Being a parent is a huge responsibility and often times one that is shared with a co-parent. A co-parent is the person (or people) who helps to raise your child in one way or another. This could be your spouse, an ex, your ex’s spouse, or even a friend or family member.
In my experience as a clinician for children and adolescents, having adults that are able to co-parent in a respectful, collaborative, and accepting way is one of the most important factors in my clients’ ability to access his or her treatment. When parents don’t work together, children are left feeling confused and overwhelmed. Over time the witnessing of disputes between parents can lead to maladaptive interpersonal coping strategies, such as splitting. Splitting occurs when a child seeks something out from one parent instead of the other, in order to get a certain need met, and decisions are made on behalf of the child without a discussion with the co-parent. When splitting occurs repeatedly, it can cause significant strain in the relationship between the parents and leaves the child with too much control over the parental relationship. Children do not feel safe when they have more control than the adults in their lives.
I’ve seen many parents at odds with one another because of lack of communication regarding decisions made about their children. Communication should occur often, be collaborative, and remain child focused.
When children see their parents in a healthy parenting partnership, they are able to focus on their own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors without the distraction of the parents’ interpersonal struggles.
Steps to successful co-parenting:
- It’s okay to disagree, but not in front of your kids. You are entitled to your opinion, but so is your co-parent. You are allowed to feel passionate about a certain parenting technique, punishment, reward, or judgement call; however, it is vital that disagreements about co-parenting take place behind closed doors and decisions about parenting be presented in a way that allows your child to believe that you and your co-parent made the decision together. If your co-parent makes a decision in front of you that you don’t agree with, wait until you have a private moment to discuss it. For example, if your co-parent says “yes” to something when you believe “no” is the more appropriate answer, talk it out away from your child and come to a collaborative agreement. You can always revisit the decision with your child as long as it is presented that you came to that decision together. I like to call this having a united front and I believe it is one of the most important steps to parenting.
- Leave the other “stuff” from your relationship out of your parenting partnership. It is never helpful to allow your frustrations about your parenting partner drive the conversation about what decisions you want to make about your child. If you keep your child’s best interest at heart, that other “stuff” doesn’t matter. Remember the shared goals for your child that you have with your parentings partner and re-focus on those.
- It’s okay to not win every disagreement. All relationships involve compromise and parenting is no different. Sometimes parents focus on wanting their way as a means of getting back at their co-parent, but the person who is negatively affected is the child.
- Develop your own support system. You deserve to have people in your corner and to have the space to vent and feel validated, and this should never take place in front of your child or somewhere that your child may overhear. Friends and family are great resources for this type of thing, but you can also consider having your own therapist. If your child is in treatment it can become tempting to utilize your child’s therapist to help you mediate conflict with your co-parent, but its best for your child if that takes place during your own therapy, not theirs.