Co-parenting can refer to a lot of different situations. A bare-bones definition, and the one that I’ll use throughout this piece, is: two people contributing to the parenting of the same child or children while leading separate lives.
Divorced parents; “single” parents who were previously involved; platonic cooperative efforts between two humans who choose to raise a child together; and two-way efforts to bring children to families or individuals who are unable to conceive themselves through sperm donation, adoption, or IVF are some examples of co-parent situations.
Best-case scenarios, especially amongst the ruins of past relationships, are voluntarily cooperative (and not begrudging) where both parties can selflessly work toward the benefit of the child.
Many states are moving toward 50/50 parenting if neither party poses danger to the child, which is in many ways making tremendous feminist strides by not assuming that the woman is inherently domestic and glowingly maternal, as well as giving men the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their ability to nurture.
Since co-parenting is such a broad topic, it’s impossible to cover in one article. It would be grossly over-simplified. So that’s not what I’m trying to do here.
Instead, I aim to offer a few tips for effective co-parenting in situations with flawed and difficult personal feelings, beliefs, and pasts.
1. Keep It Professional
That’s not to say that you refer to one another as sir and ma’am or provide written requests for longer visits.
But especially in cases where one party has committed gross injustices against another and emotions curb inevitably toward accusatory and defensive natures, it is most effective to remove emotion from the conversations.
If there are no harsh pasts or negative histories, sharing personal information can be a great way to understand each other’s parenting techniques and to optimize the child’s developmental experience.
However, if differences are too challenging (such as an emotionally abusive past or infidelities), it’s best to impose a “business only” rule. No reference to relationships, work, projects, friendships, or pastimes unless they directly affect the child.
The reason that I call this “professional” communication is because if you’re about to raise your voice or hands at one another, imagine that you’re in the office or talking to your boss or, better yet, a potential employer.
Even if that person is wrong, rude, or just rubs you the wrong way, you keep it together because that’s professional.
2. Communicate Clearly, Frequently, and Thoroughly
That is, in regards to anything and everything pertinent to the child.
When did they eat, use the bathroom, get a diaper change. Do they have any signs of fever or illness, any upcoming doctor’s appointments, school work? Anything the other parent should know.
If there are any issues suspected or encountered, discuss them openly, calmly, and thoroughly – especially if they’re directly correlated to the health or well-being of the child.
Improper living space, provisions, personal and domestic cleanliness, and potentially dangerous or reckless parental behavior are best discussed non-confrontationally face-to-face.
If the danger is immediate or dire, it can be taken it directly to the authorities.
3. Create and Maintain a Regular Schedule
Obviously, court-mandated scheduling is a given.
However, if parents are able to work out amongst themselves a schedule that is fair and agreed upon, it saves time and money.
And it gives you the opportunity to demonstrate effective communication and problem-solving skills, as well as the importance of commitment.
Best-case scenarios allow each parent to analyze, discuss, and plan out holidays, personal schedules, and to handle unforeseen events to the benefit of the child.
For example: If family members from across the country are only in town for a few days, you work together to make sure that everyone who is beneficial to the child gets to be in their life.
Or say one parent doesn’t celebrate Christmas, or does so on a different day, but they are scheduled for the 25th. It’s fair to send kids to the side of the family that is having a huge dinner, even if it’s only because everyone deserves pumpkin pie and mashed potatoes.
But seriously, then, when you want dibs on fireworks for the Fourth of July, it will probably be much easier to organize.
4. Don’t Have Expectations
This one is tough to say and tough to hear, so I’d better unpack it a little more.
Expect that your child is safe and provided for. If they’re not, you can take legal action. If the basic necessities are provided, let the rest go.
And here’s why:
Frequently, personal relationships crumble because values don’t line up as nicely as we thought they would. Somewhere along the way, people you thought were kindred spirits can turn out to be on a fundamentally different plane concerning worldviews.
Sometimes, that separation involves a child or multiple.
Rather than mentally torturing yourself over every detail you could have done better, be thankful that they are safe and cared for.
5. Remember: It’s a Lifestyle, Not a Checklist
Personally, this step took me a long time and with a lot of guidance from beautiful, strong, intelligent parents – male, female, married, going it totally alone, and just about everyone in between.
I had a traumatic pregnancy. It took me a long time to admit that, to use the word, because it felt foreign and too big and important, like somebody else’s experience. Somebody who had it worse.
But, the fact is: I had a traumatic pregnancy. And it was directly linked to the actions of my son’s father.
Even so, we manage to organize our schedules without court intervention. We cooperate when someone works late or has a presentation early. We are finally getting the swing of holidays.
And my son has one of the brightest smiles on the planet.
The truth is: It didn’t come naturally. It wasn’t always pretty.
In fact, it was a horrible, trying personal journey to discover just how big of a person I was, just how incredible my desire to do anything for my son had become, and just how much personal strength, resilience, and growth I had to demonstrate for him every single day for the rest of my life.
It still kills me when my son isn’t with me, but I accept that I am in an adequate cooperative parenting situation at this time.
And that that is a good thing.
And, regardless of how the other parent acts or talks about me, my son will have only memories of me doing what I thought was best in a non-aggressive, mature, respectful, and confident manner.
Which hopefully will help him grow up to be the same.
Kelsey Lueptow is a Contributing Writer at Everyday Feminism. Kelsey is a small town amateur yogi, poet, and feminist from Wisconsin. She’s a single mother and seasonal waitress working on a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies. Caffeine addict and book enthusiast, Kelsey spends her time playing with her son and hanging out at coffee shops. Read her articles here.