Working as a Team: The ABC’s of Co-Parenting

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Parenting, as we know, is a full-time job — and then some. Co-parenting, whether planned or due to divorce or separation, can sometimes seem like double that herculean effort. If one or more co-parents is parenting in an unhealthy way, the child is at risk of developmental problems, with lifelong consequences. Chronic issues like depression, financial challenges, or poor communication skills can compound the issues co-parents face — and make seeking and benefitting from help more difficult.

It’s important to stay positive when working with your co-parent to raise healthy, loving, and stable children. This is especially important for practitioners, who need specialized training in knowledge retention and clinical skills in working effectively with co-parents. Below are some initial suggestions to help your co-parenting clients better handle the everyday and longer-term struggles of sharing the most important job in the world - raising a child. With these successful co-parenting strategies, you can keep everyone working as a team.

Remember Your ABC’s

Co-parents (and their children) can benefit from innumerable skills, strategies, and traits, such as patience, problem-solving, and empathy. So, let’s stick to just a few, easy-to-remember ones, starting with A, B, and C. Ask your client to keep in mind the positive and healthy development of the child, and that will help put these tips for parents in an all-important child-centered perspective. Eventually, your co-parent client will see positive benefits for themselves as well. 

  • Acceptance. Co-parents may not have a positive relationship or have different styles of problem-solving, disciplining or any number of things. Recognize that co-parenting will be challenging and that acceptance of both the other parent’s uniqueness without judgment is the only way. Both parents are equal partners in the co-parenting journey.

  • Accountability. Rules should be agreed upon and consistent in both domiciles. Research shows that children in homes with a unified parenting approach have greater chances of experiencing well-being. Your child should be held accountable in the same manner by both parents and each of the parents should be able to hold the other parent accountable as well.

  • Balance. Mix it up. A bit of fun, a bit of structure, and an occasional reprimand when needed. Don’t fall into the trap of being the ‘fun’ dad or the ‘disciplinarian’ mom. A predictable balance is what your child needs most. 

  • Boundaries. Agree on boundaries and behavioral guidelines for raising your children so that there's consistency in their lives, regardless of which parent they're with at any given time. Discipline should be predictable. 

  • Benefit of the Doubt. Give your co-parent the benefit of trust, knowing that your child may be saying something just to get his or her way, or may have misunderstood something or communicated something poorly. Take a breath and you can always circle back to it with the other parent at a later time when you are less triggered.

  • Communication. Don’t accuse, discuss. Keep your child at the heart of the matter, always. His or her well-being is why you are doing the hard work of negotiating with a co-parent instead of raising the child on your own. 

  • Collaboration. Co-parenting is a shared journey and your child’s development can be all the richer for it. Update each other often about what you see is going on. Take the time necessary to make important decisions affecting your child. Collaborative decision-making and a unified approach to difficult situations will benefit and provide stability for your loved one. 

  • Commitment. Co-parenting takes time. A lot of time. Stay the course and learn from your inevitable mistakes. Forgive each other and yourself and your commitment to healthy communication for the healthy development of your child will pay manifold dividends for you and your child.

Play to Your Strengths

It’s important, as behavioral health professionals, to remember that both co-parents are different, independent people with their own unique sets of strengths and positive qualities. And this is good news! Help your client see these differences as a positive, for themself and the child. Stress collaboration. Acknowledging and appreciating the other parent, and what they bring to challenging, or even everyday situations, will go a long way in making this sometimes difficult task possible. Help the client see the benefit of two parents’ unique skill sets, and how they can compensate in some cases for the other’s shortcomings — all to the benefit of the child they are raising together. A win-win-win, for everyone!

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