Co-parenting is the term used when biological parents (in most cases, anyway) do not live together as a couple, but still provide parental care for their child. Often times this situation arises when a couple splits up and it can easily be a very awkward, uncomfortable, and even contentious relationship.
But no matter how you and your co-parenting partner ended up, you’re here, and your primary concern should be to provide the best parental care for your child possible. And like it or not, that may include incorporating the other parent, and possibly step-parent(s), in your daily activities. It won’t always be easy, but read on for tips and advice on achieving your goal of successful co-parenting.
Employ honesty and transparency, without fail
Inevitably in a co-parenting relationship, the most important thing in your life — your child — will be in someone else’s parental care. This is a very big deal. Leaving your child with a sitter, or even a teacher at school, can be difficult enough for parent, but sitters and teachers, though they play important roles in your child’s life, do not make parental decisions for your child. Your co-parenting partner will. That’s why it’s so important to employ trust and transparency at every turn. Mistakes will be made, and co-parents have to work even harder to maintain a unified front for their children. The only way to minimize the mistakes and keep on the same page is to talk about your child often, and to always be honest.
Don’t be vindictive or petty…if possible
Unless you are extraordinarily lucky, there will inevitably be times when your co-parenting partner says or does something that annoys you beyond belief. But unless that thing negatively impacts your child, try to let it go. The truth is that there will almost always be some hurt feelings on a fairly regular basis. After all, your child is being taken away from you — if only for part of the time — against your will. Even the most mature among us will feel some resentment from time to time. If possible, let it go. And by all means, try not to let your child pick up on it.
Be accommodating within reason
Whether you have a court-ordered visitation schedule or a mutually agreed-upon schedule, there will probably be times when one or the other of you needs to rearrange the normal schedule to accommodate an unforeseen need. If possible, try to go along with it. No one’s saying you should give up an unreasonable amount of time with your child to help your co-parenting partner’s needs, but a swapping of days every now and again can help grease the wheels towards a better working relationship.
Differences are okay, up to a point
Unless both co-parenting partners are intensely committed to co-parent with as much detail as possible, there will be times when your child has to adjust to the difference between her two homes. At our house, for example, we’re pretty flexible about dining etiquette (we don’t mind elbows on the table, and are very liberal with what we consider “finger foods,” for example), whereas at her dad’s house, they are much more strict.
By and large these differences are both negligible and reconcilable. In fact, having these kinds of differences may well help your child adapt to different situations. But when it comes to major parenting decisions — whether or not to immunize or when to pierce her ears, for example — it’s important to be on the same page. It’s always better to wait and discuss these kinds of decisions ahead of time rather than make an impromptu choice and have to backtrack later.
There’s safety in numbers
Co-parenting may not be your dream scenario, but there is one bit of good news: as long as all parties are on the same page and genuinely want what is best for your child, there is safety in numbers. No manipulative, back-and-forth games, pitting one parent up against another. And if and when you have a new partner, and if and when your co-parenting partner has a partner of his/her own, you’ll suddenly have twice as many teammates, all preaching one unified message to your little one. And though you may have to cope with envy issues from time to time, there’s a really good thing about this, too: twice as many people to love that special someone in your life.