Resolving Co-parenting Challenges
Resolving Co-parenting Challenges

Parents share childrearing responsibilities when they live together. If one parent works late, the other picks children up from school or childcare. If one parent works midnights, the other is home with the children. If a parent is ill, the other parent cares for the children so the other can rest. This list does not scratch the surface of what parents do to care for their kids.

The family structure changes when parents part ways, and among the legal procedures, parents must figure out what their new family structure should look like. This often creates challenges and conflict between parents. Once the legal procedures end, parents usually do better with co-parenting because they can focus on co-parenting instead of legalities.

As parents transition into a new family structure, it’s crucial to prioritize the needs of children. Consider these questions: How will we share our time and efforts to meet children’s needs? How can we encourage our relationships with our children? How can we work together effectively? How will we handle disagreements about our children? How and when do we transition new partners into our children’s lives?

While challenges and bumps are to be expected, remember that the focus should always be on your children’s needs, not on your past relationship as a couple. The romantic relationship may have ended, but a new co-parenting relationship is beginning. It’s in your hands to make it a positive and effective one.

Knowing When and How to Address Parental Conflicts

Just as you had disagreements as a couple, it’s natural to have differences in co-parenting. However, the dynamics have changed. Living under the same roof provided opportunities to address misunderstandings and conflicts, which are now limited. Therefore, parents must learn the art of open communication to address co-parenting issues effectively. 

When to bring up an issue?

Understanding the stages of conflict is vital. In stage One, the issue is minor and insignificant, more of an annoyance. In stage Two, the problem has more weight and has occurred multiple times. This is the opportune moment to address the conflict. It’s likely to recur if left unattended, potentially escalating the issue. Addressing conflicts at the right time is crucial for a harmonious co-parenting relationship.

Stage 1: If an issue does not have long-term significance to you or your children, or if it is a one time event and not likely to reoccur, it is best to let it go.

Stage 2: If the issue reoccurs, set a time to bring up the issue when children are not present. Carefully choose the right time to bring it up. Parenting exchanges are a precarious time to bring up issues for discussion. Instead, ask the other parent if it is okay if you call after the children are in bed to talk about a concern. Then, set a time to talk.

Stage 3 conflict has a multiplied stacking of issues and interactions between parents that must be unravelled and resolved. This requires the assistance of a professional conflict manager as a third-party neutral to work with them. 

Reducing Defensive Responses

How an issue or concern is presented determines whether parents will reach the stage of dialogue. If you have a parenting concern, knowing when and how to introduce it is crucial. I have coached parents using an approach called the Four What’s.

The effectiveness of delivery is affected by the tone of voice and verbal expressions because 93% of communication is nonverbal, and only 7% is word content. Your expressions and tone of voice significantly affect how your request is received. It is crucial to take the time to plan their approach. Practice stating it in front of a mirror, watching your expressions, and asking yourself, “How would I respond to myself?” Practising aloud allows you to reduce the tension and calmly say what is necessary. It helps to remove the emotions and stay focused. 

The Four What’s

  1. What is your concern? (Suggestion: Use “I” statements and own your concern. “You” statements sound like blame and bring an immediate closed defense.)
  2. What is its effect, and why are you concerned? (Suggestions: “I am concerned that our child might… “I am uncomfortable when…” “Our child is affected if…”)
  3. What are you willing to contribute to resolve it? “I am willing…” “If I could do this, maybe…”)
  4. What are you asking of the other? (“If I could do this, would you consider…” “Let’s talk about what we might…”)

If these suggestions are impractical in resolving conflict, please consider seeing a mediator or conflict manager to help with the problem. If an issue remains unresolved, it can create a compounding conflict effect that is difficult to resolve. Parents sometimes become so frustrated with each other that they lose sight of the original issues that caused the rift.

These suggestions take time and practice. Use the suggestions with low-level conflict with others, such as co-workers or your children. Practice makes perfect.

Your approach statement should take no more than 20 seconds. The first seconds determine whether you will or will not have a discussion, so avoid detail. Deliver your Four What’s respectfully, and be aware of your nonverbal language. Practice to get all the emotion out of your expressions before implementing it.

Expect a defense. It often happens, so don’t panic. Instead, affirm the other by saying, “I understand that…” And then repeat it. You can continue returning to your initial request until a conversation happens. If it doesn’t work, ask if the other parent would please consider it and ask for a call to continue the discussion at a better time.

Parenting Schedules that Work

Make a monthly calendar on an 8×11 piece of paper or download one online and make four copies, two for each parent. Use colored pencils, one color for each parent, to color in work schedules. This helps parents see when they are available to care for children. Look for a pattern for available weekends and weekday overnights during the month to see possible schedules that will work.

Alternating weekends is often most leisurely, but parents should examine weekday overnight parenting, too. If parents come home late or work out of town, it poses limitations for weekly overnights. Shift work creates multiple challenges, so parents must utilize the available time. These are challenges where parents must be creative to find available times.

The best parenting schedule does not mean it must be equal. The best parenting schedules consider the quality of parenting time and the quantity of time shared between parents. Parents must find a schedule that coincides with work responsibilities and the ages of their children.

Decide two schedules and color in the calendar squares with each parent using one color. If parents see many squares in sequence with one color, it is too long between exchanges. Children will miss the parent they are not with and vice versa. Too much of one color in a monthly schedule can indicate an imbalance. If it is due to work schedule availability, parents must be creative in finding a better balance in sharing time with their children. Too much time with one parent creates overload, and children lose connection with a parent if there isn’t enough time.

Quality of time is also essential, as well as looking for a balance when children are busy with school and activities and time to relax and have fun with your children. Weekly overnights give opportunities to be involved in children’s weekly and daily lives. If adequate time cannot be done monthly, consider increasing parenting during less busy seasons like summer, MEA days, and spring or winter school breaks.

If there are challenges, work together to find solutions. These challenges might be an infant child or a nursing newborn, an active toddler and a parent working straight midnights, or a parent being introduced into a child’s life for the first time, and a transitional parenting schedule is needed.

There are solutions to every challenge, and parents must find what works. This might require some experimentation to find the right solution. Adjust the schedule if needed, give it three months, and make minor adjustments until the plan works. It takes approximately six months for a parenting schedule to work well. 

Sole Parenting Schedules

Sole physical custody requires parents to decide on a reasonable parenting schedule. The percentage of time for sole parenting can be as high as a 40/60 parental split. Possible schedules are two, three-overnight alternating weekends or two, four- overnight alternating weekends. To stay within the sole physical guidelines, they can add four-weekday overnights up to 12 per month. This is a great option to resolve parental conflict over sole and joint physical parenting. 

Joint Parenting Schedules

When circumstances are favorable, joint parenting can be excellent. However, joint parenting can pose significant challenges if the circumstances are not conducive to this arrangement. There are two basic joint parenting schedules to consider. 

Weekly Exchanges

Weekly exchanges have multiple problems. The time between exchanges is often too long. Young children might experience separation anxiety. Parents miss children and vice versa. The schedule is challenging to adjust for holidays, vacations, or necessary adjustments for work. 

Two-two-five-five Parenting

There are different variations to this schedule, but starting with a 2-2-5-5 parenting schedule resolves the problems of weekly parenting. The plan alternates weekdays and weekends, dividing time with children equally. The schedule is easy to follow, consistent, and adaptable to accommodate necessary changes. 

The parenting schedule gives each parent two-weekday overnights consistently the same every week, and parents alternate two five-overnight weekends per month. This gives parents plenty of time to relax on weekends and equal time to share parental responsibility during the school week.

Children spend every Monday and Tuesday with one parent and every Wednesday and Thursday with the other. They alternate extended weekends. It is easy to swap parenting days within the week, preventing lengthy times between exchanges.

The schedule can easily be adjusted to add vacations or if parents’ work schedules change. There are no lengthy periods when children and parents do not see each other, and children adjust better to longer parenting blocks, unlike two overnight weekends or one overnight weekday schedule.

Impact Parent Education has multiple resources for parents, but hopefully,these suggestions will provide parents with a starting point.

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