With co-parenting quickly
becoming the new norm in America, how do we ensure this new arrangement works for everyone involved? Several recent studies show relationship satisfaction can drop steeply after a couple has kids, and all too often, the issues that caused the rift reappear as
parents try to co-parent.
Family Turning Point is a
practice helping parents resolve the most common co-parenting headaches by
teaching them communication, conflict resolution and co-parenting skills
through psycho-educational presentations, family interventions and co-parenting
support groups. With several decades of experience under their belt, the Family
Turning Point team has seen it all. The team sat down with Mom.me to share their best advice for co-parenting, including what to do when the other
parent kind of sucks at it.
What are the biggest obstacles you see in
In our 30-plus years of working
with separated parents, the biggest obstacles we’ve noticed are the lack of
effective co-parenting communication and conflict resolution skills. These were
often the reasons parents broke up in the first place, and they continue to pop
up time and time again as parents struggle to raise their children.
The other obstacle that
often goes hand-in-hand with this is that parents are too focused on themselves
and their feelings toward co-parenting. This often leads them lose sight as to
how their immature behavior negatively affects their children’s emotional
The characteristics of a
successful co-parenting relationship are a low degree of conflict and tension
between the parents, their ability listen to and empathize with one another,
their willingness to be accountable for their action and to focus on the needs
of the children first.
So let’s flip that: What does a terrible
co-parenting relationship look like?
The worst case scenarios we deal with are intractable
or unsolvable conflict situations. This is where the parents focus solely on
mistakes and shortcomings of the other parent. Their thoughts, feelings
about and actions toward the other parent are negative, and the parents disregard
how their child feels about the other parent. An intractable conflict is like a
magnet that pulls in everything negative about the other parent and completely disregards
anything positive the other parent might be or do.
who are in this kind of conflict feel hopeless that the situation would change
and are unable to fathom any positive development. Any peace making gestures a
parent might offer are interpreted as disingenuous or manipulative, and these
situations rarely resolve on their own.
Parents need to understand
that their memory can’t be trusted. Chances are when parents argue about an event from the past,
both parents’ memories are wrong.
How can you make a co-parenting partner less
The first thing is to step
back from the situation and think about the needs of the child. Both parents
need to realize the detrimental effects their actions are having on the child,
especially when the conflict interferes with a parent’s ability to parent well.
This includes situations where a parent fails to fulfill school or other
responsibilities or undermines the other parent’s authority.
Unfortunately, we rarely see
cases where someone successfully changes a co-parenting partner’s actions,
unless they were so horrific that authorities had to get involved and the
parent is cut out and forced to undergo parenting education by the courts. The faster
and more successful path is to establish clear expectations and put them down
in writing, and then to work on one’s own thoughts, feelings and behavior in a
constructive way. In most cases, the other parent will respond in kind.
When parents fail to do this
it can often become an emotional trap. The parent intentionally goes
against parenting wishes in order to punish the co-parent. The only way to
practice self-care and protect yourself and your kids from those negative
emotions is to treat co-parenting like a business relationship and to take the
emotion out of it.
What does being more business-like look like
The first step is to
establish clear boundaries regarding communication, for example via email and
address topics only related to the children. Billy Eddy with the High Conflict
Institute has written many books on dealing with high conflict people. His
“BIFF” technique (Be Brief,
Informative, Friendly and Firm) has shown to work
successfully in high conflict co-parenting arrangements. Parents can also learn
how to calm themselves and focus on positive things in their lives by
practicing mindfulness and not let themselves be caught up in the drama the
other parent might be causing.
If all that fails, what are other tools and
tactics available to co-parenting moms whose partners aren’t cooperating?
There are many tools
available to parents. The court can always intervene and enter co-parenting
orders. If it looks like your relationship is heading in this direction, then it’s
best to start documenting all interactions and moving communications to text
only, that way you will have materials to support your request for modified
If you feel that
communications are your biggest bottleneck, there are also agencies that will
monitor and correct your written communications, such as ProperComm.
At what point do you advise parents to get
There are two kinds of
professional interventions: legal and mental health. If the parents are
involved in a complex family court case or uncomfortable representing
themselves, the parents might wish to consult with an attorney. Many cases can be
resolved though through confidential mediation.
Parents should consider
seeking support of a mental health professional when they notice if they have
difficulties managing their thoughts and emotions or notice that their children
are displaying concerning behaviors, such as regression, acting out or refusing
to spend time with the other parent.
In your experience, do most co-parenting
relationships improve over time?
The majority of co-parenting
relationships do improve over time. Things typically improve as the parents become
increasingly capable of moving past their failed romantic relationship,
building a new and fulfilling life of their own, and forging a business-like
relationship with each other. Once parents truly put the kids at the center of
their agreement, things tend to improve.
A key skill for parents to learn is to stop seeing themselves as victims and
blaming the other parent for the problem.
What are the key parenting skills that
co-parenting parents need to develop?
Parents need to understand
that, like all humans, their memory can’t be trusted. Humans regularly
create false memories but believe them to be true. Memories can also be changed
and manipulated. Chances are when parents argue about an event from the past,
both parents’ memories are wrong. That’s why it’s important to keep a journal
of important events, and to focus your energy on the future, rather than the
key skill is the understanding that humans engage in cognitive distortions, or irrational thoughts that affect emotions and decisions. People
are often unaware that they have cognitive distortions. For example, when
people engage in catastrophic thinking they can only see the worst outcome
possible. When people engage in black and white thinking they think in
absolutes, such as always or never. Another distortion is confirmation bias. This
bias leads people to seek out information that supports their beliefs and to
disregard any information that questions or disapproves them. Many people find
it very helpful to sit down, make a list of their most powerful feelings and
beliefs and see if any of the common cognitive distortions may apply. It’s
a powerful and eye-opening experience.
key skill for parents to learn is to stop seeing themselves as victims and
blaming the other parent for the problem. Doing this gives your power to the
other person and makes you feel out of control. The key is to stop blaming and
jumping to conclusions and to learn to sit down and listen. Once you do that,
you can discover what both of you really want and find an acceptable solution.
Many parents resist co-parenting. How does
this impact the child?
Avoiding co-parenting almost
always leads to an increase in conflict between the parents, which children can
sense and become worried. It is one thing for a family member to be absent, but
when the parent is present (even in intervals) and that relationship is tense,
the child’s first impressions of relationships may be negative and result in
unhealthy or anxious relationships in their future.
There are also real physical
consequences of failing to co-parent that can cause physical harm. A parent
might find a new pediatrician for the child and unknowingly double-vaccinate or
prescribe medications that a child is already receiving or that interact with
something the child is already taking. Parents can avoid this by always sending
a brief correspondence to the other parent informing them of medical or other
What is the single most important piece of
co-parenting advice you can give?
Think before you react.
There is a difference
between reacting and responding, and the first one usually is based in
self-interest, while the second focuses on the child’s well being and
protecting their relationship with both parents. It is paramount that parents
understand the importance of the child having a positive and trusting
relationship with both parents, even when one of them isn’t perfect.