We’re in this thing together: how to start co-parenting better

by Dr. Krystal White Contributing writer


Parenting decisions can be big (when to start toilet training) or small (should he get another cookie?). No doubt about it, some decisions are easy and some are very tough.
Parents make thousands of decisions about the daily lives of their children. In how many activities should children be enrolled? How do you handle temper tantrums? Food refusal? Where does our child sleep? Often, parents agree on these decisions, and other times they do not. Co-parenting is the term used to describe the negotiation process and team execution of:

1) an overall parent philosophy
2) who does each daily task
3) how you solve problems (feared, perceived and actual)
Co-parents may live together or in different homes. How people co-parent significantly influences a child’s emotions and behaviors. Research shows that children with healthy co-parents (divorced, never married or married) tend to show better control of their attention and behavior. Studies suggest that children with healthy co-parents have better long- term outcomes; Later in life, they were people who were rated as getting along with others, doing well in school and feeling good about themselves. Children who were not doing as well lived in households with fewer satisfied spouses and fewer effective parents. Unhappy marriages and unsupportive co-parenting go hand in hand, according to this research. Unsupportive co-parenting resulted in children who didn’t feel good about themselves or who don’t get along well with others.
A closer look at these families revealed that husbands and wives who were not getting along often allowed their marital problems to interfere with their effectiveness as a parenting team. The research suggests that if married, co-parents must work on their marriage first before tackling parenting problems.
The goal of co-parenting is for the child to observe their parents as partners rather than enemies — something all parents want no matter if they remain romantically together or not.
After examining and working through martial issues, or deciding to end the romantic adult relationship, parents can devote their focus and energy on being a better team. Parents can start to be better co-parents by establishing an annual meeting to address their children’s specific needs for that year. Our culture has many annual celebrations or deadlines, and co-parents should pick one date and stick with it over the long term. This annual meeting is not a time to review past arguments or conflicts — it should only

address goals and the parenting plan for the year. Parents should prepare their responses to the following questions individually, and then review as a co-parenting team at this annual meeting:  
• What is our intended goal for our children?
• What do we want them to develop this year?
• What are the most important skills for them to build?
• What is my individual role (as a mom versus as a dad) and concrete responsibilities (these will shift with each “season” of life)?
• What resources do we need to achieve these goals?
Co-parents should set up a regular time to talk together, ranging from once a week to once a month, about any issues or possible disagreements. It’s best to have a specific meeting time rather than talk about disagreements in the “heat of the moment.” During actual problems, emotions, rather than logic, are most likely influencing the way you talk to one another. A scheduled time may not be fun or convenient, but it’s important.
A good place to start is to think of the three most important arguments you have about raising your children. Write down each one and why it matters to your child’s long term development. If one parent wants to execute a course of action (e.g., to wean, to stop piano lessons or soccer enrollment, or change discipline techniques),
identify what impact the decision would have on your child in 10 years, five years, one year, one month, one week and one day. This may help guide the team’s decision.


If the argument is about the fairness of the parenting workload or the division of labor, negotiation may need to occur. Many co-parents who have these talks decide that although changes in co-parenting duties can’t be made, talking about them helps. Many co-parents want clear recognition for doing his or her job and not a change in roles.
Co-parents have options when they aren’t on the same page:
1) Consider wether the disagreement is about ensuring your child’s positive health and development and not about the dynamic between each other. If it is the latter, work to heal or change the emotional reaction you have between you. Put the co-parenting concerns on the “back burner.”
2) Write out a list of pros and cons for each parent’s argument. The next step forward may look easier using a data sheet.
3) Choose to let one person make the decision for the team, even if one is not in total agreement with the outcome.
4) Seek consultation from a trusted source or the advice of a professional. Often, brief co-parenting advice from these sources helps co-parents be more creative and less conflictual regarding these decisions.
Co-parenting can be the most difficult job a person can choose. It does not come naturally, and it takes a lot of practice and support to be good at it (just like with most careers). When parents seek social resources in a church, unit and medical community, both they and their children’s health improve.
(Dr. White is a pediatric psychologist at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the developmental health consultant for Europe Regional Medical Command. She specializes in healthy habits across the lifespan and evaluating developmental