Co-parenting? I don’t think so

by Carolyn on June 29, 2009

My son Nolan and I

My son Nolan and I

Co-parenting is all the rage for divorced parents.  With Bruce Willis and Demi Moore as it’s poster children; it calls for parents to work together in the same manner they would had they remained married with respect to their parenting roles.  And as difficult as it must be, the experts are unanimous in their agreement that this is what’s healthiest for children of divorce.

And indeed it must be difficult.  Because true co-parenting is a completely selfless act.  One must communicate positively with their ex partner on an in depth and regular basis with regards to their children.  And success requires one to put all of their hurt, anger, sadness and pretense aside for the sake of it’s cause. It is a test of strength.  Because if a couple’s communication was all that effective to begin with, chances are they would be parenting as opposed to co-parenting.

And although most divorced parents consider themselves to be co-parenting, I would venture to say that they are wrong.  It might start out that way depending on how old the child or children were when the divorce occurred.  But all too soon divorced parent’s conversations boil down to one subject and manner of speaking.  Putting on a civil face and cordially discussing visitation details.  And that’s not co-parenting.

I think of all the things I do for my children as their mother.  Not just feeding, dressing, bathing and ensuring their safety, although those roles are essential.  I’m referring to all the times that I serve as their ‘representation’.  When I notice my son has an interest in something and talk to my husband about putting him in an organized activity.  Or explaining to my husband that our son expressed being really hurt when he didn’t follow through with something.  Resolving issues and improving their lives by discussing things with my partner that my children aren’t mature enough to bring up for themselves.  That’s co-parenting.

I met a woman last weekend who was telling me about her nine year old stepson.  He lives with her and her husband and although his mother lives a three hour drive away, he takes the train to see her every other weekend.  I commented how the arrangement must make it very difficult for him to participate in extracurricular activities or spend time with friends.  Her reply was that he had asked this past year to participate in hockey but they didn’t end up registering him.  The reason was because they told him he first needed to call his mom and tell her that he wanted to play hockey and that although it would impinge on his visitation schedule, he wanted to play anyway.  He never made the phone call.

I could see this woman’s side of it.  Wanting her stepson’s mother to know that hockey was his own choice and not some evil plot by her and her husband to limit the boy’s visits.  But I saw his side better.  And asking a child, especially a child of divorce, to put their own needs above a parent’s and then be brave enough to articulate that to said parent….well you might as well point him in the direction of Mount Everest and say ‘once you’ve climbed THAT you can play hockey’.

That’s not co-parenting.  Co-parenting involves being your child’s voice, their representation to your ex.  It’s not just being civil, it’s being partners.  Maybe that feels too much like being married.  Maybe it’s easier to pawn the job off to the child.  Cowardly placing them in front of you like some shield and charging them with doing your work for you.  Easier sure, but not appropriate.  Not right.  And definitely not co-parenting.


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Grown up child of divorce's guide to making shared custody work —
August 13, 2009 at 2:06 pm

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1 Urchin June 29, 2009 at 11:27 pm

I really like your definition of co-parenting. It’s open. Honest, protective while still allowing the child to grow into their own. I’m betting bio-mom would have wanted the little one to play hockey too. It’s a great sport (biased faux-Canuck that I am) and she would have been able to proudly watch her son stop goals (Luongo fan too) from the opposing team. I don’t know though. I could just be projecting.

I do think that the primary parents (I really hate saying that, but I’m assuming that dad and step-mom are who he spends most of his time with and I don’t know the ‘right’ term) should have talked it over with Mom. Instead of just saying, sure but ask your mom. Talk about it. I dunno. I’m all for open dialogue. But that’s me.

(sorry, I’m rambly again)


2 Carolyn June 30, 2009 at 3:54 pm

Open dialogue between the parents was definitely called for.

I’d bet that you’re right. I think his mom would want him to play, especially if she knew how much he wanted it. Parents almost always want their children to be able to do the things they want. But expecting this boy to be brave enough to bring it up himself is asking too much of him. And this happens all too often with children of divorce. Mom doesn’t want to talk to dad any more than absolutely necessary or vice versa, so the task falls to a child. And since the child isn’t mature enough to handle it, the talk never happens. And the child loses. It’s an unfortunate thing.


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