New societal dynamics seem to be cropping left and right these days, whether about the terminology we use to describe ourselves and others or the state of the structure of our educational systems. One of the shifts that has occurred since the mid-1990’s has been the development of new parenting models that account for when children are being raised by two adults that are not in a committed relationship. These new ways of looking at parenting, ways that support parents in focusing on the best interests of the children they share, create new pathways of healing generational trauma, and have the potential to gift to the world joyful and loving humans.
In this article we take time to explore what coparenting is as well as the benefits of having the two most important figures in a child’s life behaving cooperatively and being committed to that child’s well-being.
What is coparenting?
Coparenting, by definition, is the way two parents, or those with parental roles in a child’s life, interact with each other as parents regarding the sharing of responsibility and for the raising of the child. Coparenting relationships are not based on sexual or romantic involvement and do not seek emotional, financial, or legal interactions beyond what is necessary for childrearing.
How does it work?
There are a few different important aspects of coparenting that make for a successful dynamic that supports the child’s growth and well-being, as well as actions that can undermine the creation of an adaptive, solid dynamic where the child feels safe to explore growth.
Things that make for a solid coparenting dynamic and are a go include but are not limited to a balanced division of labor, a commitment to having an open dialogue with the other parent, understanding, and accepting the purpose and place of the other parent in the child’s life, as well as healthy boundaries around time, privacy and behaviors.
There are some no’s as well, however, that will serve to build a positive and adaptive coparenting relationship when NOT engaged in. Some examples would be creating “coalitions” where the child is drawn into interparental conflict and forced to take sides, undermining the support of the other parent by diminishing their efforts or disregarding their contribution, and abuse of boundaries, for example, intentionally not picking up the child from the other parent at the agreed upon time.
These are some very basic tenets of coparenting to give you, the reader, an idea of what it would entail, however, it is more extensive than this and can go so far as to include an actual Childrearing Agreement that further lays out what the responsibilities and commitments are for each parent. But at the core of the coparenting relationship are two things: love, maybe not for each other but for the child, and respect, for each other and the well-being of the child.
Who does it work for?
A coparenting dynamic can work for any parent committed to raising a joyful human. It asks that the parents place egos to the side to model what adaptive adult relationships and conflict resolution can look like for the child watching them ever so closely, learning implicitly through the actions of their parents what it means to be in relationship.
Strategies for coparenting + group
In closing, I wanted to leave with some strategies for coparenting that might support an ease of transition into the coparenting roles.
- Childrearing agreements, as mentioned above, can provide both parents with clear and detailed guidelines and expectations. This means no one is in the dark about pickup times, weekends shared, or financial obligations.
- Giving the benefit of the doubt. This means, for example, that before jumping to conclusions that your other coparent was intentionally late with funds they agreed to provide or changed plans at the last minute, you would instead inquire and leave room for the benefit of the doubt unless it’s a pattern. This says to your child that you trust the other coparent as a parent and reduces the likelihood of your child taking advantage of discord between their parents.
- Presenting a unified front by talking to each other and maintaining respectful communication. This avoids the creation of coalitions that can place your child in the middle where they may feel they have to choose between their parents.
- Share the burden and don’t avoid the hard parts. Parenting can be hard, which is probably an understatement but, try not to be the “fun” parent that doesn’t provide discipline for the child, for example. When you do things like that, the harder parts of parenting fall on the other parent and can lead to an unbalanced dynamic and skew the child’s perspective of support and love.
At Love & Kindness Wellness Services, our coparenting group seeks to flesh out all of these ideas about coparenting and more. In our group we examine not just these tenets of coparenting but also the ways individual trauma can show up and play a role, ways to improve and support communication between coparents, and the importance of boundaries.
So much goes into parenting and raising tiny humans into autonomous ones that feel and know love. Having a strong, respectful coparenting relationship is just one more way to do that.
Feinberg, M. E. (2003, January 1). The internal structure and ecological context of coparenting: A framework for research and Intervention. Parenting, science and practice. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3185375/.