What Are the Basic Components That Make up a Positive, Healthy Co-Parenting Relationship?
- Several components have to be in place to build a healthy co-parenting relationship. These include being strong and healthy independently, having a strong, healthy sense of respect and trust for your co-parent, as well as having the children’s wellbeing as your shared first priority.
- Co-parents should expect to be flexible and open to compromise from the outset. Lack of willingness to compromise often means reaching an impasse early, which means cases get decided by the Court (a scenario in which neither party usually “wins”).
- It is not necessary to be best friends with your co-parent, or even to like them. It is necessary to treat them with respect and trust, and to maintain the same level of “friendliness” you would with a stranger on the street or a colleague at work.
A positive co-parenting relationship starts with:
- Caregivers who are strong and healthy independently.
- Caregivers who are respectful and trusting of the other co-parent.
- Caregivers who are willing to put what’s best for the children first.
- Caregivers committed to improving or protecting the co-parenting foundation that they have created so far.
Another essential element in a good co-parenting relationship is reciprocal trust that the child or children will be provided with good care and support. It is our job and our goal to do everything that we can to build up that trust. If there’s already a break in that trust, or a lack of trust to begin with, then something needs to be done to address it.
Sometimes, that means that it may be necessary to pursue counseling or therapy. Sometimes there are other remedies. Whatever method is used, it is essential to instate or re-instate that trust for any successful co-parenting relationship.
Additionally, the co-parents need to be focused, first and foremost, on building the best possible environment for the child or children. Co-parents need to make sure that their priority is building a co-parenting environment in which the children can thrive, be successful, and be happy.
My use of the word “thrive” in the above context is deliberate. If they want to establish a truly healthy and successful co-parenting relationship, the priority of the co-parents must be creating an environment in which the child or children can truly thrive, rather than simply cope, accept their new reality, or survive.
Without these two foundations established and fully embraced by both parties (both “I’ve got to respect and trust my co-parent” and “I’ve got to make sure that I can create an environment where my child can thrive”), there can be no successful co-parenting relationship.
What are Reasonable Expectations You Should Have for Your Co-Parenting Relationship?
First, you should expect that you will need to compromise at some point. Every co-parent needs to accept a little bit of give-and-take. You’re not going to create a parenting plan with your co-parent that gives you a 100% of what your dream parenting plan may have been. This has been true in every single co-parenting case I have ever worked on.
Often, co-parents approach a co-parenting planning situation with “non-negotiables.” When I say “non-negotiables”, I mean things that you’re not willing to change your mind on. These are big issues that you consider lines in the sand, so to speak. These are the things you have decided will not be open for discussion in your parenting plans.
In some cases, “non-negotiables” are reasonable and can remain intact. However, in others, one or both co-parents may find themselves needing to be more flexible about these issues, not to mention being more flexible about other, less-important issues. The less open co-parents are to compromising, the more likely it is for the process to reach an impasse early on.
If you do reach an impasse that early on in the case, you will most likely have to abandon the out-of-court negotiation process, and go before a judge. To be clear and completely frank, I think every Court in Texas would agree that when the judge decides in co-parenting matters, nobody wins. The judge isn’t going to give either parent 100% of what they want. The judge is simply going to arbitrate and force the compromise that the co-parents refused to make outside of Court. If you enter the mediation or facilitation process open to compromise, however, you can remain much more in control of the final decision, and are much more likely to wind up with more of what you want, rather than less.
It behooves co-parents to remember that once the judge orders a parenting plan, both co-parents will be forced to live with that co-parenting plan. It is difficult to get modifications to these orders, and—if it is even possible to get a modification in your case—it will cost you even more time, money, and stress.
In summary, if you refuse to compromise and force your family’s legal case into Court, nobody wins. Instead, both co-parents should approach the process from the outset with open-mindedness and flexibility. You can and should identify which points are most important to you, and what you need to discuss with your co-parent. You can and should negotiate on issues that you feel need to be negotiated. However, you have to be willing to meet the other person where they are, within reason.
Do I Have to Like My Child’s Other Parent? Do We Have to Be Friends in Order to Provide the Stability That Our Child Needs?
This is always somewhat of a loaded question. Obviously, something occurred in your relationship with your co-parent that caused the end of your romantic relationship (or that caused that relationship not to exist in the first place). Similarly, something happened to make it so that you do not feel comfortable living in the same home as your co-parent, whether or not you are in a romantic relationship. These are perfectly valid, normal, and common occurrences, but they do often color how people relate to one another.
In some cases, co-parents can remain close friends and continue being very affectionate to one another, even loving one another, after their romantic/sexual relationship ends. However, the end of a romantic relationship often complicates and sometimes prohibits those types of interactions/feelings, and that is just as valid.
There’s nothing that says that you and your co-parent have to be best friends. Does it happen? Sometimes, sure. But it’s certainly not a requirement to have a successful co-parenting relationship.
What is required for a successful co-parenting relationship is respect and trust. That is the level of closeness that has to be maintained so as to not undermine one another or the co-parenting relationship. Instead of holding yourself to the standard of having to like or even be best friends with your co-parent, you simply need to maintain trust and respect. If anything beyond that doesn’t feel right, then it isn’t necessary.
You also have to “like” the parenting plan that the two of you ultimately agree upon and create together. That is, you have to be able to live a life that is as close as possible to happiness for you within the parameters of the plan. So, if the parenting plan you’re working out looks like it’s going to require too much (or too little) “friend” time between the co-parents, you need to address that during the planning process. Remember, this is about finding the most sustainable plan that is in the best interest of your children. You have to be able to live with the plan without becoming overly stressed or miserable.
In terms of behavior toward one another, while it is not necessary to actively “like” your co-parent, there is some degree of friendliness and civility that is required. You want to remember this when you interact with them in order to facilitate a healthy co-parenting relationship.
In co-parenting interactions, you want to be treated (and to treat your co-parent) with the same common courtesies and approachability that you receive in any other interactions, whether that’s in your personal life, your professional life, or on the street in public.
Does treating everyone with a basic degree of civility mean that mean that you’re going to be best friends with everyone you meet? Does treating someone with respect when you interact with them mean that you’re going to go get lunch together or pedicures after work one day? No, that’s not what we mean by friendliness.
What we mean when we talk about maintaining civility or “friendliness” with your co-parent is that you have to approach the relationship willing to work with that co-parent and to communicate as clearly as possible with them. That includes not being nasty to one another or cutting off communication, and rather, fostering a basic fundamental promise that you will always be able to communicate important details to one another about your child’s care and wellbeing.
In these cases, the baseline of communication that needs to be maintained would fall under the umbrella of, “I will treat this person with friendliness and respect, the same as I would treat a colleague or a person I encountered on the street.”
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