What is Conflicted Co-Parenting?

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Co-parenting is not limited to divorce, and of course, every co-parenting relationship is unique. Some parents were never married, some co-parents are same-sex couples, and other co-parenting relationships involve grandparents or other family members. Ultimately, co-parenting is the process of working together to raise children in multiple homes.

In our recent virtual event, Co-Parenting & Coffee, author of Between Two Homes: A Coparenting Handbook, social worker, and CFLE  Bradley Craig discussed three primary frameworks of co-parenting. Watch his entire talk in the video, or keep reading. Of course, you can sign up for his upcoming follow-up talk on September 16th, 2020.

Co-parenting Frameworks

Cooperative Co-Parenting

Firstly, there is cooperative co-parenting. This parenting model is when parents and other family members work together in the best interest of their child. The focus is on cooperation, working together, and communicating, all to benefit the child.
For example, if the child arrives at one parent’s house and expresses concern about time at their other home or with the other parent, the receiving parent will use reflective listening to explore the child’s feelings. They will help the child work through their emotions, and they will communicate with their co-parent afterward, or if there is anything the other parent can do to help. There is a discussion that allows both parents to be on the same page and create a space for open communication. A family meeting may even follow in which both parents talk together with the child.

Parallel Co-Parenting

Secondly, there is the technique of parallel co-parenting. In these relationships, parents work independently in the best interest of the child. They work separately, respecting the rules and boundaries that exist between homes.
In this case, if the child comes home and expresses concern about time at their other home or with the other parent, the parent will focus solely on helping the child address and identify their emotions. While they will not bad mouth or insult the other parent, they do not focus at all on the other parent.

Conflicted Co-Parenting

Finally, in a conflicted co-parenting relationship, there is a high degree of conflict and little to no cooperation between parents. In these relationships, one or both parents utilize these situations to disparage the other parent and attempt to align the child often at the expense of the best interest of their child. In this case, if a child came to one household feeling upset with the other parent, the parent is more likely to insult or blame their co-parent for the child’s emotional state and use the information as an ongoing source of conflict.

Co-Parenting Spectrum

Most co-parents will recognize that the first two categories are not cut-and-dry. Families function on a spectrum by taking some elements of a cooperative co-parenting relationship and others from a parallel co-parenting relationship, while protecting children from conflicted coparenting. 
According to Craig, one example of this can be religious choices between co-parents. A child may attend one type of religious service two weeks out of the month, and another with their other parent on the remaining two weekends. While the parents recognize that there are differences between their households, they do not attempt to change or discredit the other parent’s beliefs. However, these same parents may keep a consistent bedtime between homes. This kind of activity makes these two homes, both cooperative and parallel, because while they are presenting shared ideas, they allow the other parent to make their own decisions in their home.

Research on High Conflict

If you have read the previous section and find yourself wondering, ‘Which co-parenting framework is best between cooperative coparenting and parallel coparenting?’, the answer is, that it is the one that works for the family, both parents and their child.
There is evidence that demonstrates that conflicted coparenting is inherently destructive to kids. Professionals tend to see reoccurring chronic stress, continued insecurity, self-blame, a sense of helplessness, fears for physical safety, and a sense of rejection or neglect in homes where parents fight.
The effects of fighting are long-lasting, and adults who were children of conflictive co-parents report lower levels of happiness, higher levels of psychological problems, and may have trouble in relationships.
If parallel parenting allows you and your co-parent to have a respectful relationship and minimize conflict, then that is the right choice for you. Of course, as situations change and your relationships inevitably change, you may find yourself in a more cooperative co-parenting relationship later. 

Are you a High Conflict Co-Parent?

The opposite of love is not hatred; it is neutrality. The ability to keep things business-like and build a professional relationship is an important pillar for healthy co-parenting. However, high conflict co-parents move towards negative intimacy and find joy in disparaging their co-parent or painting them negatively. These parents struggle to separate the previously intimate relationship with their current business relationship as they work together to raise a child.
High conflict co-parents are highly connected and have emotionally-driven relationships. Craig notes
that he can recognize these parents based on their difficulty maintaining healthy boundaries, their pattern of remaining stuck in blame rather than seeking solutions, their focus on the adults (not the children), and their high degree of distress and anger towards the other parent or members of the other household.

Moving Past Conflict

As we have stated in our previous blog on High Conflict Co-parenting, conflict isn’t necessarily bad. We have minor conflicts all the time, such as deciding which movie to watch on a Friday. Having these negotiations in front of kids helps teach them problem-solving skills and to understand the negotiations that occur in daily life.
Consider how you and your co-parent can move past your history and stay focus on raising your child. You need to be able to build a new coparenting alliance and professional relationship that allows you to reduce conflict. If it is not possible to create shared spaces or open lines of communication, having other family members or professionals who work with you to ease negotiations and conversations.
Constant and highly combative conflict diminishes parents as the protector and can complicate the child’s identity.

Avoiding Conflictive Co-Parenting

Ultimately, says Craig, cooperative coparenting takes two and only you can control your actions or words. However, you can learn new techniques and change yourself which in the long run will likely reduce unhealthy conflict. Here are some ideas from Craig that have worked in his experience:
- Take a deep breath and take time before you respond. If it is in writing, put it in a draft before you hit send.
- Learn to disengage. Don’t get on the dance floor with them or play into their arguments. By
disengaging, you are giving yourself more power by controlling your reaction.
- Use “I Feel” statements. Rephrase any statements that may come off as defensive or aggressive by stating your emotions first.
- Challenge your own cognitions and assumptions. Ask yourself, ‘How do I know this to be true?
How does this actually affect me?”
- Utilize tools from mental health professionals, read books on coparenting and conflict disengagement, take classes, and explore other research done by experts. Explore local or online resources to learn from parenting coordinators, parenting facilitators, mediators, and mental health professionals who help families reduce conflict.

TalkingParents blogs are for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Always consult with a qualified attorney regarding legal matters.

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