What Components of Co-Parenting do You Think Parents Should at Least Try to Agree Upon?
- Co-parents should establish a single set of behavioral expectations for their child (within reason and in the child’s best interest), as well as consequences for not meeting those expectations. These should not vary between houses.
- Co-parents should also establish a shared sense of morality (i.e., “What makes a good person in this family?”), though the means of applying that morality can be particular to each household.
- Parenting plans should include larger, more important issues rather than smaller micromanaging. Both co-parents need to learn to trust each other to handle the details safely and in the best interest of the child.
There are several points of agreement that it is very important for co-parents to reach, or at least attempt to reach.
For example, co-parents should agree on one set of expectations for the child (assuming those expectations are realistic and solely in the child’s best interest), as well as a clear set of consequences for the child if they do not meet those expectations. These standards or expectations as well as consequences should not vary between homes. They must be consistent if they are to be successful. Children benefit from consistency and the continuity that comes from operating under one set of expectations. Focus on creating a list of agreed acceptable behaviors, unacceptable behaviors, and consequences for that unacceptable behavior. When there is a majority of consistent behaviors and consequences between two homes, the child can learn to thrive in both environments.
Additionally, whenever possible, there should be a single set of moral obligations or expectations for the child that is shared between the two homes. It is very confusing and difficult for a child to process if there are different moral obligations/expectations between homes.
These expectations might be rooted in religion, or might just be rooted in a strong personal sense of social commitment to humanity. Whether the morality has a strictly religious base or not isn’t really important: the issue is how it affects the way the child is taught to treat people.
That is, we don’t want to teach a child that in this home, we treat human beings like X, and in that home, we treat human beings like Y. We don’t want them to have to follow one moral code this weekend, and another moral code next weekend. It is very difficult for children to learn, comprehend, absorb, and take seriously two completely different sets of expectations or guidelines for basic morality. It can become a battle for children from a very early onset if they get two different moral realities in two different homes. They will be severely conflicted and confused about what is right and what is not.
In application, this means different things in different situations. Does it mean that you have to agree on attending the same church on Sundays? Not necessarily. Does it mean that you have to agree that time out is going to be 10 minutes in each home? This is helpful, but also not necessarily required.
What I’m talking about has more to do with those core fundamental beliefs of what makes a good person in our family. Those beliefs ought to be shared between co-parents.
I also believe that it’s very important in this day and age that there be an agreement about whether or not corporal punishment or corporal discipline is going to be used. Oftentimes, a disagreement about corporal punishment leads to physical discipline in one home and none in another. This creates the space for lots of future litigation as to whether or not that discipline was or is appropriate or excessive. Instead, there should be an agreement about whether or not corporal punishment is on the table. Either it’s allowed in both homes, or it’s allowed in neither home. This makes for a much smoother transition for the child in-between the two homes.
What Are Some of the Components of A Co-Parenting Arrangement That Might Be Less Important to Really Dig Your Feet in on?
As a co-parent, it is tremendously important to trust your fellow co-parent. You have to be able to trust the co-parent to feed the children well-balanced meal, to get the child to bed on-time, to make sure that they have baths when needed, that they’re wearing appropriate clothing to school, and other key caretaking issues.
If you have concerns about your co-parent’s ability to do any of those things, that’s a much larger issue that you need to address in order to have any sort of healthy co-parenting relationship.
However, if you and your co-parent are both going to be managing conservators, and you’re both going to be responsible for the raising of your children, then this bottom line of trust that the other co-parent will meet the needs of your children should allow for variation.
That is, unless there’s a specific reason why we need to insist on it, we wouldn’t include something like exactly when dinner is served each night. Or, for instance, or what exactly needs to be served for dinner at the other parent’s home. If there is a basis of trust that the children will be cared for, co-parents should not introduce micromanagement into the parenting plan.
Parenting plans are for broader issues. They are not for issues like which days of the week the child gets a bath, or how long the bath should be, or what time the child has to get up in the morning on weekends and weekdays. If the child’s needs are being met and they are kept healthy and happy, co-parents are not serving the process by digging their heels in on these issues.
For these kinds of things, parents are going to have to extend enough trust to their co-parent to make good decisions for their child. It can be difficult to learn this, but it is essential that both parents understand that there are things that they are not going to be able to dictate in their co-parent’s home.
I find that this sort of trust and lack of control is hardest to extend for whichever co-parent has had the most control over the day-to-day care of the child before the divorce or separation. It’s often hard for that parent to let those smaller things go, because they have had such a large degree of control over—and responsibility for—these decisions for so long, just by virtue of the family dynamic.
However, this struggle is necessary and required in order to proceed with viably creating a co-parenting plan, and going about the process of healthy co-parenting.
Though it may be difficult, both parents are going to have to do the work of letting those smaller degrees of control go. In doing so, they will be putting some faith in their co-parent’s ability to make those decisions properly. In the end, once you know for sure that your co-parent is responsible and acting in good faith, you can trust that they’re going to be able to make those decisions to help your child thrive between both homes.
Often times, parents eventually find that they don’t have the energy to spend to be concerned about these smaller things, or second-guessing what is being followed and what is not.
In Your Experience, Are There Components of A Co-Parenting Relationship That Should Be Totally Off the Table for Discussion Between Co-Parents?
No. I think everything should be open for discussion between co-parents when it comes to components of the co-parenting relationship.
Sometimes that means that an agreement will be reached, and sometimes that means an agreement won’t be reached. However, everything should be open for discussion in a healthy and productive, non-judgmental way between the co-parents.
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