“A child has three parents: the mother, the father, and the relationship between the mother and the father. This third parent is extremely important” – Byron Norton
As a newly divorced or yet to be divorced parent, it is quite normal for you to worry about the possible negative effects of this important life decision on your child. Divorce can be a challenging process for anyone who is involved, yet it can be particularly overwhelming for children. Luckily, certain practices can protect the child from the negative effects of divorce. Before we get into that, let’s look at what “co-parenting” is.
“Co-parenting” refers to the responsibilities shared, and actions taken by multiple adults to raise and care for a child. Such responsibilities may include but are not limited to, issues related to the education, recreation, and health of the child. When two adults co-parent, they make decisions together while keeping in mind the best interest of the child and implement the decisions as a team. It is different from “parenting” since it involves the relationship between the two adults in addition to the relationship each adult has with the child. However, aspects that have nothing to do with the child are excluded from this relationship, such as the emotional bond between the adults. Keeping this in mind can make it possible to effectively co-parent with an individual whom one has a difficult history with, given that both parents are willing to work together on certain components. These components that enable effective co-parenting are as follows:
- Child-rearing agreement: This component refers to the extent that parents agree on issues relating to child-rearing. These issues might include techniques used to discipline, values that are aimed to transfer to the child, behavioural expectations from the child, the child’s education standards, and many other things. It can be quite challenging to agree on all these topics, even for couples. There is no doubt that it can be difficult for divorced parents to meet on a common ground. Regardless of how difficult it is, parents who want to raise their child in a healthy manner need to be willing to work together on such issues and maintain open communication channels.
- Division of labour: This component refers to sharing the daily tasks, as well as the financial, legal, and medical responsibilities of child-rearing. It is important for co-parents to agree on and come to terms with deciding what task or responsibility belongs to which parent. It is also important that the division of labour is fair, and parents try to meet each other’s expectations and preferences.
- Support: This component is about how much parents respect each other’s parenting practices and stand behind each other’s decisions. It can be challenging for the child to navigate his/her life when one parent expects something and the other parent expects the exact opposite. The same also applies when the child is exposed to the criticism that parents direct at each other. What co-parents need to keep in mind is that their roles as the parents of their child did not change as a result of their divorce and this role requires a supportive attitude towards one another (assuming that the child is under no threat, such as abuse or neglect).
- Joint family management: This component refers to how well parents function as a team. Co-parents need to have an agreement on child-rearing, a clear division of labour, and support towards each other, as mentioned previously. What they also need to have is a clear boundary between the child and them. This boundary is not about being emotionally distant. It is rather letting the child acknowledge that parents are the “managers” of the relationship, and they fulfil their responsibilities coherently.
All of these may sound like hard work, especially if you are going through such a difficult process yourself. Yet if we acknowledge the impact that our childhood experiences have on our lives, effective co-parenting seems worth the effort. Note that you do not have to go through this all by yourself and if it gets too difficult for you to handle, working with a mental health professional may help you in becoming an effective co-parent.
If you’re seeking some help regarding co-parenting from a professional, you can book an appointment here!
Dilek Demiray is an intern at Willingness. She has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and she is currently completing her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. As an aspiring psychotherapist, she is interested in third-wave cognitive-behavioural and systemic therapies.
Til-Öğüt, D. (2021). Boşanma ve Ebeveynlik [Divorce and Parenting]. Varlık Publishing: Istanbul.
Feinberg, M. E. (2003). The Internal Structure and Ecological Context of Coparenting: A Framework for Research and Intervention. Parenting: Science and Practice, 3(2), 95-131. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15327922PAR0302_01