From the Coparenting Coach's Desk

COOPERATIVE COPARENTING - HOW DO I GET THERE?

Most parents don't even think about "The Coparenting Relationship" when they are living in the same household sharing the parenting of a child. This shared parenting relationship exists, but it is often so interwoven into the fabric of the couple relationship that it is hard to separate it from all the other ways in which the couple are connected to each other. In fact, many relationships fail because the couple forgets to take care of each other as friends and lovers. Instead, gradually, they relate to each other only as parents. If the couple has not prepared for parenthood by having at least a basic discussion about their potential differences in parenting styles, the stress of children may end up being too much for the relationship to endure

The transition from coparenting under the same roof to coparenting in different homes is complicated. Most people find it challenging to keep their feelings about the failure of their couple relationship out of the discussion of issues dealing only with the child when they first make that transition. You will hear advice like "be cordial" ... "be business-like" ... "be civil." All good advice! But not so easy to do sometimes when the feelings you're carrying around are so intense and unpredictable - hurt, pain, shock, anger, fear, anxiety, and depression.

While your child is learning the skills of successfully going back and forth between Mom's House and Dad's House, you are trying to learn the skills of coparenting with someone you may not trust or like or respect anymore. At the same time, you are trying to put yourself back together and figure out how to function everyday. It is critical that each parent recognize that learning the skills of coparenting is essential to protecting the child. 

Some of those vital coparenting skills include:
(1) scheduling regular coparenting meetings so both parents focus only on the child issues;
(2) defining and sticking to a clear agenda before each coparenting discussion;
(3) establishing and following ground rules for good coparenting communication;
(4) taking a break when either person gets off topic or violates a ground rule; and
(5) holding ALL non-emergency issues for the next scheduled coparenting meeting instead of asking for information immediately! NO texting, emailing, calling between the regularly scheduled face-to-face meetings unless it is an urgent schedule change or illness of the child.

No matter how motivated a parent may be to be a good coparent for the sake of the children, far too often the impulsive verbal or written jab is thrown. Once those words are gone, it's too late to reconsider. Just that quickly, damage is done to a relationship that is already fragile and struggling.

Facilitated coparenting meetings are one of the tools offered at Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House to help parents make the transition to face to face meetings and ordinary child exchanges. A facilitated meeting is conducted by an expert in both child development and family transitions. Each parent completes a list of issues they would like to discuss in the initial meeting. The coparenting facilitator compiles a rank-ordered agenda based on the highest priority issues for the particular family situation and provides that back to each coparent. The facilitator also gives each coparent some basic ground rules that will be followed during the meeting.

Most coparents find that a once a month meeting works well for approximately the first three-six months following the initial family transition. The next step is usually every other month for about six months. Some parents are able to meet on their own fairly early on in a cordial, civil and business-like fashion, with the help of friends, family and professionals.

For those that are concerned about their ability to do that on their own immediately, the facilitated coparenting meeting is a resource available that can help parents avoid any pitfalls and land mines during the first meetings following the transition. Coparenting meetings, phone calls and emails are not the place to try to deal with your unresolved issues and feelings left over from your couple relationship.

If you have unresolved issues six months after the family break-up, it's time to get some help to move on. Start therapy or work thoughtfully with friends and family members who don't automatically endorse you and trash your coparent. Use a journal but definitely not a public blog!

Those adult issues have no place in the middle of a relationship that exists for the sole purpose of providing care for your child so don’t do it. If you can’t hold the boundaries, for the sake of your child, then admit it and let someone else - a neutral person - hold that responsibility for you...at least at the beginning.

Coparenting is a challenge but it does get easier. There really is a set of skills you can master, with time and practice.