Parenting is one of the most challenging careers on Earth, and co-parenting takes it to the next level.
Imagine two separate individuals who have to work together (again) to raise their children.
You might wonder, “How can this be done?”
Meet the new paradigm: co-parenting, also known as shared parenting, where separated parents have chosen to put their differences aside and work together towards a bigger goal:
To raise confident, happy, fulfilled children.
So, what is co-parenting? Is it a good idea?
If yes, how do you make it best work for you?
Great questions. We’re going to take a direct aim at them.
What Is Co-Parenting?
“Co” means doing something together. Like a co-worker.
The definition of parenting is the act of raising children.
Combined, the definition of co-parenting is the act of two individuals — typically separated couples — taking responsibility for raising a child.
The legal definition of co-parenting is an informal or formal agreement or a plan which will provide the necessary support and resources required to meet the child’s needs.
Is co-parenting a relationship?
Co-parenting is an incredibly unique relationship because the parents need to rise above their differences to work together and provide the best for their children, even if they no longer want to participate in each other’s lives.
This is also the most significant hurdle each co-parent has to overcome.
Imagine how challenging it would be to restrain your feelings towards your co-parent?
After all, you need to work together with this person for the rest of your life. Not to mention making time to arrange joint custody and coordinating schedules to share childrearing responsibilities.
Is it really worth the effort?
Is Co-Parenting a Good Idea?
The short answer is: yes.
On the contrary, children with parents filled with conflict are much more likely to have mental health problems, delinquency, drug abuse, and behavioral problems.
Another study by Diogo Lamela, Ph.D., a professor in Psychology, Education, and Sports, made an interesting discovery. He found that the cause of mental health problems for children of divorce is not the divorce itself, but rather the parental conflict that follows.
It may help healthy co-parents to keep these ideas in mind throughout their joint custody because this is the reward of shared parenting: healthy, happy children.
What is the difference between co-parenting and joint custody?
Co-parenting typically describes a family dynamic in which two parents who have separated raise their children together.
Joint custody, on the other hand, is a legal arrangement approved by the court according to the official parenting agreement — in which parents have agreed to make decisions together and take turns living with their children.
Joint custody is comprised of two parts: physical custody and legal custody.
In layman’s terms, physical custody has to do with where the children will live. And legal custody has to do with which parent makes major decisions affecting the children.
Sole custody means that a single parent (known as the custodial parent) legally lives or makes decisions for the children. Typically, the non-custodial parent has the right to visit the children.
Now that you’ve learned the bread and butter of co-parenting, it’s time to start cooking — let’s discuss how to make this strategy work in practice.
How Do You Have a Healthy Co-Parenting Relationship?
You can’t have a relationship. You create one.
To create a healthy shared parenting relationship, you need to nurture these three different relationships:
Imagine co-parenting as a three-legged stool. And the three relationships are the legs. If one leg breaks, the stool will collapse.
The most critical leg you need to take care of first is:
1. Your relationship with yourself
It’s the parent who consciously becomes whole from within raises that raises the most self-worthy, self-esteem, and resilient kids possible.— Dr. Shefali Tsabary, trainer of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest
Most separation ends with a myriad of negative emotions — blame, resentment, hatred, vengeance, anger — and they’ll hold you back in ways you’re not aware of.
Self-healing is the first thing you need to do to smoothly move on to the next chapter of life as a stronger and better version of you —by redefining your experiences, being grateful and offering forgiveness.
These are simple-to-understand and step-by-step processes to get you rolling.
Redefining your experiences
How many times have you looked back and felt grateful for the experiences you’ve been through?
If not for those experiences, you wouldn’t have become a stronger, wiser, better person.
Any suffering will no longer be painful when it’s given a new meaning and purpose.
As Oprah Winfrey says, “Turn your wounds into wisdom.”
Answer these two questions to give new meaning to your experiences:
- What are the positive things you’ve learned out of the separation?
- And how will they help you in your life?
The simplest way to get out of a funk is gratitude.
Often, divorces leave the parents depressed and angry because they feel like they’ve failed.
What breaks the endless spiral of depression is gratitude
Dr. Robert A. Emmons, a psychologist at the University of California, Davis and an expert in the science of gratitude, says, “Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.”
But gratitude is not merely writing down, “The three things I’m grateful for today are …”
It’s about visualizing the moment you feel thankful for and feeling the immense gratitude welling up within you.
One of the effective gratitude techniques is the ‘reverse gap.’
Here’s how to practice it:
- Sit comfortably and get yourself a distraction-free space.
- Imagine those moments in the past where you were struggling, and now here you are, a better human being than yesterday. Look at how far you’ve come.
- Ask yourself, “Where did I come from?”
- Let the feelings of joy, happiness, bliss, grace, and gratitude well up within you and feel them for a few minutes.
By the end of the practice, you’ll likely come to the conclusion, “My life isn’t so bad after all.”
Forgiving with love
Most divorces end with anger and resentment, particularly towards the other partner. Forgiving them may feel like cutting off your limb, but in the end, you need to free yourself from those negative emotions.
Because holding grudges will affect your next relationship. The anger and resentment will poison your present moments and affect your ability to connect with others.
Forgiveness, on the other hand, leads to healthier and better relationships, less depression and anxiety, and higher self-esteem.
And you deserve to be happy.
Here’s a simple forgiveness technique you can practice:
Step 1: Set the scene
With your eyes closed, imagine the moment your ex-partner hurt you.
Step 2: Feel the anger and pain
As you see the person hurt you, let your anger and pain emerge. Feel them burning you. Allow the emotions to rise to the surface and don’t suppress them. Do this for a few minutes.
Step 3: Forgive with love
Next, envision your ex-partner in front of you, but instead, imagine the way they looked when your relationship was young and fresh. Remember how much you loved this person. How they made you smile and laugh.
Now, ask yourself: How was I also responsible for what happened between us? What did I learn from this situation?
Forgiveness takes time, so give yourself space and time to do this practice consistently. It’s okay if you don’t see or feel any immediate results.
Trust the process.
2. Your relationship with your co-parent
At this point, you no longer hold grudges toward your ex because you’ve done all the inner work. This becomes a solid foundation to work together as a team effectively.
The biggest challenge of co-parenting is making the co-parenting plan and dancing between sticking to the plan versus going with the flow.
What is a co-parenting plan?
A co-parenting plan, sometimes called a joint custody plan, is a document that outlines the parenting schedule and each parent’s responsibilities in raising their children.
The level of detail depends on the degree of existing conflict between the co-parents. The more intense the co-parental conflict is, the more detailed the plan has to be.
So that high-conflict parents don’t need to communicate with each other. They can just follow the plan.
When devising a co-parenting plan, the spotlight is always the children. They want to know their parents care about them, and that they can continue their daily lives with few interruptions and stressors.
So, what do you need to consider when outlining your co-parenting plan?
The heart of a co-parenting plan comprised of:
- Custody and visitation
- Routine and activities
- Financial responsibilities
- Major decision making
Use the table below to guide the planning process for each element.
Custody and Visitation
|Who?||Who is the child going to stay with?||Infants usually remain in the primary care of their mothers.
For toddlers and preschoolers, it’s beneficial to exchange between both parents regularly.
For teens and above, they can spend longer stretches of time with each parent or alternate between weeks.
|Who will pick up or drop off the child?||Decide who will pick up and drop off the children. If the co-parent can’t pick them up, decide who else will.|
|When?||How long will the child stay with each parent?||You can use the following commonly-used plans: |
|How?||How will you exchange the children?||Decide the place and time of the exchange. It’s important to be punctual and consistent.|
|What?||What will the child need to bring during the stay with each parent?||Work to make both houses feel like home for the child so they don’t feel like they’re “visiting” someone else’s house.|
Routines And Activities
|What?||What is the child’s current schedule?||Involve your child (if age-appropriate) in the discussion. Find out your child’s school, extracurricular, and playtime schedule. Then fit in visitation and other schedules accordingly.|
|What is the plan for holidays and vacations?||Allow some adjustments for special holidays, like Father’s or Mother’s day. If you decide to spend a week or two with your children on a vacation, plan ahead with your co-parent.|
|What routines do you want to set?||Child psychologists recommend having consistent routines such as sleep time, mealtime, playtime, and homework time between 2 households. Why? You’ll know why in the next topic.|
|Who?||Who will attend events?||The best-case scenario is both of you will attend together. If one of you is busy, inform in advance so the other parent can plan.|
|How?||How do you communicate with your co-parent?||Fairly easy to decide. Just go with any means of communication that both of you are comfortable with. Phone calls, Whatsapp, Telegram, etc.|
|What?||What is the child support plan?||Child support is when a parent pays the other a fixed amount of money to cover the child’s expenses. The amount depends on the parent’s income and custody arrangement.
Who will be paying, how much will be paid, when will be paid, how will it be paid are some questions to consider when planning for child support.
|How?||How everyday child’s expenses will be handled?||For example, if a child wants to go to the cinema, who will pay for it?|
|How major child’s expenses will be handled?||This may include overseas school trips and college fees, to name a few. You may want to agree on saving a fixed amount of money per month for major expenses.|
Major Decision Making
|What?||What are the do’s and don’ts in both houses?||It’s important to be consistent in rules between both houses, so the child knows what is expected of them. Decide which behavior is tolerated and non-tolerated. List them and discuss them with your child as well.|
|What type of school?||Decide on which type of schooling you want for your child —whether it’s a public school, private school, or homeschool.|
|Who?||Who will take care of the child’s medical needs?||Decide who will cover the medical expenses, or if you will split the costs. In the case of medical appointments, decide who will be responsible.|
This co-parenting plan is a guideline only. When time requires flexibility, pause, and think, “Is this going to benefit my children?”
If yes, be open and let them go.
If no, discuss with your ex logically and analytically.
Tip: See your ex as a teammate with a common goal. Your ways of parenting may differ, but know that both of you have the same purpose.
Now you and your ex are in excellent condition to raise the children; we’ll then aim at the final leg.
3. Your relationship with your children
Parents and co-parents have one mission:
To achieve that, your children need to feel loved and safe in both parents’ presence.
How do you do that?
Keep parental conflict out of children’s sight
Don’t put them in the middle of your conflict. And don’t make them become your messenger to pass messages. If conflicts need to be resolved instantly, bring it on a discussion table with a clear, logical mind.
Involve your children in co-parenting planning
And other decisions that will affect their lives. Children want to know that their parents care about their lives and feelings, and the way you show that you care is by involving them in decision-making.
Maintain close communication with your children
The time spent with your children is less and that’s okay. What matters is not the amount of time, but the quality of the time. Be attentive to their needs, and offer your ears whenever they need a listener.
A consistent and predictable routine makes children feel safer
When they know what to expect and when it will happen, they won’t feel their lives are out of control. Inform them of any changes to the schedule and ask for their concerns or opinions. If necessary, change the plan accordingly to your children’s needs.
Making co-parenting work best
It takes a mountain of courage for two individuals who have been through countless conflicts and a roller-coaster of negative emotions to come together for the sake of their children.
This is an incredible feat that most parents are working for.
What most parents have forgotten is repairing their wounds first, before jumping into the uncertainties of shared parenting.
With a fully healed body, mind, and spirit that acts as a strong foundation within you, almost nothing can shake you off the ground no matter what catastrophe hits.
This is what happens when you have a purpose higher than yourself: your children.