Coparenting can come with lots of questions, challenges and uncertainties. To help you feel more equipped, we asked our couples therapist, Lauren Bradley, to answer some frequently asked questions around co-parenting.
What is co-parenting?
Co-parenting is when two or more people share parenting responsibilities for a child or children. Often separated partners become co-parents, sometimes with new partners forming step-parents and blended parenting arrangements.
Co-parenting well, means forming a solid team that supports a child or children, regardless of whether your romantic relationship is intact or not. Raising the child/children is the main focus of the relationship. There are three kinds of co-parenting – conflicted, cooperative and parallel. Conflicted co-parenting is where partners fight, contradict and create inconsistent parenting rules for children. Parallel co-parenting is where parents raise their children separately in isolation without contact between partners. Cooperative co-parenting is where the co-parents work together to set consistent rules for raising children, where they repair communication and conflict and serve to set a stable base for their children. Cooperative co-parenting is the gold standard and what we aim to support our clients to achieve.
Why is co-parenting important or a good idea?
Partners that have children are locked into each other’s lives for at least 18 years and often for the duration of their lives. Many co-parenting arrangements are laden with conflict, tension and stress. It’s absolutely essential to provide safe, fair, consistent parenting for children, regardless of whether you’re romantically involved with your partner or not. Children need consistency and a safe and stable base from which to learn the way of the world. Effective co-parenting provides a safe and stable foundation for children and also alleviates many of the stressors of co-parenting.
What is the best way to ensure discipline and parenting styles are consistent in coparenting?
There are four main parenting styles and often parents are inconsistent in the styles that they use with the children. This leaves children confused about the household rules, and sometimes ends in conflict and frustration for children and parents alike. Exploring different parenting styles and aligning on the best practice in parenting will support you and your co-parent to deliver a parenting approach that maximises positive outcomes for your children, and aids in easier discipline.
What are some ways that co-parents can handle conflict or disagreement?
What is best for the child/children should be at the heart of your intentions. Co-parenting counselling will take a child-focussed approach and support you both to consider what’s best for your children. A safe house is a house that’s free from conflict, and co-parenting counselling can support you and your co-parent to minimise conflict and learn how to fight fair.
Co-parents can attend counselling together to learn new strategies for effectively communicating through conflict. There are many tools that can be provided to create safe templates for conflict that allow both parties to be heard, respected and valued through the process.
What are some of the biggest challenges co-parents come up against?
Different parenting styles is one of the biggest challenges co-parents (and children!) face through the separation process. Communication breakdowns are incredibly common following separation, yet great co-parenting requires constant communication.
Do you have any tips for co-parenting with an ex-spouse where there is a lot of conflict?
If there is a lot of conflict between you and your ex-spouse, we recommend attending individual counselling separately to support you both to gain tools to regulate heightened emotions, to understand your triggers and to head into conflict prepared to fight fair. You can also seek more formal support through family mediation services. Some non-for-profit organisations run a course called Parenting After Separation which supports co-parenting skill development, without having to be in the same room as your ex-spouse.
Are there any situations where you think co-parenting isn’t suitable or safe?
If you are experiencing family violence, control or abuse, then co-parenting counselling isn’t appropriate for you as it requires at the core a safe and fair space for discussion. Family mediation services can provide co-parents with shuttle mediation options where you don’t even have to be in the same room as your spouse to negotiate parenting plans.
Co-parenting isn’t suitable if you are currently undertaking family court proceedings or are planning on doing so. Our co-parenting counsellors do not provide reports for family court purposes or any other matters.
How can children be protected when there is conflict in co-parenting?
Never have conflict in front of your children, even if that child isn’t able to comprehend the words you’re using, they can still be impacted by the energy of the stress and tension that your conflict creates. Studies show that it’s not separation that impacts a child’s wellbeing, but the conflict that separating parents create. A conflict free separation is key to ensuring the best wellbeing outcomes for your children. Children should never be made to feel stuck in the middle between two parents.
What are some of the ways that you can prioritise children’s emotional wellbeing when co-parenting?
If your children are old enough to have a say in what they would like, let them do so, but never with the intention of them having to choose or feel stuck in the middle of two parents. Always let your children know that it’s about what’s best for them and continuing their life as smoothly as possible.
Do you help with parenting plans?
We do not draft parenting plans at IMCP. A parenting plan can be prepared by you and your partner using templates that are available online. You may also wish to seek support from a family dispute practitioner to prepare your parenting plan.
Do you have any resources you recommend for people who might be considering co-parenting?
- The Co-Parenting Handbook by Karen Bonnell
- Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Children Thrive after Divorce by Deesha Philyaw and Michael D. Thomas
- Step Families Australia
- The Australian Parenting Website
If you’d like some support navigating co-parenting, our couples therapist, Lauren Bradley is here to help. To make a booking please get in touch with our friendly Support Team by calling (03) 9376 1958 or emailing email@example.com.
Please be aware that Lauren does not get involved in legal proceedings, meditation or court related matters, including providing briefs, session notes or any supporting documentation. Even if you have been seeing Lauren for some time, she will not be able to assist you in this way. If you feel you would like to work with someone who can also assist with legal proceedings, mediation or court related matters we wouldn’t recommend initiating sessions with Lauren. Please also be aware that Lauren does not prepare co-parenting plans with clients. This is usually done by a Family Dispute Practitioner. Lauren is able to provide support around conflict, communication and parenting framework, all of which can support putting together a co-parenting plan.