What is Co-Parenting and Why is it Important for Children of Divorce?

a blond boy with a sad face plays with paper dolls of a father and mother

What is Co-Parenting?

Co-parenting is when two parents work together collaboratively to raise their children, whether married or divorced; however, most co-parenting issues arise during and after a divorce.

Why is Co-Parenting important?

Co-Parenting is critical for the children’s sake. Studies indicate that a divorce does not necessarily have a negative impact on the children. However, when the parents fail to co-parent properly, that’s when the divorce becomes damaging to the children. When parents can work together after the divorce, treat each other with respect, and not put their children in the middle, that is when you see children of divorce growing up mentally and emotionally healthy. A few simple steps can help parents successfully co-parent.

What Does a Healthy Co-Parenting Relationship Look Like?

1. Respect (or at least Don’t Badmouth) the Other Parent

I tell my clients when they first come in, if there are minor children involved, “I know you want to be rid of this man or this woman. You do not want to have anything to do with them. I can see the bitterness. I can see the resentment. But, this person is the mother or father of your children and you did choose to have children with this person.” I try to get them to realize that they are not going to be just rid of this person, because in the future there will be high school graduations, college graduations, weddings, grandbabies born, etc., and so for the sake of your children, you have to learn how to have a healthy relationship, especially in the eyes of the children.

There are many stories about weddings, where the biological mom would not speak to the biological dad, and vice versa. This can completely ruin a special day for the children, even grown children.

There are rules that, if the parents abide by them, their children are better for it. One is to not badmouth the other parent. If one parent is badmouthing the other parent, calling them a scumbag, for example, then because the children are half their mom and half their dad, the children will hear that they are half scumbag. I always emphasize this: “Do not badmouth the other parent.” Children deserve both a father and a mother, and they deserve to think that both parents love them and that neither parent is a bad person. There are some extreme cases where this is not true, where one parent is a danger to the children, for example, but in most cases, children need a good relationship with their father and with their mother, and showing that lack of respect is one of the worst things you can do.

2. Work Together as a United Front, especially on Rules and Discipline

The word Co-parenting implies that parents are going to work together. Often after a divorce, the parents will try to discipline the children in a certain way and it is not the same in each of their households, so there is a conflict. Dad says if you do X, Y or Z, I will take away your car. So, when the child does disobey the rule, Dad takes his car, but then when the child goes to mom’s house and mom gives him the keys it is confusing and sends mixed messages. Parents need to put away their petty resentments toward each, and they need to be a united front for the sake of the children. Kids play one parent against each other in married families, so it can certainly be expected when the parents are divorced and not working together, the children are going to take advantage of that, to the children’s detriment in the end.

To effectively Co-Parent, both parents need to work together on what the discipline of the children should be, and be supportive of each other and consistent with their discipline between their homes. Even ahead of time, when they’re going through the divorce, and especially in the Collaborative Divorce process, parents should have the opportunity to talk about all scenarios, like what is going to happen when little Suzy wants a tattoo, and what is going to happen when little Suzy wants a navel ring, and what if little Suzy is 16 and now she is wanting to date this 20 year old man?

There are going to be things that come up that are not discussed specifically in the divorce process, and the parents are going to have to be able to work together for the benefit of their children, including the discipline policies that are going to be put in place. For instance, if Suzy stays out past her curfew then mom and dad need to both agree on what the penalty should be Furthermore, if Johnny does not want to go to dad’s house because he/she can get away with everything at mom’s house, including skipping school, that’s not in the childs best interest. Parents need to have similar policies for the best interest of the children.

3. Don’t Put the Children in the Middle

It is really, really important for parents to remember they do not have to be married, they do not have to love each other, and they do not even have to really like each other, but they need to respect the fact that the other person is the parent of his or her children.

Within that, it seems to me there is a question of what if you are not happy with some of the aspects of how the other parent is parenting. How do you deal with that? You must remember that even married people, people that have not had a divorce, are going to disagree. There are going to be some issues, some strife there, and parents are not always going to agree 100% on everything, even when they are married. But they must do their best, for the sake of the children.

How do they work it out? They work it out just as two grownups should. They should first have a conversation. Let the communication flow. A lot of divorced parents do not even speak to each other. You have to get over it and have the ability to sit down and say, “Let us work together to figure this out.” Put the child’s interest first above your spite or your resentment. Parents need to put the child first.

4. Ask for Help When You Hit a Bump

Once there are step-parents in the mix, these issues can be even more complicated. You may have a step-parent doing something contrary to what the mother or father wants, and you have to work hard to manage those dynamics. Just like in a marriage, you must work hard to be on the same page–when you are divorced it is even harder, then when one or both of you remarry, it is harder still, but you need to step it up and work harder at co-parenting. Communication is the key. If issues arise that the parents are unable to manage themselves, there are parent coordinators who are specially trained to help families through these challenges.

5. Don’t Forget—You are the Parents

In everything they do, parents should model what good parenting looks like for their children. Children grow up with an idea of what does parenting look like from what they see their parents do. Suzy is going to model her mom’s behavior when it comes to being a mother. Johnny will model his dad’s behavior. We need to show our children healthy communication skills, so that we are not setting them up for failure as parents, simply because they have not seen a good example set for them.

Co-Parenting is no different. Statistically, at least 50% of the children growing up today will go through a divorce themselves. How they see their parents handle their divorce will teach them how to handle conflict, including divorce, it if they find themselves in that situation later in their lives. This is a teaching moment, if our divorcing parents can rise above their feelings about each other to make their divorce be that teaching moment for their children.

The bottom line about good Co-Parenting is that its intent and its goal is to raise healthy, happy children. If you manage how you co-parent correctly, your children will be better for it as they become adults and for the rest of their lives.

Let Us Help You Through Your Legal Matter

The Justice Law Firm in Southlake, Texas is dedicated to helping individuals in Southlake and the surrounding areas with Divorce and Family Law issues. At the Justice Law Firm, you will find experienced and professional divorce attorneys.