as well as everyone’s intentions. However, as they grow, your child’s needs and wishes will change, so it is important that you are prepared to make amendments and maybe compromise going forward.
  5. Create family time – if possible, schedule in time where you are together as a family, whether this is going for a meal or a day out somewhere, so that co-parents and siblings can spend time with each other. These occasions can help strengthen bonds and provide pleasant memories.
  6. Talk to each other regularly – life can be hectic, but you need to find the time to have quality conversations with your co-parent. It will make discussing any future issues easier to deal with.
  7. Update each other on a regular basis – make sure that your other co-parent feels fully involved by letting them know what is going on in their child’s life when they are not with them. These updates can be about school, health issues, friends etc. Use text, emails, phone calls – whatever method works best for both of you – and don’t forget face-to-face conversations whenever you see your co-parent.
  8. Be polite and respectful – establishing and maintaining a good relationship with your co-parent is going to take some effort, and you will need to be polite and respectful with both your words and your behaviour – turn up on time for any appointment and respect any schedules (don’t cancel a visit at the last minute, unless it truly cannot be helped), accept help from the other co-parent when needed, don’t make decisions about your child without talking to your co-parent first. Try to respect the other’s choices and wishes.
  9. Deal with any problems that arise promptly – maybe your co-parent is consistently late when it is their turn to pick up your child. Instead of keeping your anger to yourself, or venting it to others, talk about it with your co-parent without being aggressive or disrespectful. Explain why it bothers you and get your point across politely. It may be that they had no idea it was rubbing you up the wrong way in the first place.
  10. Don’t put your child in the middle – don’t use them as a messenger. Passing messages between the two of you puts them in the middle of any conflict, or may even cause it. Find a way to communicate with each other that doesn’t involve your child – they don’t need to be aware of everything that is going on.

Ultimately, the better the relationship with your co-parent, the more your child will benefit. They will feel secure and have better self-esteem, adapting quickly to changes in routine. They will benefit from the consistency. When they see you resolving issues together, they are likely to learn how to resolve problems effectively themselves. You will set a good example for them to follow and they are likely to be healthier both mentally and emotionally.

What to include in a Co-Parenting Agreement?

A Co-Parenting Agreement is another term for a Parenting Plan. More information about what to include in a Parenting Plan and how useful they are, can be found here.

To discuss Parenting Plans or arrangements for Co-Parenting further, please do not hesitate to contact us to speak to one of our experts.

Izzy Hawkins

Guest Blogger

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