What are Co-Parents?

Mary McMahon

Co-parents are people who work cooperatively together to raise a child, with everyone actively involved in the raising of the child. Classically, people use the term “co-parents” to describe a divorced couple parenting their biological child, but co-parents do not necessarily need to be genetically related to the child, nor do they need to live in separate households. Furthermore, more than two people can be involved in co-parenting: for example, a couple might divorce and one of the partners might remarry, creating three co-parents, two of whom live together and one of whom has no genetic connection to the child.

Co-parents work together to raise a child.
Co-parents work together to raise a child.

In traditional family dynamics, parents are already actively engaged in the raising of a child, making decisions together and working to keep their parenting consistent for the child. Some variations on the familiar mother and father version of parenting include families with adopted children who retain relationships with birth mothers, along with same-sex couples who co-parent, and platonic couples who have decided to raise a child together as friends. In all of these cases, the co-parents must work together to set rules, boundaries, and expectations, to talk about how they want to raise the child and what their goals are.

Same-sex couples can be co-parents of children.
Same-sex couples can be co-parents of children.

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In the sense of divorce, co-parenting can get complicated, because the parents may not have an amicable relationship with each other, and this can make it hard to co-parent. However, numerous studies suggest that in cases where couples share custody of a child, consistent co-parenting is extremely important, and that the child benefits from having parents who are involved and cooperative. In fact, in some regions, parents must submit a co-parenting agreement as part of their divorce proceedings, illustrating that they are willing to work together to raise the child, even if they are angry at each other.

For divorced couples, it is sometimes necessary to work with a mediator, especially in the beginning, to talk about parenting issues. It can help parents to remember that their children are extremely important, and that while they may disagree with each other, they probably share the common goal of wanting their children to be healthy, happy, and well-adjusted. Co-parenting plans should include specific rules which are mutually agreed upon, ranging from how the child will be disciplined to when the child should go to bed, and the parents should keep the lines of communication clear so that they can make adjustments to the rules over time to deal with emerging situations, like a child who is growing up, or a new spouse.

Committing to co-parenting can be stressful, especially when co-parenting relationships start to get more complex, as in the case of blended families, in which two divorced people with children get married, requiring a reworking of the rules which includes the married couple, their ex-spouses, and the children. The advantage to co-parenting is that it tends to result in children who have a better chance of success, and many parents feel that this is worth the stress of negotiating rules with their parenting partners.

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