Finding the right co-parenting model to raise kids
We all know those people whose co-parenting relationship with their ex is better than many marriages. And we also know people whose co-parenting relationship with their ex can be described as an endless, living hell. After separation, somewhere between fantastic and terrible, is the reality where most co-parenting relationships exist, generally falling into three basic styles, two of them much better suited to the best interests of the child over the third.
Cooperative/ Collaborative parenting
The Holy Grail of co-parenting often out of reach for normal people and more in the realm of people who seem to live supernatural Zen lives, like conscious uncouplers Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin. It helps to see this style of parenting as aspirational – something to aim for. Some co-parents start out with a co-operative mindset, trying to help each other navigate new parenting norms in the hope of minimising the detrimental impact on the kids. However, at some point, this spirit of co-operation and inclusion begins to sour when new partners arrive on the scene and priorities shift. The point is, it often takes healing time (and lots of it) for many separated parents to reach a cooperative and collaborative style of co-parenting, but it is achievable, eventually – as roughly one third of separated parents in Australia will achieve a co-operative parenting style, according to Bond University Dispute Resolution Centre.
Key attributes of cooperative co-parenting:
Low conflict between parents and mutual respect demonstrated
Parents favour talking to each other as the lead method of communication
Plan and make decisions together
Allow for flexibility within consistent routines
Parallel Parenting (two-track parenting)
Parallel parenting is the style many co-parents land on. Parents who find it difficult to cooperate but manage to tolerate each other and find agreement in their shared desire to parent their children responsibly, but in their own individual styles are good candidates for parallel parenting. Essentially parents aim to limit their contact and interactions to what is necessary – and those are usually concerns agreed to in mediation and captured in detail in the parenting agreement. The method of communication is the one agreed to (usually text or email or via a co-parenting app) and rarely, if possible, does that deviate. While it may seem like solo parenting journeys operating in tandem, the good news is that many children will do well with good parallel parenting because their parents don’t have the stress of having to deal with each other and that stress is not passed onto the kids.
Key attributes of parallel parenting:
Allows for both parents to have a separate but meaningful relationship with their child
Minimises conflict because of minimal contact / communication
Built on the premise that each person can parent their children responsibly
Agreed to terms that are adhered to by both parents
Co-parenting is business-like, with little emotion involved
As the name implies, this style of co-parenting leaves families locked in a perpetual state of conflict where there are no winners – least of all the children. Some parents simply choose to stay locked in conflict and refuse to communicate with each other – leaving it to lawyers, other family members or worse, the children. Co-parenting should enable the children to have a meaningful and quality relationship with both parents – but in high conflict parenting arrangements, this is all but impossible, as often children find themselves at the centre of the conflict or used to hurt the other parent. Scheduling and other agreements are often abandoned or sabotaged. If the parents don’t find a way to somehow lessen the conflict, the children grow up experiencing conflict as the norm in relationships and never experience a co-operative behaviour – the detrimental impacts on the kids are enormous and long lasting. Relying on the incorrect assumption that ‘kids are resilient’ is not a justification for parents to remain stuck in a cycle of high conflict. If this is where things have landed, then the hope is that the co-parents will try hard to shift the co-parenting style to a parallel parenting model, by putting the kids needs and interests before the relationship with the ex.
Key attributes of conflicted parenting:
Common characteristics include anger, physical threats, resentment, sabotage, and revenge
There is little or no communication
Children are used by the parents to meet their own agenda
Children are exposed to high levels of conflict that will have long lasting impact – sometimes for the rest of their lives
Many children have trouble forming healthy relationships that can continue into adulthood
The are concerns for the safety of the children
Try to remember it’s not about you or your ex -it’s about the kids
In mediation we do a lot of work with parents to help them shift from a positional mindset to a shared focus on what is in the best interests of the kids. This isn’t always easy – and sometimes in very high conflict scenarios, not possible at all – which is when things end up in court. But the good news is, eventually, most parents do get there – they are able to see that how they behave in mediation and their subsequent co-parenting arrangement has the potential to impact the lives of their children that may take years (if ever) for the kids to recover. Parents have responsibility to the children, and while their co-parenting relationship may begin high on the conflict scale, over time, with distance and healing, the reality is, that life goes on. Co-parents have other challenges to occupy their minds, and some, through sheer emotional exhaustion, accept the things they can’t change and learn to accept the co-parent relationship and try and make the best of it.
To help you prepare for mediation, we have created a library of helpful information including checklists, tips and added detail around the process of mediation. For useful and relevant information you can download for free, we encourage you to visit our resources page.
Family Dispute Practitioner, Fresh Start Mediation
Both parties agreeing to mediation is the first step towards finding common ground. Getting to that point can be challenging - but not impossible. Today's blog covers tips and insights to help you and your ex agree to mediation.
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