When two parents (or more if step-parents are involved) are involved in raising a child, they are usually most effective at parenting when working together as a team to raise their child. While this is probably something most parents have heard before, it is often easier said than done. Given the importance of it though, here are a few suggestions to help you and your significant other/child's parent co-parent more effectively.
1) Identify areas where you agree on parenting issues- i.e., types of discipline, rewards for good behavior. Write them down.
2) Identify areas where you disagree, such as rewards for good behavior, tolerating sibling rivalry. Write them down.
3) Discuss why you disagree about each of the areas identified. Often times, parents' own upbringing influences how they parent and their views on issues related to parenting. For instance, parents who had a strict upbringing may try to be extra lenient with their own children and vice versa. Write down why you disagree about specific items.
4) Try to develop a plan for how to respond to misbehavior, reward it, etc. that compromises on different views and one that both parents feel comfortable enforcing. In some cases, the consistency of adhering to the "parenting values" of your spouse and enforcing consequences accordingly, even if you are not in full agreement with them, can greatly facilitate more appropriate behavior on the part of your child. However, this strategy has to be used carefully and is often not appropriate if one parent vehemently disagrees with the consequences that they are enforcing.
Note. These suggestions will vary in their applicability based on whether both parents have joint custody and other factors such as the involvement of the non-custodial parent. These suggestions are more geared towards parents with joint custody and can be modified accordingly for different custody arrangements:
1) The first step in co-parenting when separated/divorced is putting aside your hatred or other ill feelings towards your former spouse for the sake of your child. Presumably you once had positive feelings towards your spouse, so it is important to try to move past those more recent negative feelings to the extent possible, because otherwise harboring those feelings likely will impede your ability to co-parent effectively. I know this is often easier said than done. Parent Coaching, Parent Coordination, and even couples therapy can help assist with this greatly.
2) If possible, try to develop a parenting plan that maintains consistency across both residences. If this is not feasible, at least try to maintain consistency in parenting within your household. For issues that arise outside of the household, it is important to try to agree to how they are handled. Such issues may include: getting into trouble at school, breaking curfew, and drinking. Try to compromise on what consequences will be enforced and have a written plan in place to follow when issues arise.
3) It is very important not to speak ill of your child's other parent or criticize their method of parenting in front of your child. Both of these will likely cause discomfort and conflict in your child's relationship with both parents and undermines both parents' abilities to effectively parent.
4) If step-parents are involved, it is important to determine how involved in parenting decisions they will be. At the minimum, it is recommended that step-parents assist in enforcing pre-set consequences in order to maintain consistency for children/adolescents.
The above-mentioned items are suggestions to assist you in co-parenting more effectively. Obviously each circumstance is different, so these strategies should only be used as a general guide to assist with co-parenting more effectively.
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Dr. Carey Heller is a licensed psychologist with The Heller Psychology Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland. He specializes in work with children, adolescents, and young adults, and is happy to answer questions and provide consultations for individuals who are considering pursuing treatment or an evaluation for their child, adolescent, or themselves. Dr. Heller can be reached at (301)-385-2610 or email@example.com.
*Disclaimer: The previous information is intended as general guidance based on my professional opinion, does not constitute an established professional relationship, and should not replace the recommendations of a psychologist or other licensed professional with whom you initiate or maintain a professional relationship*