Co-parenting is heralded as the ideal post-divorce form of parenting. In this model, mother and father share time, responsibilities, and communicate about what’s going on with their children and what they will need. This method requires a reasonable amount of civility and the ability of both parents to place the needs of their children before any animosity they feel for one another.
Co-parents need not be friends to be effective. In fact, interactions can be very to-the-point and business like. The objective is to be able to shelve the bitter feelings of divorce and keep it from interfering with parenting as much as possible. Like anything else, some parents do a better job than others in remaining kid-centric or maintaining mature and level-headed in their new relationship.
Most divorced parents begin their venture in post-divorce parenting with every intention to co-parent by the book, only to struggle because of still raw emotions. Divorced parents require an adjustment period and time to develop a new way of dealing with each other and parenting.
Parenting after divorce is extremely hard!
Not long ago you spent some of every day with your children. Now you may go days (or more) at-a-time between quality time with your kids! This was an incredibly bitter pill for me to swallow. Losing my kids part time was one reason that made me question what I had done to myself and them by getting a divorce!
While married, two care givers lived under one roof and could, presumably, balance responsibilities, pool resources, and have infinite access to the kids. After divorce, each parent is on his or her own to manage time with the kids including child care, running them around to activities, housework, school, and so on. For someone not used to being a part time single parent, this is a daunting feat to tackle!
Then, each parent is likely to have less to work with (income, time, space, and so on) than previously used to.
Add all these factors up and compound them by the fact that you’re fresh off of a major break-up, and co-parenting is a tall order to fill!
With time to simmer down and two parents who really have their heart in trying to be peaceful and cooperative for their kids, co-parenting can be a reality. Not every former couple is able to achieve this goal, however. Don’t feel bad about it if you and your ex can’t function as co-parents. Co-parenting requires two people who were so dysfunctional in their former relationship that they had to go to court to have it legally severed to still communicate on a regular basis! What could go wrong?
So, what do a pair of divorced parents do if they can’t make a go of co-parenting?
All is not lost. Parallel parenting is another option that still can be very effective. Parallel parenting works from the assumption that two parents cannot effectively interact without conflict and, most likely, are not able to put hostility aside enough to make parenting as a team possible.
If you and your ex are like gasoline and fire together, you are not doing anyone, least of all your children, any favors to force interactions in attempt to co-parent. Sometimes wisdom and maturity makes us more aware of our strengths and weaknesses. Maybe the prospect of ever facing your ex without friction is just not a possibility. It takes two to make it work!
Parallel parenting recognizes that the parents each love their children, but contact between the two is not a good idea. Of course, it’s not possible to completely flip a switch and pretend that one parent no longer exists, but it’s about the closest thing possible to removing an offensive ex from your life.
Here’s what makes parallel parenting different from traditional co-parenting:
Contact is minimized to the greatest extent possible. Information is boiled down to the nuts and bolts of what needs to be known and the frequency of contact is strictly as needed.
Efforts are made to remove the need for face-to-face contact. Information is passed through texts, e-mails, a parenting app (including calendar and place to maintain notes), or a notebook. Little to no face-to-face contact is expected to decrease conflict.
The expectation of consistency between home environments is non-existent. Each parent in this situation operates strictly in their own way with no consideration for how things may function elsewhere. Of course, consistency is a benefit to kids, but some parents simply cannot agree to disciplinary methods, routines, or anything else.
I would characterize my situation’s parenting style as closest to parallel parenting after my ex and my initial attempts to co-parent. Parenting in our early days was very volatile because the mere sight or sound of one another triggered an instantaneous reaction of loathing between us. We screamed, we fought, we game played, and we both said and did many regrettable things.
Knowing that our interactions were so hostile, we took to texting the majority of information, with short phone calls only when absolutely necessary. If either of us texted something rude or antagonizing, we were both pretty good at shutting it down. Little-by-little I think we both began to appreciate that we were each very invested in the happiness and well-being of the children above all else. Various situations, such as our son’s surgery, forced us to have to put our differences aside and talk. Now we can stand to sit with our children in the same vicinity, have a kid-centered conversation, and discuss important matters.
We discuss very little outside the bubble of our children, but will occasionally discuss health or other issues of our older parents, our jobs, or other topics that may intersect the needs of our kids. We’ve come a long way, and I know it’s been good for our kids to have us behave more peacefully.
My husband and his ex-wife function strictly as parallel parents. Seven years since they separated and they still can’t be in the same room without negativity flying. Every attempt at a conversation or to get on the same page with parenting inevitably degenerates into a fight. They have learned that they are able to remain cool and do their jobs as parents with the absolute minimum of contact. They text all information about schedules, expenses, and other issues, and have long ago given up on any possibility of influencing the environment in each other’s homes.
He goes his way, she goes her way. They stay out of each other’s business, avoid any topics not involving the kids, and keep interactions short and straight to the relevant facts. It’s their way, and it works for them.
No two relationships are alike, so the right balance of interaction, format for communication, and content has to be struck to allow parents to do their most important job: parent. If you and your ex aren’t succeeding at co-parenting, you need not give up hope that you can still effectively parent after your divorce. Experiment with scaling back your communication with your ex to keep your messages clear, concise, and strictly on parenting. Chances are that your style may evolve as your post-divorce relationship does!