Equal Parenting Alliance (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is what happens when Happily Ever After meets the shredder. I’m not talking about the dreaded D word-Divorce. Many of us don’t even get that far in the alphabet. That threatening C word, Commitment, is often enough. When marriage is not part of the equation, a new game plan hatches, either by design or chance. Co-parenting requires some well-negotiated ground rules and better communication than best childhood friends at sleepover. When I began on this path of co-parenting a few years back, I started to search for some wisdom. I hoped that the local bookstore would give me a few fun fiction reads to bring humor to a tense, frustrating and confusing situation. I didn’t have any luck besides a couple of pages strategically wedged in a how-to book for new moms (which I devoured like a wolf). The only books I found that even touched on the subject were for divorced parents, and that glass slipper doesn’t fit. Disappointed but still hopeful, I headed to my local library and discovered to my amazement there were “No results found.”
Even online, the only blog I have found on co-parenting thus far is written by a couple who divorced. While I find it amazing and admirable that they can even share the same virtual address, I am shocked there is so little written on a subject that affects over 11 million people in the US alone (according to the 2010 Census). Whether it be a couple never married still living together, two people who broke up and hate each other, an expecting couple who split but both still want to be parents, a LGTB couple or a fling that turned out to be part of the .01% (yeah right) of ineffective birth control, there are a myriad of couples co-parenting our there both in and out of monogamous relationships. The big question here is: what are some basic rules for co-parenting? My operating instructions continue to evolve, but over the last four years I have created a four-sided, simple foundation.
First, respect that you can not fill both parenting roles and acknowledge that your child(ren) need you both. You both conceived, adopted or inherited your child/children together. No matter how much we may want to control every move our baby makes, one day this will surely come back to bite us-with teeth. If you are reading this article, you seek advice for co-parenting because you don’t know how to deal with your other–so they must still be in the picture. Just because you want the other parent sucked into the sky tonight and swallowed by a black hole does not mean that you can ignore them. Your child has most likely already bonded with you both. So suck it up, take five to ten deep breaths (depending on how much you hate them at the time) and try to see your partner as your child sees her/him. If you are no longer involved, try to see the relationship as a business relationship. Put your child first with every decision you make about the other parent.
Second, listen more than you speak. This does not come naturally for me, as you can probably already guess. I think I know the best way to do most everything involving anything, and I am usually right (except for when I am not). For instance, I often realize I should have shut up five minutes (or more) before I finally do, and by that time I have usually said something hurtful. Rather than have to take it back, it would be better if I never said it at all. Another note on this point: hearing your partner is not listening to them. If you are going to co-parent, you have to respect the other person enough to believe that the words coming out of their mouth are as valuable and true as the ones you are waiting (patiently for your turn if they ever stop talking-yes dads, Moms do repeat things a bit. It comes from long conversations with toddlers) to say.
Once you have listened to each other, it’s time to find consensus. This third step is not always easy but compromising so that you both get a little of what you want, but you neither get all of what you want will give you the ability to have a united front and stay on the same page regarding rules about discipline, bed times, transfers (when your time begins and his/hers ends and vice versa) and all the daily routines that constantly evolve based on your lives. When things flow smoothly in this department, everyone involved has less stress and life in general is enjoyed without nitpicking about the same things over and over. If you see a fight coming, try to avoid it with concessions that give you both a break. Since the goal for you both is raising healthy, happy children, you are a team working together.
Contracts (Photo credit: NobMouse)
Finally, both parents need to clearly define your boundaries. I recommend writing these out in the form of a contract and having both people sign them, along with a third party. If you feel it is necessary, they can also be notarized. Remember to date the original document and any amendments you may add as you go along. Here are a few things to consider: Who has which holidays? What are the rules about boyfriends/girlfriends around the kid(s)? Who pays for what? Are overnight visits out of town allowed without notice? Also, through in a communication clause with such agreements as: we will only call each other between 9am – 9pm. Both parties should get a copy of the final draft. Check your emotions before you start this process. It’s not a thing to write in anger or when tired.
Co-parenting is rough terrain but well-worth the tense feelings and swallowed emotions because your little people deserve to have a relationship with both parents. Each state and country has different laws. Some favor the mother, while others reward sole custody to the father in most cases. By agreeing to co-parent and keep your family (however disjointed) out of court, you save each other emotional pain, trauma, time and money. Not to mention, it’s a great example of conflict resolution for your child to see you roll up your sleeves and work together to make the best life possible for them. The most important thing is for him/her/them to know that no matter how you feel about each other, you both love and support them and always will. Co-parenting is a constant work in progress. Make sure to laugh and forgive yourself along the way. Like most of life, it’s a process that runs smoothest with a lot of laughter, grace and forgiveness.