The term co-parent is actually a shortened version of cooperative parent. Cooperation is what co-parenting is all about. Sometimes parents who are in the middle of a divorce have no energy for cooperation. They are tired, defensive, hurt and often more than a little miffed at the other parent. And to top it off, the legal system does very little to encourage cooperation. More often than not it encourages competition and jockeying to determine who the best parent is. That is until the divorce becomes final and both parents are expected to magically turn off the competition and cooperate. Does this strike you as just a little crazy? It does me.
So how do you become a successful co-parent?
For most people, learning to be an effective co-parent is an ongoing process. Like any new skill, it takes time and practice to master it. Think about when you first became a parent. The task of parenting looked pretty huge, but over time most of us figured it out. We grew as parents as our kids grew. Sure we didn't always do things perfectly. But the vast majority of parents manage to know what to do to raise their children without too many bumps in the road.
Cooperative parenting is really just another phase of parenting. And while it may seem daunting and/or confusing at first, rest assured that with time, practice, good information and support you can become an excellent co-parent.
Why even try?
Ah, this question gets us to the real nitty-gritty of parenting after divorce. Becoming an effective co-parent is something you do for your children, not for yourself. And because this is such an important concept, I am going to invoke "Yoda-speak" to help you remember it. If you care about your children, then co-parent you must.
If you're not a fan of Star Wars and would simply like to know why co-parenting is the best choice for children, think about this. The biggest predictor of poor outcome for children is parental conflict. When parents expose their children to their ongoing unresolved conflict, children pay a price. This is true whether parents are married or divorced. Parental conflict is toxic for children. I'm not talking about your average, garden-variety argument here. I'm talking about unremitting, ugly arguing, fighting, violence, name calling family-war-zone conflict.
Sadly, many parents think that this is the only way to deal with their child's other parent after a divorce. There is a much better, child-healthy way for divorced parents to communicate and raise their children. It is working as a team and learning to cooperate as parents.