When parents attend Family Law Court, they often hear the judge, attorneys, and mediators ask them to co-parent. What is co-parenting? Many parents believe it means the court is ordering them to be friends, which is a very difficult task when the emotional pains of divorce remain.
An operational definition of co-parenting is needed. Researchers identified behaviors they thought were examples of co-parenting. Here’s what they came up with:
Agreements and disagreements about childrearing,
Division of labor to take care of the kids,
Support and undermining between the parents.
Think about it, what behaviors would you put on the list to describe co-parenting? Relationship problems between the parents and the relationship between a parent and a child are important areas of family life, but they are not the relationship between the parents that focuses on the task of childrearing.
When developing a parenting plan, these three areas are likely to be considered. One parent might be the most organized and scheduling doctor’s appointments come easy to him or her. Another parent teaches skills like tying shoes and dressing. Another helps as a softball coach and another parent is the one who sits in traffic providing transportation for the custodial exchanges.
The philosophy of childrearing might be a main source of argument during the parents’ relationship. Often parents believe that having their own place and their own custody time will finally allow them to raise their child in their own way and without interference from the other parent. But the child lives in two houses. If there are different rules at one house compared to the other parent’s house, the arguments about childcare might be over for the parents but not for the child.
All parents have read the famous line included in each mediation agreement or court order in Family Law: “Neither parent shall make derogatory remarks about the other parent within hearing distance of the child.” But undermining the other parent can be subtle. If a parent portrays the other parent as not capable of proper childrearing, if the wishes of one parent are always secondary to the plans made by the other parent, or discussions with friends that include comments demeaning to the gender of the other parent while in the presence of the kids, can all be forms of undermining the other parent.
As parents become clear in their own minds about these three areas of co-parenting, they are taking steps toward personal growth. What childrearing tasks are you doing now? Too many, too few? Do you notice how you might undermine the other parent? What is your philosophy about parenting? What do you want to impart upon your child?