Nearly 50% of children will witness their parents’ separation or divorce, yet there are still relatively few resources for parents who are embarking on the difficult challenges of co-parenting. Divorce impacts over two million children under eighteen every year in North America. Co-parenting, or shared parenting, is increasingly common yet many couples are ill-equipped to deal with the challenges inherent in raising children under shared arrangements. Co-parenting requires empathy, patience and open communication, three things that are often challenges for couples who’ve encountered marital issues.
Karen, thank you so much for address some of our questions about co-parenting! Why is co-parenting worth talking about?
Co-parenting after divorce is important because divorce continues to happen to almost half of marriages, which means millions of children each year have parents who need to figure out how to raise them after separation. It’s worth talking about because parenting is a challenging, long-term undertaking. Anything which will allow more resources to be channeled – two parents, rather than one or one and a bit, is worth serious consideration.
Does everyone co-parent the same way?
Everyone parents a bit differently, and the same goes for co-parenting. The physical, mental, and emotional health of each parent and each child will have a huge influence on how co-parenting is done. Add in parents’ beliefs about how families should operate, which we all tend to inherit from our own families, and there are many variables. Other changes in parents also play a part: In several of my stories, a parent became aware that she wanted to enter a lesbian relationship after years of heterosexual marriage; that obviously also had impacts.
What kind of mistakes did co-parents make?
Not accepting reality was a common one. If the parent who didn’t decide to tend the relationship or leave just didn’t want to believe it was happening, it was very hard for them to move on emotionally, make plans, or communicate helpfully with the children. They remained stuck in disbelief or sadness or guilt. A more common mistake was staying angry about the separation for many years. This resulted in protracted legal battles and huge costs which drained the family resources. Some parents tried to fight their ex through the children by sending a message through the children, or by denigrating.
Was the co-parenting situation different for lesbian moms?
The differences for lesbian mothers who separated had to do with their awareness of extra social scrutiny. Most were painfully aware that they were trailblazers as lesbian women marrying and having children. To acknowledge that their marriage, or relationship, had ended was particularly hard for some because they felt they were letting down others. So the emotional load to accept the reality of the split was particularly heavy for some. Also in subsequent relationships, the legitimacy or even value of the “second mother” was sometimes challenged.
What lessons emerged from the stories?
Some of the clearest lessons were:
It does get easier with time, so keep going.
Face your feelings. If you don’t deal with whatever grief or anger may accompany the split, it will contaminate all your interactions going forward.
Stronger parents mean stronger kids. Many parents found they had grown in themselves and had become more skillful and effective parents for their children.
Karen L. Kristjanson, MSc, MA is a professional life coach, writer, and member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. A co-parent herself, she has over thirty years’ experience supporting adults tackling change, to help them both survive and grow. Kristjanson writes for Divorce Magazine and the Huffington PostCanada. She lives in Surrey, British Columbia.