When we fail at co-parenting, we fail our children.
Regardless of your relationship with your ex-spouse, chances are you established a co-parenting plan with the best intentions. Co-parenting is also termed “post-separation co-parent” and specifically references parents who are equally dedicated to raising their child although no longer living together or married.
Keep in mind these 7 reasons that co-parenting can fail, and plan on avoiding any roadblocks when you are negotiating family issues during your divorce.
1. Terms were not clearly laid out in the beginning.
It may be hard for you to think about a child care plan with a clear head during divorce proceedings. Especially if your battling child custody agreements that feel less than equivocal. Emotions may be running high, and pouring over the intricacies of a shared parent plan may require more focus than you feel you can give.
Some states offer co-parenting plan guidelines with developmentally appropriate contingencies (such as, how often a parent needs to visit with a young child to secure appropriate attachment). However, if you are living in a state that does not offer any co-parenting plan support (or even if you are), don’t hesitate to rely on your divorce lawyer for guidance. It’s likely your lawyer has handled manyco-parentingg plans and can guide you through this process in a rational, non-emotional manner which will allow you to clearly lay out terms on the onset of your divorce.
2. The Primary Caregiver keeps having to make excuses for the other parent.
A successful co-parenting plan requires the full cooperation of both parents. However, many times the primary caregiver (often the mother) can be left making excuses for the other parent. They are left to explain missed visits, communication drop-offs, and unforeseen delays to children on their own.
This will effectively foster resentment in a primary caregiver, and over time can damage the delicate balance required for co-parenting. Those embarking on intentional shared parenting plans should take caution not to drop all responsibility on the primary caregiver, even if that person is with the children most of the time. If a parent is running late to pick up the children for a planned visit – again – than both parents should discuss the event with their kids. A unified parental front can still be achieved under coparenting.
3. One co-parent undermines the other.
Pitting children against a parent is an unfair and damaging action that can have long-term negative consequences – especially for children. When a parent takes out frustration with a co-parent by venting to their kids, they leave the very ones they are trying to protect in a vulnerable position. Sometimes this undermining can be very passive aggressive, beginning with statements like “Your mother never…” (indicating to a child they are not being taken care of) or “If your father cared about you, he would…” (making a child feel like parental love is quantifiable by a specific action).
You may not always be able to avoid this trap, as sometimes the parent that’s undermining will not own up to their actions. However, a parent who is being undermined can maintain communication with their children and even suggest family therapy to resolve the issue. It’s important that this isn’t just swept under the rug.
4. Children aren’t put first.
While co-parenting is generally all about putting the child first, on occasion that’s the very last thing that happens. Sometimes children are shuffled between parents with little consideration as to what may be easier – or best – for the child. This isn’t to say that co-parents shouldn’t maintain some flexibility and their own interests. It’s simply worth mentioning that coparenting can quickly fail if a child’s needs aren’t met.
5. Failure to adjust a co-parenting plan over time.
While a co-parenting plan may work initially, it should be updated over time to reflect developmental changes, a child’s shifting school schedule, parent’s work schedules, and other milestones that may arise. A long-term co-parenting plan should include check-in meetings that allow parents to come to the table and discuss if the plan is working for them and their children, if adjustments need to be made so that it will work better, and if there are any anticipated upcoming changes that will affect the shared parent plan.
6. Major life changes that compete with co-parenting (but don’t have to).
It’s very possible that major life events may compete with co-parenting plans, but they really shouldn’t. Parents may remarry, change their living arrangements, suddenly start travelling for work, or go back to school (just to name a few major life changes). Even if some of these changes are in the best interest for your child, don’t forget the golden rule of co-parenting: consistency is key.
Maintaining consistency should be your goal while navigating major life events, always ensuring your child or children don’t feel pushed aside from your life.
7. Co-parents may not take enough time to decompress.
Lastly, co-parenting may fail if co-parents don’t take enough time to decompress. Exercise, hobbies, social events, meditation, and self-care are just some examples of things that parents can enjoy in order to be more present for their children. It may seem selfish to take time for yourself, but it’s important that a parent “fill their cup up” so to speak.
Failure to do so can result in the failure of your co-parenting relationship. Co-parenting can be much harder than parenting together under one roof, as there may be extended periods of time when one parent maintains sole responsibility for the children with no “breaks”. Parents should encourage one another to take time to recharge, even being willing to spend unplanned time with their children so that their co-parent can take the time to self-care.
After all, co-parenting (like marriage) is still a partnership. With these 7 reasons that co-parenting can fail in mind, you can avoid some common pitfalls.