Successful co-parenting requires a transformation in the parenting relationship that most people find at least somewhat challenging to navigate. When parents are living together, lots of information gets shared implicitly and many parenting decisions get handled in informal ways.
Once parents separate, communication and decision-making about child-rearing often need to become more deliberate and intentional, especially at first. The fact that this needs to happen at a time when trust and goodwill between the parents may be at an all-time low adds to the challenge of establishing effective co-parenting practices.
In our experience, the most disruptive co-parenting disputes tend to occur around four key areas: Safety, Substance Use, Sexuality, and Significant Other (The 4-S’s). We have included a brief description and a few examples of each.
Safety – Concerns related to the children’s physical and emotional well being
- The appropriate use of safety equipment during recreational activities.
- The handling of firearms in each household.
- Whether certain movies, TV shows, videos, computer games, etc., are age-appropriate.
- Disagreement about discipline practices.
Substance Use – Concerns related to the use of alcohol or other substances
- Will parents engage in recreational substance use when caring for the children?
- Concerns about unhealthy exposure to substance use by a parent.
- Concerns about substance use by a parent’s friends or relatives.
Sexuality – Concerns about children’s exposure to sexual situations or material
- Concerns about exposure to pornography or other sexually explicit material.
- Disagreements about what constitutes appropriate modesty when children are present.
- Concerns that a parent will not be adequately discrete with respect to sexual behavior or relationships.
Significant Others – Concerns about children’s involvement with new partners
- How and when should new partners be introduced to children?
- What role should new partners take with the children?
- Handling interactions when a new partner participated in an affair with a parent.
The 4-S’s represent areas where reasonable people can disagree about what is in the children’s best interest and what is and is not appropriate. Finding the right balance between fostering consistency and respecting each parent’s need for autonomy can be elusive. Parents may be tempted to take a “wait and see” approach rather than risk bringing up potentially provocative concerns. Unfortunately, this approach often results in parents reacting with their first impulse when a problem situation eventually arises. When this occurs, disagreements can quickly escalate to crisis status and become explosive issues that erode parents’ trust and expose the children to harmful conflict.
On the other hand, if concerns are communicated proactively and common expectations are developed, parents can reduce anxiety, enhance cooperation and trust, and avoid problems and conflicts. Please take some time to consider carefully any co-parenting concerns you may have related to the 4-S’s. The items listed above are just examples. You may feel concerned or worried about other issues.
At Batley Family Law, we encourage parents to communicate specific areas of concern so we can take a proactive approach to finding solutions that are best for children and encourage healthy co-parenting.