Parenting is no easy task – and it could get more complicated when issues get in the way. Couples can separate, while other individuals can find themselves being a parent to a child despite not being romantically involved. And instances like these often tend to have a huge impact on both the parents’ and child’s lives.
We asked clinical psychologist Abegail Joyce Requilman from mental health organization Empath to walk us through how co-parenting works, and why it’s best for parents who are in a strained relationship to consider this arrangement.
What is co-parenting?
“Co-parenting or shared parenting is an arrangement wherein both parents of a child jointly participate in their child’s upbringing and activities even when the parents do not share the same household,” Abegail told Rappler.
This arrangement usually involves two parents who are undergoing or have undergone separation, or those who conceived a child when they were not in a relationship.
The transition to this set-up can be difficult, especially for co-parents who have never been a couple, and ex-couples who separated due to irreconcilable differences. And while these co-parents might have personal matters to deal with, a co-parenting arrangement drives them to focus on putting their child’s well-being as their priority instead.
“Willingness to tolerate differences and a lot of patience are required in order to be on the same page when it comes to making parenting decisions. Both parents must be able to shift the focus from their own marital or romantic issues to attending to the child’s needs and well-being,” Abegail said.
Starting a co-parenting set-up and getting the balance right
Co-parents might have a hard time finding their footing in this arrangement. It can get especially challenging for co-parents who are not even romantically involved with each other in the first place to share the responsibility of bringing up a child.
But, whether they have never been a couple or used to be a couple, Abegail listed down three things that co-parents should consider and discuss thoroughly for a more positive co-parenting experience.
First, co-parents should take into consideration their individual characters and schedules. Abegail said that a parent’s character can strongly influence the rules and strategies that they want to set in this kind of arrangement, so it’s important that both co-parents agree on the child-rearing practices they’d like to employ. With this, they should be able to have a fair and practical division of their duties, tasks, and responsibilities as co-parents.
Second, co-parents should not shy away from talking about financial matters, especially regarding the expenses of their child’s basic necessities. “[These] should also be ironed out in terms of who will be shouldering each. Having this sorted out at the start will prevent arguments later on,” Abegail said.
Third, co-parents should also consider the possible involvement of their extended family when it comes to taking care of the child. Communicate with each other’s relatives and let them know about your preferences, rules, practices, and child-rearing strategies to avoid confusion and conflicts.
These conversations only mark the start of a co-parenting journey. The real challenge is finding the right balance between co-parents’ individual preferences and the child’s needs. For Abegail, the key to achieving this is having “open communication, supportiveness, and mutual involvement in decisions and parenting activities for the child.”
But how can co-parents exactly do that? Abegail listed the do’s and don’ts in a co-parenting set-up:
- Be consistent in implementing the same set of rules. Co-parents should have a unified approach to parenting and standards that they will set for their child. Create a routine about bedtime, household chores, doing homework, and meal times, that will be followed in both households. Sometimes, the child may try to test the parent who will give in and allow them to have their way, but prioritize consistency over wanting to be the more favorable parent.
- Show respect for each other especially in the presence of your child. Although it may be difficult if you and your co-parent have romantic issues going on, try to address each other respectfully. When tension arises, be mindful of how you respond to each other, may it be in words, body language, and action. Speak positively of your co-parent in front of your child about their qualities or skills that you genuinely think are good. This will teach your child to respect and have a positive regard for both parents.
- Maintain open and regular communication. Update each other on what was talked about in the parents’ meeting at school, if you were the only one who was able to attend, or about how your child was during their time with you when you went on vacation. Letting each other know about the developments related to your child will help both of you to think of and make more unified decisions that will further benefit your child.
- Don’t neglect your responsibilities. As co-parenting is teamwork, it is very important that you fulfill what you promised to prevent upsetting your child and co-parent. If you are unable to do something that was previously planned, apologize and communicate your reason and make amends as soon as possible to prevent issues like this from piling up.
- Don’t make the child the mediator. Apart from avoiding having heated arguments in the presence of your child, try your best not to tell your child about the other co-parents’ shortcomings and mistakes, as it will put the burden on your child to fix the situation or to choose between the two of you.
- Don’t be jealous when your child is spending time with your co-parent. At times, it is also good for a parent to have alone time with their child so they can have the chance to fully bond and engage in activities they both enjoy. You can also use this time to rest, relax, and pursue relationships with family and friends.
- Avoid implementing conflicting rules. Have a joint agreement on bedtime, societal rules, computer usage, and so on. Having consistency in implementing rules provides your child a sense of safety and stability because they know that both parents are on the same page. Aside from the fact that children feel more at ease when they know that their environment is stable, this will also create less inner tension for the child in terms of choosing who is the parent they favor more.
Remember: it’s not a competition!
The golden rule to remember in a co-parenting arrangement is that the child’s well-being should be put above all. This set-up warrants no space for shady remarks on which co-parent is doing more, or not doing enough.
“Co-parenting is a collaborative process and thus, each parent should have equal say on that child’s rearing,” Abegail said. “You are in this co-parenting team because you want the best for your child. It isn’t a competition on who is the better parent.”
But if you find yourself constantly disagreeing with the person you’re co-parenting with, here are some things that you could consider, according to Abegail:
- If the other co-parent is unable to fulfill duties because of an emergency or any reason, do not blame them and be angry in front of your child. Be flexible enough to take over and talk it out with your co-parent in private. Avoid saying negative things about each other especially in front of your child. If you are caught in a conflict in front of your child, take a few moments to breathe and explain to the child that you are having an argument, but arguments can be resolved respectfully and peacefully. Since children usually follow what they observe and not what they are told, be mindful of how you will resolve the conflict and interact with each other when your child is around.
- If you are having a hard time talking with your co-parent without talking about your resentments or past relationship, take a pause and when you have calmed down, agree to talk on a certain day and time wherein you will only talk about your child and discuss any concerns related to parenting. Accept that you don’t have to be in a romantic relationship in order to be good parents. Sometimes, having respect for each other can be enough foundation to rebuild another kind of relationship, which is co-parenting.
- Since the transition to parenthood is usually stressful and some people need more help and guidance in order to overcome the challenges that come with it, it is also good to subscribe to family-based interventions such as parenting workshops, couples therapy, group/family therapy, and so on. These interventions will be helpful in identifying possible triggers of conflict, decreasing parental conflict, increasing tolerance to differences, and equipping both parents with effective strategies for disciplining.
Beneficial not only to the children, but also to the co-parents
Navigating this delicate situation can be tricky for all parties involved, especially when there’s always a possibility to rehash old arguments. But Abegail pointed out that going your separate ways and having an amicable co-parenting set-up is more beneficial for your child rather than them staying in one household but still being constantly exposed to intense and hostile parental conflicts.
“When you show your child that you can respectfully work on your differences with your co-parent, you are able to provide your child a more realistic view of relationships – that conflicts can arise, but there are healthy conflict resolution styles that we can adapt,” she said.
Effective co-parenting arrangements also shield a child from the possible negative effects of separation. “Children feel safe when there is a sense of consistency in their environment and implemented rules,” Abegail explained.
Aside from the children, a co-parenting set-up can also be favorable to the co-parents involved. “Co-parenting helps each parent balance the responsibility of parenthood by having another person to rely on and make decisions. Although two people are not in the same household or have decided to get separated, they can still work together to provide for the needs of their child,” she emphasized.
“This also solves the usual tendency of children to fear that no one will be left to take care of them or they won’t be able to interact with the other parent anymore when the parents are going through separation. Letting the child spend time with both of their parents makes them less forced to take sides. Regular contact with each parent also helps reduce the feelings of loss on everyone’s part, especially if they used to live in one household.” – Rappler.com
Abegail Joyce Requilman is a licensed psychologist who completed her Master of Arts in Psychology degree with specialization in Clinical Psychology. She has years of experience in case management, assessment, counseling and psychotherapy. Throughout her clinical practice, she has worked closely with children, adolescents and adults with intellectual and emotional challenges, as well as clients with mood problems, anxiety, life-transition concerns, and substance-abuse disorders. She is passionate about advocating for mental health awareness and has participated in several charitable initiatives that aimed to provide psychological assessment and counseling services to low-income communities. She loves to travel, go on nature walks, do yoga, and pursue artistic activities.