Parenting Partners (commonly referred to as co-parents) are parents who share children but are not involved in an intimate relationship with each other. They may be divorced, separated or never-married. Ideally the parenting partnership is effective, cooperative and child-focused. When it is not, children get caught in the middle of parental conflict. Parenting Partners who struggle to find common ground often deal with poor communication, inflexibility, non-compliance with agreements, “win-lose” thinking, and high levels of conflict. This environment makes it extremely difficult to parent effectively.
Unfortunately, law enforcement and the Courts do not offer easily accessible, cost-effective, or timely solutions. Although a parenting specialist (such as a Parenting Time Expeditor or Parenting Consultant) can provide guidance and structure resolutions; parenting relationships cannot be magically transformed from the outside; ultimately, the work must be done by the parents.
Whether you are working with a parenting specialist or navigating your parenting relationship on your own, it is important to remember that parenting outside of a marital or intimate relationship is more challenging than parenting within a single family unit. Differences in parenting styles, values, and communication are further complicated by strong emotions such as anger and distrust. For many newly separated or divorced parents these emotions make highly cooperative parenting challenging, if not impossible, in the short term. Long term success often requires a “cooling off” period during which co-parenting is more separate or parallel than cooperative. Clear boundaries and guidelines need to be established and respected. As time passes, the strong negative emotions of the intimate relationship (like hatred, anger, and suspicion) typically morph into more neutral emotions such as indifference, frustration and acceptance. When this happens, parenting partners are often able to complete the transition from a marital (or intimate) relationship to a parenting relationship – the effectiveness of which relies on establishing clear expectations, adhering to behavioral guidelines, building parental trust through accountability (doing what you say), and communicating in an effective and non-emotional manner. I often refer to these practices as the foundations of an effective parenting relationship.
It is important to point out that knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things. Many parents feel frustrated that they are unable to move immediately and smoothly into a low-conflict and highly cooperative parenting relationship. Through my personal and professional experience I have learned that doing so is almost impossible…it takes time to make the transition from intimate partner to parenting partner. Similar to the reality that we must learn to crawl before we walk or run. Long term co-parenting success requires patience, commitment, and the willingness to accept a workable parenting relationship before achieving a cooperative relationship or an ideal relationship. The road to success is tiled with individual stepping stones rather than pavement.
In short, effective parenting partnerships:
- Take time to develop;
- Require forethought and planning;
- Rely on effective communication;
- Cannot succeed without accountability and flexibility; and
- Do not have to be “ideal” in order to be effective.