After a separation, filing for divorce, and settling child custody terms, individual parents must overcome the obstacles of co-parenting to provide the best care for their child. Co-parenting takes active participation and dedication from both sides. While every co-parenting relationship has individual difficulties to contend with, there are common challenges that can be identified and worked through early on for the best interest of the child.
Common Challenges of Co-Parenting
Choosing to co-parent after a separation or divorce can be a complicated endeavor. It isn’t easy to set aside past discrepancies and feelings of hurt or anger. Co-parents are tasked with building a new form of relationship that is built on communication. It can be highly difficult to build an acrimonious and agreeable relationship after deciding to separate.
Furthermore, sharing responsibilities, making child-first decisions, and accepting that parenting styles, home environments, and schedules may differ takes high levels of acceptance and communication. Co-parents must also tackle changing dynamics and relinquishing control over their children, as well as situations that co-parents may disagree on. There are also many new stresses that co-parents may have to deal with for the sake and well-being of their child.
Differences in parenting styles may become more pronounced after separation, including how to discipline and set expectations and rules in the home. This may also become exacerbated if parents share 50/50 custody.
Setting two different standards for conduct and rules at home can make a child’s life inconsistent and confusing. Additionally, parents that disagree on rules may not enforce the same levels of punishment or continuous discipline. If a child breaks a rule in one home and is disciplined by being grounded for a week, the other parent may not choose to uphold that discipline when the child transitions to their home for their week of custody.
This can translate to a lack of respect as well as feelings of being dismissed by the first parent. This can also generate inconsistencies for the child who may struggle to understand boundaries, consistency, and rules.
For some, divorce and/or separation may have been an amicable joint decision. For others, there may be some hard feelings. However, communication is essential and key to co-parenting and is going to have to occur until the child reaches at least 18 years of age.
Common communication challenges of co-parents may include:
- Emotional barriers to communication such as feelings of anger, animosity, resentment, or dislike.
- Regularly disagreeing with the other parent’s methods of parenting or life choices.
- One co-parent speaking poorly of the other co-parent to the child or lying to the child.
- One co-parent neglecting the child, missing appointments, or avoiding or ignoring communication with the other co-parent.
- Lack of respect or understanding between co-parents.
Trying to Maintain Consistency
A common difficulty of co-parenting includes maintaining overall consistency between the two households. This includes much more than disciplinary practices, it also includes overall choices for lifestyle, financial ability and support, scheduling, and other various factors such as safety and child custody during COVID-19.
Differing parenting styles and inconsistent support and messaging can be confusing for children. For example, screen time may be limited in one household, while it is supported and encouraged in the other. Or, one home may encourage a strict diet while the other is more laissez-faire. Parents may disagree on essential aspects of their child’s life and create inconsistent lifestyles and choices between the two homes and the child’s life.
Financial Inequality Between Households
Common financial and financial inequality issues that occur may include:
- Lack of financial support from one co-parent. The financial needs of children change as they age which may include additional expenses that were not initially covered in child support agreements.
- Child support agreements may need to be updated if there are adjustments to respective incomes to co-parents or changes in time and custody.
- Co-parents may choose to make different choices in their parenting styles such as purchasing or providing more expensive materials such as clothes, items, or opportunities such as summer camps or family vacations that the other co-parent cannot provide or compete with.
The financial dynamics of co-parents are often hard to communicate about or contend with and can cause strain and challenges to co-parent relationships that directly impact the wellbeing of the child.
How to Overcome Co-Parenting Challenges
Overcoming challenges to co-parenting is not a one-and-done ordeal. It will take consistency, communication, and learning to adapt to new challenges as they arise. However, there are many benefits to managing and overcoming these challenges that include:
- Creating and establishing your child’s feelings of security. Children that feel confident in their relationships with their respective co-parents and the homes they provide can increase a child’s self-esteem and confidence.
- Establishing positive reinforcement for how your child views communication and the ability to adapt and problem solve.
- Consistency between co-parents and their respective households can support a child’s understanding of expectations, behaviors, and actions.
- Establishing a good example for your child in different dynamics and relationships.
- Lessened stress and better mental and physical health for both co-parents and children.
The following sections discuss options to overcome co-parenting challenges with actionable advice.
Avoid Unnecessary Conflict
Unnecessary conflicts arise from emotional responses and disagreement between co-parents. To avoid unnecessary conflicts, co-parents must recognize when they think with their heart and not are thinking critically about the situation. At times, it is best to come to a disagreement with a logical and reasonable approach, rather than an emotional one.
Co-parents can also pre-emptively resolve potential conflicts by creating and adhering to co-parenting agreements. They may set parameters around parenting choices, lifestyle choices, as well as enforcing discipline. This may include discussions and agreements about:
- Establishing routines such as bedtime or meals for consistency.
- Important tasks and experiences such as homework completion or activity participation.
- Tidiness or cleaning practices.
- Financial accommodations for purchases.
- How to proceed with making important decisions for or about the child.
- How to set up transitions between homes and visitation.
Co-parenting agreements may change as the child ages and their lifestyle and financial needs change. Agreements may also change as parent’s lifestyles or economic ability may change. While there may remain some static agreements between co-parents; the agreements should be open for accommodation on both ends, as families and lifestyles adapt and change over time.
Practice Active Listening
A cornerstone of co-parenting success is communication. Active listening between co-parents includes:
- Stop what you are doing and give full attention to the speaker.
- Make eye contact and listening with respect
- Listening and empathizing with the speaker.
- Reiterate what you are hearing to ensure you understand what they are saying. This doesn’t mean you have to agree with the co-parent but assures that you are understanding their point of view.
- Restricting criticism.
- Finding the first step to work towards a solution.
Active listening can facilitate communication and understanding between co-parents. Other tips for initiating and maintaining communication include:
- Setting the right tone. Co-parents that may experience emotional distress within their relationship may choose to adopt a business-like and cordial tone that presents respect and neutrality.
- Instead of making statements or demands, phrase and frame things into questions and requests. This may include using the phrase “can we try XYZ” instead of “you should XYZ.”
- Commit to keeping conversations between co-parents child-focused.
Co-parents can also benefit from understanding and managing their emotional triggers. This may include recognizing when you feel stressed and how to stay calm and in control during a difficult conversation.
If you try different communication and negotiation tactics and still cannot find a resolution, you may try co-parenting therapy. Co-parenting counseling can support co-parents in finding a balance between responsibilities. In co-parenting counseling, parents work towards finding healthy strategies for communication and conflict resolution. Actively participating in co-parenting therapy can also support parents in learning and setting boundaries for their relationship to one another as co-parents.