The meaning of word “co-parent” is elusive enough, but when you qualify it with “good,” it’s nearly undefinable. I liken it to the polarization we are now experiencing in our current political environment. Is there anyone in the middle these days? That’s how it feels to work with co-parents in conflict. Their ideas of how co-parenting should be done, what the best interests of the children means, and who will be at fault if their children fail, are polar opposites. If you think of the citizens of our country like the children, and Democrats and Republicans like mom and dad, you might understand how many of us want to leave home and go live with Grandma! Consider that is how it might feel to the children who are caught in the crossfire of their co-parents. In my 20 years of doing this work, I have developed five characteristics I look for to determine which co-parent I can trust to be the rock and stability for the children.
A GOOD CO-PARENT…
- Respects the other parent’s role. The other parent is more than a babysitter, but is part of your child’s identity and should be treated as such. That can be done without much communication between parents. It is done by refraining from saying negative things (verbal or non-verbal) to your child about the other parent. It is accomplished by following the court order not only in honoring parenting times, but also in providing information that if you were on the other side, you would want about your child. You don’t have to like a person’s character to show respect for their role and what it means to the children (another current events analogy).
- Always has a Plan B. When co-parenting, plan A is either following the parenting plan as written or negotiating an alternative. However, some people are difficult to negotiate with, so feel free to ask for flexibility outside of the plan, but always know what you will do if the other parent refuses to negotiate. If your co-parent is so rigid he/she refuses to accommodate a request, ask yourself how you can meet your child’s needs anyway. Maybe that missed friend’s birthday party the other parent refused to take your child to can be remedied by having a private one on another day at your home with your child’s friend. There is always a plan B if all you care about is providing normalcy for your children.
- Listens to the children. Listening does not mean accommodating their every need. It just means that you not only hear their voices, but you are able to tell them exactly what they just said to you and respond like you care, no matter the circumstances. They should have a voice, even if they don’t have a choice in the final decision. Isn’t that what we are all fighting for?
- Doesn’t use the court to resolve conflicts. The court is only equipped to write you a new parenting plan, but it never has the power (outside of sending someone to jail) to make a parent do anything he/she is not willing to do. You can’t force responsibility. Even when people go to jail, they often get out and repeat the very behavior that got them there. Co-parents are no different. Follow steps 1-3 above as the remedy for conflict, and your children will likely be just fine, regardless of who has custody of them.
- Responds with positive personal values. Most people can’t live very long acting outside of their own values. If multiple people in your life seem to have trouble with you, then you might have a problem that requires some therapy. However, if your co-parent seems to be the only one in the world who causes you to do or say things out of character for you, chances are you are dying a slow death. The kind of stress borne of inner-conflict will take years off of your life. Stop allowing the other parent to have so much power over you. Follow steps 1-4 so you can be you – the one you actually want your kids to emulate!