Co-parenting is not easy even if your divorce was not acrimonious. Your relationship with your co-parent is forever changed. Now it may be difficult to separate your own feelings about your co-parent from your desire to co-parent effectively.
Perhaps you can think of it as a completely new relationship, the co-parenting relationship, not the “couple” relationship.
Assessing Your Ability to Co-Parent after Divorce
Parenting style post-divorce is actually a spectrum, or continuum, from “parallel parenting” to (at the far opposite end) “co-parenting.” Finding your spots on this continuum will assess your ability to co-parent after divorce.
To describe this continuum, imagine that at one end is the 100% parallel parenting style and at the other end is 100% co-parenting style. Do you know the difference between the two?
Minimal communication Maximum Communication
Fully independent Fully Co-operative
What is “Co-Parenting”?
Parents at or near the co-parenting end want to work closely together in all aspects of parenting. They want to agree about everything from bedtime routines, chores, discipline, screen time, whether the child can have a cell phone or an allowance, and what TV shows are acceptable. Perhaps you see yourself near that end of the continuum because you believe that consistency in child-rearing is very important.
You believe it will be easier for your children when both parents have the same rules and expectations. You realize that you will have to communicate a lot if this consistency is your goal. Can you do this without conflict with your co-parent?
What is “Parallel Parenting”?
Some parents want more of a “firewall” between them. These parents fall at the “parallel parenting” end of the continuum. You may want as little contact as possible with your ex-spouse, perhaps because you feel you will get triggered every time you communicate.
You believe that you are a good parent without interference from your spouse. Perhaps you feel your spouse is intrusive and controlling. You are trying to keep your life separate and don’t want to talk about your children’s other parent. You want him or her to “stay on their side of the fence.” You believe that way you will not have to argue.
Where do you and your ex land on the co-parenting continuum?
To find where you land, draw a line with parallel parenting (fully independent) at one end and co-parenting (fully cooperative) at the other end. Then you and your spouse each make an X on the place on the continuum where you see yourselves. Consider these questions: How much contact or communication with your ex do you want? Are you and your spouse comfortable being together with your children?
If your children pick up on your tension or veiled anger, it will make them anxious and sad. If you are generally able to feel comfortable with your spouse, your children will be able to relax and enjoy the time together. For example, how will you handle children’s birthdays and holidays? Will you want to include regular family time, or does it have the potential to reintroduce conflict?
Most parents fall somewhere between the two extremes
There is a “sweet spot” on the continuum that significantly stabilizes your parenting without conflict. The person closest to the parallel parenting end of the continuum generally prevails, which can be disappointing for the parent closer to the other end. However, the reduction or absence of conflict is important to your children’s well-being. Even at the most extreme end of parallel parenting, your children will benefit from the lack of conflict. If your co-parent desires more independence in parenting, and you can accept that, your children will benefit.
Parents are often in a power struggle regarding their different parenting styles. This might be one of the issues that led you and your spouse to separate in the first place. One parent might view the other as incompetent, or simply not a very good parent. One parent might try to make up for the deficiencies of the other by, for example, being very strict when the other parent is seen as too laissez-faire. You will help your children by accepting where you land on the co-parenting continuum without trying to force your co-parent to change.
How this assessment will help when co-parenting after divorce
This assessment should help you understand how much you and your (ex)spouse will communicate regarding your children. It also shows how much you trust and respect each other. It tells you how you will co-parent after your divorce. These qualities can be cultivated over time if both you and your spouse are committed to doing that. You may be thinking that those are exactly the things that went wrong in your relationship.
The question is whether you can cultivate these qualities in order to co-parent after divorce. You would need to set aside your own feelings, for the sake of your children. You may find that over time you may move up the continuum toward more cooperation in co-parenting. In the interim, be sure that your parenting plan takes your parenting styles into account.
Accept that your parenting styles are different and focus on reducing conflict
While married your parenting styles probably differed also. One of you may have been more organized, more nurturing, and more playful. The other may have been more structured, the disciplinarian, the rule setter. Over time, one of you may have become more and more strict in order to compensate for the other parent’s perceived lax, indulgent, or inconsistent parenting.
In response, the more lenient parent may become even more lenient or indulgent. This dynamic, trying to compensate for what you believe is your co-parent’s poor parenting, is not good for your relationship. Nor is it good for your children. It may have contributed to the end of your relationship. In fact, what your children need is a balance of nurturing, love and support. And they need guidance, values, limits and follow through with rules.
Your co-parenting style may change over time
Co-parenting after divorce is something you will develop over time. Ideally, as single parents, you will work cooperatively together to co-parent and help your children feel secure. Finding your places on the continuum helps you define how you can parent without conflict. As each of you takes on the new role of single parenting, it will take some time and flexibility to learn your new role as co-parents. As you gain confidence in your own parenting, and respect for your co-parent, your ability to co-parent more cooperatively will increase.
Read more on parallel parenting and co-parenting