Co-parenting is when one parent, or child caretaker, shares parenting responsibilities with another parental figure. While your family’s parenting system is unique to you, you most likely rely on essential others to help provide emotional and physical care for your children. In addition to biological or adoptive parents, other parental figures or child caretakers often include extended family members, grandparents, close friends, and neighbors.
Here are a few examples of family members, child caretakers, or parental figures who could be part of a co-parenting team:
- A heterosexual couple, living together and legally married, who has had no previous marriages or children.
- A same-sex couple, living together and legally married, who has possibly had a previous marriage and may have children from that marriage.
- A married/committed couple who only lives together part time due to work/travel, and the non-traveling partner carries the parenting load as a geographically single partner. Virtual connection (e.g., Face Time, Skype) routines for the traveling partner may be part of the family’s schedule.
- A married couple, who both travel for work, and who have formally, or informally, designated close friends or family members to provide daily emotional and physical care for their children when the couple is working.
- Divorced parents, who share custody of the children, and one or both parents are in new dating relationships.
- A single parent whose ex-partner has remarried and has shared custody of children with the previous parent and has stepchildren.
- A single parent whose own parents are actively helping raise their grandchild(ren).
- A single parent who has siblings who are actively providing care and nurturance for their nieces or nephews.
Within each shared relationship, parents and caretakers need to coordinate with other individual(s) to ensure their young children receive care, nurturance, safety, and exploration and learning opportunities. When parents and caretakers are mindful about their relationships with each other and how those relationships impact the child, successful co-parenting can lessen behavioral problems in children and help ensure children have positive relationships now and in the future.
Here are some basic strategies to help create a successful co-parenting experience (Gill, 2018):
- Avoid venting about the other adults in your child’s life to your child. You may have frustrations about past (or present) relationships, and, while it is okay to vent, you should not do it with or in front of your child. Talking to friends, family, or a therapist to work through the past, or present issues, may be helpful. Try to remember to do what is best for the child—focus on providing a safe and caring platform for your child so he or she can develop positive relationships with all the caregivers in his or her life.
- Good communication is clear, cooperative, and respectful and should occur among all adults in the child’s caregiving circle. Set boundaries on the times and occurrences of communication and agree together on what types of communication (e.g., phone call, text) work best for everyone. If communication is a problem, try being brief, polite, and to the point. This brevity could help to avoid raising personal feelings, and potential negative reactions, from past or present events.
- Support each other in your roles as parents and caretakers. Follow through on mutually agreed-upon rules, like screen time usage and bedtimes. If the other parental figure does something you like, compliment him or her. Positive reinforcement can encourage both co-parents to work toward or within a committed partnership to enhance their child’s well-being.
- Plan for holidays and vacations. Give as much advance notice to each other as possible if you are not spending this time together or in close proximity to one another. Be sure to provide location and contact information to the other parental figures(s). If you need to reorganize schedules due to holidays or vacations, show respect to the other parental figure(s) for their time, and try to be flexible. You may get more respect in return.
- Compromise when you disagree. You may disagree on a variety of topics, such as religion, medical intervention, and schooling. Still, you will need to find a way to meet in the middle. Family counseling may be a good resource if you find that you are having difficulty compromising.
- Support strong relationships with your child and his or her other parental figure(s). Don’t use your child to “spy” on the other parental figures(s), and don’t keep your child from the other parental figure(s) out of spite. Involving your child in negative behavior directed toward the other parental figure puts the child in the middle of mature conflicts he or she may not understand. This type of behavior could have long-lasting adverse effects on your child’s future relationships.
Co-parenting is a partnership and an agreement to do what is best to meet the needs of your child. Developing a plan, making changes as your child grows, and being open to adjustments in schedules when circumstances change may help the co-parenting process go smoothly. Co-parenting can be challenging, but it can also be a rewarding experience when done respectfully with clear communication and an open mind.
Mihaly, J. (2020, December 10). 7 co-parenting apps & scheduling apps to help parents manage their time. Fatherly. https://www.fatherly.com/love-money/best-co-parenting-apps-scheduling-apps-parents/
Shared parenting works. (2021). Free parenting plans. https://sharedparentingworks.org/free-parenting-plans
Clearinghouse for Military Family Readiness at Penn State. (2019). Take root home visitation. Thrive. https://thrive.psu.edu/
Gill, K. (2018, December 18). How to successfully coparent. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/parenting/co-parenting#self-care