Addressing Gender-Specific Issues Can Improve Co-Parenting

Although most agree that co-parenting after a divorce provides the best environment for kids, successful co-parenting is often challenged by a variety of gender-specific issues.

More than half of America’s courts require some type of education for divorcing parents to help them establish workable co-parenting plans. Nevertheless, successful co-parenting remains difficult.

A new study from the University of Missouri examines co-parenting challenges from a gender standpoint with a goal of improving the ability of divorced parents to work together in supporting their children’s development.

Dr. Lawrence Ganong, co-chair of the Human Development and Family Science Department, and Dr. Marilyn Coleman, professor emerita in the same department, partnered with doctoral candidate Luke Russell to analyze data collected from “Focus on Kids,” a program developed by University of Missouri faculty.

“We know that cooperative co-parenting is the best bet for children of divorce,” Russell said. “However, co-parenting plans often can be derailed by parental conflict and concerns. Our question as researchers was how concerns differed between mothers and fathers, so we could use that information to improve co-parental education programs.”

Russell and his colleagues found that fathers’ parenting behaviors were most affected by financial and legal concerns, especially regarding child support payments perceived as unjust or excessive.

They found that mothers’ co-parenting, on the other hand, were more influenced by concerns about the mental instability and parental fitness of their ex-spouses.

Although both parents also reported logistical concerns — for example, the fear that distance and demanding work schedules would prohibit them from visiting their child — these concerns had no impact on the reported behaviors of either parent.

“Divorce education programs devote significant energy to addressing logistical barriers, such as distance and schedules — yet, we found these concerns had no impact on behavior or parenting styles,” Russell said.

“However, other perceived barriers, financial for fathers and parental fitness for mothers, did have the potential to impact behaviors, which can make it more difficult to implement workable co-parenting plans.”

Russell suggests that family professionals could help couples overcome economic and legal concerns through increased career-training or teaching mothers to better communicate financial needs. Fathers may be more willing to accept paying child support when they understand how payments benefit their children, and when they themselves are more financially secure.

To counteract mothers’ concerns about parental fitness, Russell suggests that family professionals focus on helping fathers develop the skills they need to be effective parents when they are alone with their children, and to take steps to actively demonstrate this capability to their ex-spouse.

To reduce children’s exposure to conflict, however, in some situations it may be necessary to suggest reducing contact between ex-spouses.

The study appears in the journal Family Relations.

Source: University of Missouri