Co-parents are the adults who are part of a parenting team. Functionally, co-parents can include any two or more adults who share the responsibility of raising children, so the arrangement might look like the traditional nuclear family or something different if the co-parents are separated, divorced, or simply living together. Whatever the structure, and whatever the condition of the relationship between the adults, how you choose to co-parent is important to your child’s health and well-being, so do keep your child’s best interests foremost in mind.
If you were going to make a mutual parenting agreement—a binding agreement—with your co-parent, here are some thoughts about what would be important to include in order to assure your child will get everything he or she needs to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy.
- Agree to the health, safety, and security of your child at home (for example, inserting outlet covers), in the car (wearing seat belts), and away from home (monitoring media), and provide medical care as needed.
- Agree to communicate with each other about the important facts related to your child’s well being—regardless of the state of your adult relationship to each other. That means engaging in some form of communication to provide regular updates about physical and emotional health, school progress and concerns, and social news.
- Agree to model respect. Respect your co-parent even when you disagree, and respect your child’s thoughts and feelings. It is important to model that you can have differences of opinion while at the same time showing respect. In addition, remind yourself that part of your child’s identity is connected to each co-parent, so criticizing another adult member of the parenting team is chipping away at your child’s positive sense of self.
- Agree to keep the kids out of the middle of your own relationship. It is unhealthy for children to be messengers for co-parents. Putting your child in a messenger role can cause feelings of guilt, confusion, anger, and internal upset.
- Agree to honor time with your child. Any co-parenting differences need not affect the time planned to be spent with a child.
- Agree to be consistent and predictable. Consistency and predictability at home can provide a secure base for your child. With a secure base, your child will have energy to explore the world outside the home, and exploration is how children learn and grow.
- Agree to maintain the standards you set as a foundation for your co-parenting relationship. Maintaining a healthy foundation for your child excludes retaliation toward a parenting team member even if that team member loses sight of the standards. Your children will ultimately respect you as a mature role model.
Co-parent proactively . . .
Co-parenting requires constant choices, so make decisions with your child’s needs in mind.