Local parents share the pros and cons of co-parenting
Co-parenting isn't easy, but many modern couples who separate or divorce agree that it is the best option for their children. Co-parenting is rolled out in an infinite number of different ways, but the core of it includes parents working together despite their differences and / or hard feelings to provide their kids with two stable, consistent and interconnected homes.
This means that parents have to communicate with each other often and continue to troubleshoot and problem solve issues regarding their children. For some, it is very difficult to put aside relationship issues to co-parent. Plus, for some couples, communication was a problem during the marriage, so why would it be any different after they are divorced?
"My ex and I actually communicate better now that we don't live together anymore. We just couldn't do the 'day in and day out' together but now that we have our own space, we are friends again and we are able to talk calmly and rationally about our kids," says June Fisher.
Fisher and her husband, Michael, divorced two years ago after a 10-year marriage. They have two children, ages 6 and 9, and they trade off parenting every three days. June says they tried different combinations, including a "five-days on / five-days off" and an every-other-night schedule but the "three on / three off" works the best for them.
"I start to miss them too much after three days, and every other night was too disruptive for them," says Fisher.
Does Fisher miss the kids when they're with their father?
"Yes. But I would be lying if I said I didn't appreciate the break," she says. "I feel refreshed. I think part-time parenting is manageable. But I know it's not for everyone."
Some co-parents still maintain a nuclear structure for holidays and outings. Fisher says the four of them go out to eat about once a month.
"We are still a family. We just live in two different houses. This is very difficult for some people, like my parents, to understand. Mike and I care about each other, but we are not in love with each other," says June.
June says a significant other was introduced a year ago, and that person is completely on board with the co-parenting structure. "Anyone who is with either of us has to be OK with how we're doing this or it's not going to work out. The kids come first," says Fisher.
The keys to successful co-parenting are really no different from parenting with a spouse. Respect is most important, along with staying kid focused, honesty, never bad mouthing the other parent (but getting feelings out with friends or a therapist), being direct with needs but also being a good listener, being consistent and expressing love and other positive feelings towards the kids.
Stephanie Bennett and her former husband were divorced in January of 2010 and were separated for a few years prior. The couple has two children together, ages 7 and 3. Recently, the four of them went on an overnight water park vacation together. Was it weird?
"Not really. We function exactly the same way we did when we were married which is like two roommates sharing the responsibility of two kids," she says. "The only weird part was when at 11 p.m. after a few drinks we started playing this song for me from his phone by Dave Mason that went something like 'It's just you and me and we just disagree.' I got uncomfortable and changed the subject."
What about the sleeping arrangements?
"I got a room that had a little sleeping cove off to the side that could sleep up to three kids. My ex was the extra kid. He slept on the bottom bunk. I slept in the queen-size bed in the room," says Bennett.
Going to a water park as a familial unit is good for the kids because they get to enjoy both of their parents at once. And more so, it makes sense on a practical level. Bennett says it's difficult – nearly impossible – to be a single parent and take two kids of different ages to a water park.
"I can't go down the rides with my daughter and leave my 3-year-old alone," says Bennett.
Co-parenting takes a lot of thinking ahead. One of the biggest challenges is having kids' items at the right house at the right time. Backpacks or bicycles can often be at the other parent's house during a time of need, causing frustration or disappointment. Having an extra set of everything is ideal, but not always financially feasible. And some items, like textbooks, simply aren't available in duplicates.
Kids who live in two households and endure the separation and / or divorce of their parents experience a struggle, no doubt about it, and they learn at an early age that everything in life changes. However, if co-parenting is done successfully, they learn that even difficult change can be OK.
"I tell my kids everything changes in this life, except my love for them. That remains eternally," says Fisher. "Of course I wish Mike and I could have been happy together. But the fact is, we weren't. And we could have stuck it out for the kids, but they were already on to our unhappiness. They were feeling it. So we are all working on getting happier now."
A great article Molly. I LOVE the fact that in most co-parenting families the kids come first! Thanks for sharing this important issue.
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