Co-pilots, co-captains, co-parents? What do we mean by co-parenting? And what defines an effective co-parenting relationship?

Recently, I’ve been hearing the term “parallel parenting” to describe something different from co-parenting. Sometimes I sense that co-parenting has something to do with “liking each other” or “getting along” … coordinating easily …like friends. And if those ingredients aren’t present, parents aren’t or can’t co-parent.

From my point of view, strong co-parenting is defined by your ability to work together for some very specific outcomes and by the quality of that working relationship in the service of helping your amazing child grow-up healthily and positively.

Let’s be more specific. Strong co-parents are able to:

  • Solve child-related problems such as health care, behavioral/emotional, school, and peer relationships, effectively to support their child’s healthy progression in a positive atmosphere,
  • Provide experiences in each and both homes that provide an apprenticeship for the eventual launch into young adulthood — including how to move from a teaching parent to a trusting parent…allowing your child to test his/her own wings!
  • Plan for your child’s immediate and longer-term future — and follow-through on those plans so that his/her activities, academics, social and emotional worlds are adequately attended to and supported,
  • Create realistic budgets and maintain a functional way to pay for your child’s needs, resources, and every-day life in each home, and
  • Communicate effectively enough to achieve the above so that your child has an integrated sense of living “one whole life” with two homes and parents who love and care about him/her.

The key ingredients are problem-solving skills, respect for healthy boundaries, basic civility, a focus on the child’s healthy growth and development in a positive atmosphere, and basic financial responsibility. There’s nothing on that list that requires “friendship.”

Parents don’t need to put pressure on themselves or each other to be more connected than they are emotionally capable of or interested in being. Put your energy in finding common ground for your child! Learn to be in the same room long enough to both provide your child with a full heart on a birthday or for graduation, but don’t believe you’re not doing a great job of co-parenting just because you don’t sit next to each other at a band concert.

The more you focus on and succeed at the “business of co-parenting” and keep your eyes on your child, the more you support hearts to heal, stability to return, and positive futures to unfold for everyone.