Spoiler Alert: There Are Many Ways to Co-Parent

Purple, blue, and yellow text on blue background. Word art. Text: Stepfamilies, blended, parallel parenting, divorce, conflict, nontraditional, remarriage, cohesion, love, separation, stepparenting, repartnering, coparenting. Mended Families is located in Saint Paul, MN and offers therapy for individuals, couples, and families. Shauna Zotalis offers therapy specializing in Pre-Blending Family Therapy, divorce, and remarriage, and supporting LGBTQIA+ and multicultural families through life transitions and challenges.

By Shauna Zotalis, M.A.

Co-parenting. In the divorce world, it feels like a buzz word. Almost everyone wants to be co-parenting or thinks that they are co-parenting.

It appears that many think that if they are co-parenting it is inherently positive; however, there are several different styles of co-parenting that develop after divorce and they often reflect the type of marriage and/or divorce you had. Positive co-parenting in its lived reality is relatively rare sadly and may not always be recommended (or possible) given the circumstances.

Types of Co-parenting. Researchers have identified three major types of post-divorce co-parental relationships: 1) parallel parenting, which is the most common (occurring more than 50% of the time), 2) conflicted co-parenting, and 3) cooperative co-parenting (both of which occur around 25% of the time).

Parents engaged in parallel parenting tend to have low conflict and communication, be emotionally disengaged from one another, and have little coordination of childrearing issues with each parent operating in their own domain. Basically, each household operates independently and there may or may not be consistency for the children between homes. If there is — it is purely chance since the parents are not actively discussing it.

Conflicted co-parenting is …. you guessed it … characterized by frequent conflict as well as poor communication and failure of one or both former partners to disengage emotionally (or are emotionally reactive). This style may be most harmful to children since research shows that it is the level of conflict in the family that contributes to negative outcomes for children (and not whether your family is intact or divorced).

The holy grail of all co-parental relationships is cooperative co-parenting, which is the most advantageous for children and is characterized by joint planning, coordination and some flexibility in parenting schedules, and offers of parental support to each other. It is conflict-free and involves the ability of the parents to resolve differences on their own or with mediators or therapists. This type of co-parenting helps promote resiliency in children affected by divorce.

Developing better co-parenting relationships. Before you can improve your co-parenting relationship, you need to determine which type of co-parental relationship you have, which type you want, and which type is possible for your situation. While cooperative co-parenting is the gold standard, oftentimes it is not possible or recommended for many reasons. Perhaps because one or more of the parents is not interested in or able to change how they interact or there is active substance abuse-–just to name a few examples.

Whatever your current style is though, there is usually room for improvement and participating in therapy is one way in which co-parents can work toward improving communication, lowering conflict, and developing healthier ways and means to interact in order to reduce the negative effects on their children. If you are currently separating or divorcing, then consider uncoupling therapy so you can process and address co-parenting and other issues that occur when marriages and committed relationships dissolve and set the stage for a more cooperative co-parenting relationship. For the kids.

To learn more about the uncoupling therapy I provide, check out my Uncoupling therapy webpage.