Parents never cease to amaze me. We will put our children’s well being first at all costs. In the aftermath of divorce, however, this can be an even greater task. To redefine your parental role as a “shared parent” seems to be trend, however. This is something that I have recently being witnessing first hand within my counseling practice. How are parents accomplishing this? What exactly is “shared parenting”?
In 2014, the First International Conference on Shared Parenting was organized by the International Council on Shared Parenting. The ICSP is a scholarly group whose aim is to develop research based approaches to co-parenting post divorce. They define “shared parenting” as “the assumption of shared responsibilities and presumption of shared rights in regard to the parent of children by mothers and fathers who are living together and apart.” Some of the conclusions this group has reached are ground breaking. For instance, there is consensus that shared parenting is a viable arrangement that is optimal to child development and well-being even in the cases of high conflict divorces.
But a professional counseling degree or scholarly title is not needed to see the benefits to children when it comes to effective “shared parenting.” When parents develop a working relationship post divorce, children are more likely to feel secure and have a quicker adjustment to the new family structure. These fortunate children have healthy examples to follow. They know what to expect and, consequently, experience less anxiety. In addition, children who witness their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively problem solve.
Even in the light of this trend, parents will still face obstacles and challenges to co-parenting. So what are some basic things parents can commit to cooperate on?
Rules: Generally consistent rules between households can improve children’s behavior and decrease conflict. While it may not be possible for all rules to be the same in both households, rules pertaining to curfew, school work, social media, and off limit activities should be consistent.
Discipline: Similar consequences and rewards for behavior should be established. If a child is restricted from an activity as a consequence, both houses should respect this limit.
Schedules: Keeping general schedules uniform can aid a child’s adjustment to separate houses. For example, meals, bedtime, and homework time should be similar.
Transitions: Packing in advance and having necessity items at each house can ease transitions. Sticking to a predictable transition schedule is helpful when possible. For younger children, it may be helpful to have a visible calendar at both homes where the child and see which days they will be at which home.
As a “shared parent,” there are several ways to redefine your new role. A partnership does not have to mean a friendship and putting grievances aside is easier said than done. But parents can agree to put their children first. They can attend workshops or classes, post divorce counseling, or reach out to a child therapist. They can involve other caregivers such as extended family in their co-parenting agreement. And, when one parent does not want to participate in the “shared parenting” process, there are still positive gains that can be made by one parent. Even when a marriage has ended, a new and healthy family structure can be recreated. I have seen it first hand and I know that it is possible.
Shelley Coleman M.A., L.P.C.-S.
Shelley Coleman is a Licensed Professional Counselor and parent. She is in private practice in Lakeway where she provides play therapy, child and adolescent counseling, family therapy, group therapy, and parent education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org