Co-Parenting: A Choice That Matters to Children


2015 Allies in Prevention Quarterly Meeting: Co-Parenting

Parenting is learned.  Parenting is tough.  Parenting changes every day because not only do parents change every day but children do, too.  Parents look to professionals in the human resource fields for help.  The best we can do for those families that we work with and that are a part of our lives is to give them support, model good parenting techniques and sound advice whenever possible.

Now imagine that the parents you are helping are separated or going through a divorce. You should still give them support, model good parenting, and provide sound advice whenever possible but you may also have to remind them that parenting is about their children, not about their relationship with one another.  Fairfax County Public Schools Family and School Partnerships joined us for a discussion on Co-Parenting with our Allies in Prevention Coalition, and shared some helpful tips for effective co-parenting that we encourage you to share:

  • Support a positive relationship between your child(ren) and your co-parent.
  • Make your child’s transition from each home as peaceful and organized as possible.
  • Treat your co-parent with respect – whether you feel it or not.
  • Communicate often and share child-related information in a timely manner.
  • Avoid unnecessary changes in the agreed upon schedule.
  • Respect the time your child spends with your co-parent and avoid making plans for your child that may conflict with time at the co-parent’s home.
  • Work as a parenting team, but respect boundaries between your two homes and personal lives.
  • Resolve parenting disputes from a child-focused perspective.
  • Keep your child(ren) out of the middle of disputes and adult matters (such as money).
  • Encourage extended family to respect the co-parenting plan you develop and not to take sides or say disparaging things about either parent.

What if one parent is incarcerated, or one is overseas, or the relationship between the parents is so contentious that parenting is not happening?  That is when parallel parenting should happen.  The parallel parenting model is more formal, and may even involve a third party to resolve disputes and handle communications.  Parallel parenting typically happens when parents’ feelings are “parent-focused” and not “child-focused.”

Regardless of the situation, there is evidence to support that a child needs both parents in their lives.  Human service professionals need to provide those resources to parents so that the ultimate goal is a healthy and happy child.

Creative Resources:

  • “Co-Parenting” Tips (plus downloadable fact sheets in English and Spanish) on SCAN’s Parent Resource Center.
  • Our Family Wizard, a website offering divorced or separated parents an array of tools to easily schedule and track parenting time, share important family information, manage expenses as well as create an accurate, clear log of divorce communication.
  • The Co-Parenting Toolkit, a book packed with new strategies including advanced versions of selected time-tested solutions from its partner,  Mom’s House, Dad’s House.

Do you know of resources that might be helpful in working with separated or divorced parents? Please comment below!

– Tracy Leonard, Public Education Manager

Co-Parenting: It’s hard, but worth it.

Putting your kids’ needs ahead of your own is a defining part of being a parent (that, and sometimes DNA plays a role).  But what happens if you and your spouse decide that separating as a couple is what you want?  It’s not the end of your road as a parent, and it’s certainly not the time to stop working as a team to raise the children you have together.  Co-parenting is best for your children, but many divorced or separated parents have a difficult time adjusting. We thought we’d share some great tips we found at, a non-profit that serves people looking for information regarding healthy living, childhood and family issues, as well as mental and emotional health.

  1. Set aside your anger and hurt feelings. The best way to do this is focus on your children – remember that your child’s best interests are the most important.  You should also make sure you are not using your child as a messenger or talking negatively about your ex.
  2. Be peaceful, consistent and purposeful when communicating. Before you contact an ex, think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. suggests setting a business-like tone, making requests (“Would you be willing to…?”), listening, showing restraint, talking consistently and keeping your conversation child-focused.  If you are interested in rebuilding a relationship (not necessarily a romantic one), keep three things in mind: relax, apologize sincerely when you feel badly about something, and ask for your ex’s opinion.  Keep topics simple (do not ask his or her opinion with a topic on which you know you disagree), and make sure you are ready for a relationship.
  3. Parent as a team. The real key to this is consistency. Parenting styles don’t have to be exactly the same, but it won’t work if one parent is trying to undermine the other.  Make sure you have general rules (you don’t need the exact same rules at both homes) so your child knows what to expect going between parents and there isn’t a radical change.  Another idea to keep in mind is making sure you and your ex are disciplining similarly. If your child loses dessert privileges at one house, make sure your ex carries the punishment over to their house.  The same goes for rewarding good behavior! Lastly, children need schedules.  Make sure dinner, bed and homework times are the same at each house so the child feels like they aren’t being disrupted. Important issues need to be talked about and agreed upon by both parents.  These topics include medical care, education and financial decisions. If you have disagreements, try to be respectful, keep talking (not arguing) and be prepared to compromise.
  4. Make transitions easier for your child. Separation or divorce can be very hard on a child. There are two specific times to make sure your child is comfortable: when your child leaves and when they return. During these times, do not exchange more than pleasantries with your ex, you are only there for your child at that time.When your time with your child is coming to an end, remind them they will be going to see their other parent (this should be a day or two ahead of time) so they are prepared. Make sure your child’s things are packed so they don’t forget anything they will miss (a special toy or stuffed animal, for example). Finally, always drop off your child – do not “pick them up.” If you go to the other parent’s home to get your child, you might interrupt a special bonding moment between your child and ex. Make sure there is an agreed upon drop-off time (5 p.m. or ‘after dinner’) so you don’t worry and your ex gets all of their time with the child.When your child is coming home, keep things relaxed and low-key – for example, you can read a book together or talk about their time away. It’s important to allow them some space to transition.  Make sure there are two sets of necessities like toothbrushes – one for each house – so the child isn’t worried about unpacking. Have a routine for their return, such as a special dinner or game night.Something many parents deal with (and worry about) when going through a separation or divorce is “visitation refusal.”  This is when a child doesn’t want to leave one household to go to the other. Something important to keep in mind is that this is common!   Find the cause, go with the flow and have a respectful conversation with your ex about the problem. And remember: most visitation refusals are temporary!

Listen to our recent radio show on Co-Parenting and download a Fact Sheet on our Parent Resource Center here, or visit these other useful links:

YOUR TURN: Have you and your ex found creative ways to make co-parenting work? Please share with us in the comments section below!