“Coparenting” refers to when two separated adults (through divorce, a break-up, or having never been “together”) raise their children as a team after a separation or divorce. While people have been coparenting for ages, the word describing the concept is fairly new. It was brought to the public’s attention by the Associations of Separated Parents in Italy in the early 2000s.
Coparenting can be messy business. The psychology of you, the psychology of your ex, and most importantly, the psychology of your children all make every day a surprise. As difficult as it can be, it really will behoove you to try to open up communication with your ex to work collectively toward doing what is best for your children.
Boundaries With Your Ex
Divorce is not exactly about agreeing and getting along, but when it comes to the happiness and well-being of your children, it should be. If your circumstances lend themselves to it, commit to specific boundaries with your ex that can define your relationship as coparents. Those boundaries should include specific details about how to deal with one another, even when you are not together. Do your best to come to an agreement with your ex that neither of you will speak negatively about the other person. Then, try to enhance that positive relationship by agreeing to preclude your children from speaking negatively about the other parent.
Boundaries also include more concrete and easy-to-follow rules, such as those for visitation. Some sources suggest that the parent who drops off a child (to school, practice, etc.) before a visitation switch should never pick up the child and bring him or her to the other parent’s house (after making sure the child is aware of who is picking them up, of course), making each visitation a clear and peaceful transition for your child.
These boundaries with your coparent may be difficult, and what works in theory may not work in reality. Keep open communication with your coparent, and support his or her relationship with your child. Doing this may require a willingness to bend or change the rules for situations in which they do no work out.
Boundaries With Yourself
Since you are the only person you can control, you can control yourself with the best interests of your child in mind. Sometimes this can be extremely hard, especially if your coparent isn’t, well, cooperating. Regardless of the other person’s actions, Dr. Phil advises against allowing yourself to use your child to get back at your ex, which includes digging for information or interfering with their relationship in a harmful way. This may include refraining from asking your child to choose between you or your coparent, as well as holding back from revealing frustrated feelings and aggravation if your child tells you something you don’t like about the other parent.
Openness With Your Children
Believe it or not, among all the things parents should not do, there is some consensus as to what coparents should do. Psychology Today offers general advice on talking to your children about divorce and coparenting, making it paramount that coparents, first and foremost, allow their kids to be kids. Proactively keeping your children out of adult problems will help them understand that the divorce is not about them, and that it is not their fault.
While your children’s childhood needs to be preserved, there are some heavy life lessons they will simply have to deal with because of your divorce, and it may force them to grow up faster. Be willing to talk openly with your children about your divorce, and provide them with a safe environment in which they can ask questions, share opinions, and expect to be treated with respect. To bolster this, be present and supportive of your children as they deal with various and unpredictable emotions that arise regarding both your divorce and outside problems they encounter. Being emotionally present for ten minutes is better than being physically present but emotionally distracted for thirty. If your child is concerned about the play at school or his or her skills on the soccer field, listen and try your best to give deference to their issue, even if it seems small to you.
No one said coparenting is easy, and there is no right way to do it, but it can be done in a thoughtful and focused manner that is best for all parties involved. Parenting is a duty and a right, and the concept of coparenting is borne of that duty. Entering into each situation with thoughtfulness and intent can help you create the best world for your child.