Are you and your partner on the same page 100 percent of the time? For most of us, the answer is “no.” Co-parenting is one of the biggest concerns that parents have when they come to see me in my practice. So often they come for help regarding their children, but then much of the time is spent discussing how they parent differently than their husband or wife – and what their disagreements are!
Why is co-parenting so difficult and what can parents do to make it easier?
- Perspective taking. Before you discuss something important, recognize that not everyone will have your perspective. The more you are really able to listen and understand the other parent’s position, the easier it will be to be heard yourself.
- You do not have all the answers. Parenting is one of the most important jobs a person will ever have to do. There is no instruction manual for it or place that people can study to become “experts” in parenting. It’s a learned practice and requires love, dedication, patience, consistency, commitment, and an endless list of other attributes. View parenting as a life-long process of learning. Be willing to get ongoing outside consultation either on the web, via reading books, magazines and websites like this one, or by talking with an expert. No matter how confident you are as parent, you don’t have all the answers.
- Be willing to accept feedback. Your partner may not like the way you parent on certain issues, and with good reason. Hear him or her out before you decide they are off base. Consider asking a friend if you are unsure about it.
- Keep parenting separate from couple’s issues. If you are not having sex enough or not spending enough time together, don’t allow those “couples issues” to play out in parenting decisions. That’s your business, not your kids’, and they don’t deserve to have it interfere with your effectiveness.
- Don’t let yourselves be “split.” Keep firm boundaries. Don’t badmouth your partner in front of the children, no matter how much you’re tempted to or how angry you are at some decision you don’t agree with. Comments like, “I thought your father overreacted to you coming in late” only promote what is called “splitting,” and unless you want to raise children with personality challenges, steer clear of putting each other down.
- Make time to discuss your parenting. Discuss parenting during time that is separate from your couple time. Just like you don’t want to talk about your kids’ problems when you see your friends, you don’t want to monopolize romance time with kids’ issues.
- Think like teammates. Acknowledge and play to each others strengths, and support each other when they try to stretch themselves. If your partner is really weak with patience around homework, know that you have to pick up the slack. However, try to help him or her improve. Be there to step in when they’ve had enough and praise them for their effort and whatever big or little successes they had. Even if it doesn’t end well, find something positive to praise: “Well, you got off to a great start…”
- Your gift to your children. Give your children the gift of watching you compromise and communicate effectively even when you have different perspectives. The most important job you have as a parent is positive role modeling. Take every opportunity to do it well.
- Be polite. I don’t mean formal, but I do mean respectful. Try to have good etiquette. Just because you know your partner like the inside of an old sock, doesn’t mean you have to leave out the “pleases” and “thank you’s.”
- What children want. Most children want less parent conflict more than they want a better parenting decision. Consider that before putting your armor on for battle with your mate.
Try to be mindful when co-parenting, and remember that even in the best of relationships, sharing the parenting responsibilities is highly challenging. Be willing to acknowledge and discuss this. Each parent should seriously consider their own role and try to see the other parent’s perspective. Most parents don’t disagree with the other parent simply to cause conflict. There is often something of value to their position and perspective. Try to find what it is and consider it before reacting negatively. Remember, many children would often rather experience a less-than-ideal parenting decision (“No, you can’t go to the party.”) than watch their parents have conflict.
Kate Roberts, Ph.D., is a Boston-area licensed clinical psychologist and certified school psychologist, who has coached parents and families for 25 years. She has published a number of articles in professional journals and offers parents practical strategies in her bi-weekly parenting column; Dr. Kate’s Parent Rap in the Salem News and in her Savvy Parenting blog for Psychology Today. Dr. Roberts has worked as a consulting psychologist to school districts throughout New England and works with parents and children through institutions such as Massachusetts General Hospital.