The Importance of Co-Parenting; and How to make it work.

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Becoming a parent is considered one of life’s most cheerful moments, one in which our hearts and minds are filled with love and endless hope. However, as the months and years pass, reality sinks in and we realize it is not as easy as we thought, and sometimes the {harsh} truths of parenting shock to our very core then force us to re-evaluate and redesign our parenting framework.

As a Child Protection Officer, I am privy to insights on how many individuals approach and execute their roles as parents.  One of the major challenges I have come to indentify as a root cause of conflict within families is parents’ inabilities to co-parent and co-parent well.

Co-parenting may appear as a foreign concept, but in its most basic sense, it refers to sharing the duties of parenting a child. It is often used in relation to separated or unmarried parents, but I would argue that it is a concept that all parents; single or married, should familiarize themselves with and implement within their families.

Article 18 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Childspeaks about parental responsibilities;and a child’s right to have both parents present and sharing the responsibilitiesof their upbringing.This, of course, is not reliant on the parents being together but instead is a call for parents to recognize the child’s need to have them both present. Children have an innate desire to love and be loved by both parents.  Child development professionals all agree that there are numerous benefits to children when they have the support of both parents in their lives.  Some benefits are that children:-

  • learn positive parenting skills
  • have higher academic performance and express higher educational goals
  • become more resilient and well-balanced
  • express less behavioral problems (less risks taking such as drug and alcohol use and lessviolent acts)
  • become more sociable and confident or self assured
  • have more positive childhood experiences

As parents, we all want what is best for our children and we try to care for them with the best of intentions. Consequently, these responsibilities have to be shared with another under the principle of co-parenting.  Let’s look at a few basic ways of making co-parenting work.

  1. Be committed to your role as a parent

Before we start talking about how we can work together as parents, we first and foremost have to want to be parents.  Being a parent cannot be forced on any individual, each of us has to make that personal commitment to the role.  This commitment should go beyond the success of your personal/romantic relationship with the other parent.  That is, if your relationship ends, your commitment to being there for your child should not. Commitment calls for:-

  • Being present & responsible
  • Active involvement
  • Surrendering your time, effort & resources
  • Exerting patience and understanding
  • Having the ability to grow with your child
  1. Communicate with each other

Within our Department, we see first-hand the effects of poor or nonexistent communication on parenting. Communicating with the other parent is vital to successful co-parenting, and should continue even if the parents are no longer romantically involved.Keep in mind also that parent-to-parent communication is essential in ensuring the safety and wellbeing of your child.  Communication in co-parenting requires parents to:-

  • Set rules & schedules to which each would abide
  • Exchange information and update each other
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions and ask for clarification
  • Refrain from accusing but instead discuss
  • Cooperate in decision making 
  1. Respect each other

Co-parenting is an option that works when both parents support each other and respect their right to have a good relationship with their children. It is often a flaw that the custodial or primary parent becomes a controlling figure in the child’s life so much so that it illegitimates the other parent’s role. As parents we should adopt a mutual respect for each other’s parental duties and rights; time and effort; and each other’sspecific rules for our child. We should always remember that respect given is respect earned.

  1. Create mutual guidelines

When I speak of mutual guidelines, I am referring to that minimum standard that parents can agree on as to how to raise their children.  It is here that we as parents discuss the basic principles and values we would like to bestow on them.   It is also important that the messages we each deliver to them to be consistent, which would thus make them more powerful.  As parents, we need to discuss our visions or hopes for our children and how we can all work together in making these a reality.

  1. ‘Expect challenges & capitalize on each other’s strengths

Relationships are hard.  We must regularly tend to them if they are to flourish and be positive manifestations in our lives.  Co-parenting calls for understanding, the ability to be flexible and a willingness to compromise to reduce conflicts. Life is never constant, and although setting and communicating rules, schedules and guidelines is important, the unexpected will happen, which then requires a little understanding and a bit of compromising and rearranging to ‘keep the balance’.  Sometimes challenges arise because of different expectations and we may have to work a little harder and longer to establish that middle ground in which we both can feel comfortable.

Furthermore, co-parenting does not shield us from the challenges of parenting.  Each year our children spend in this world, they become more exposed, more informed and more enlightened about the world around them.  Sometimes this newly found knowledge presses against your parental preference.  Nonetheless,when we co-parent, we are a stronger, more focused and open unitand in a better position to address these types of challenges. It also allows for the benefit of capitalizing on the other parent’s parental strengths in addressing various challenges and setbacks.

  1. Finally, remember what is most important

Co-parenting, at its best, is a wonderful opportunity for children to have both parents present and active in their lives.  Parenting is a process in which we are exposed to new things everyday and we learn new skills in hopes of being good or better parents. At the center of what we do as parents, are our children.  They are the prime beneficiaries for our actions.  Everything we do as parents should promote our children’s best interests at all times.

Raising children to become well adjusted adults works best when we can put all personal grievances aside and show our children that our love and dedication to them is enough for us to work together their well-being, enabling and supporting each other along the way.Let’s all recommit ourselves to being better parents and establish the co-parenting principle in our family lives.

By
Glentine Wattley-Sutton
Child Protection Officer, Ministry of Social Development

 

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