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Positive Coparenting Strategies
By Shannon Cromwell, Extension Associate Professor
Coparenting, sometimes called shared parenting, occurs when parents cooperate with each other following a separation or divorce. Coparenting requires both parents to be involved in decisions concerning their children, including education, health care, religion, and social activities. Coparenting includes taking care of children’s physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, and social needs (Beckmeyer et al., 2014; Bonach, 2005). One of the strongest predictors of children’s well-being following a divorce is how well parents are able to coparent. Supportive coparenting is related to better school grades and higher self-esteem in children, and helps children deal with the changes happening following a divorce (Ganong et al., 2011; Ganong et al., 2012; Jamison et al., 2014; Papernow, 2014).
Coparenting is important for children’s well-being but can be challenging. By understanding supportive vs. non-supportive coparenting strategies, as well as tips for effectively resolving conflicts, parents can develop a healthy coparenting relationship.
Supportive vs. Non-supportive Coparenting
Supportive coparenting includes respect, forgiveness about the past, and compromise. Receiving the same message from both parents benefits children’s well-being and increases their chances of handling difficult situations if their parents have a supportive relationship (Beckmeyer et al., 2014; Ganong et al., 2011). Positive coparenting practices include:
- Doing what is in the best interest of the child when handling decisions
- Respecting the other parent’s right to participate in parenting practices
- Agreeing on some basic rules for raising their children
- Letting go of feelings of anger and resentment
- Parenting in a loving, warm manner
Non-supportive coparenting occurs when parents do not effectively work together concerning parenting issues. Children may feel guilty, stressed, and anxious when they see their parents arguing over issues related to them. Some topics that may create conflict between parents include:
- Religious values
- Medical issues
- Educational issues
- Recreational activities
Resolving Conflicts Effectively
Coparental conflicts can have a negative effect on children’s behavioral and psychological outcomes and can be hurtful for children (Ganong et al., 2012; Ganong & Coleman, 2017; Jamison et al., 2014). When conflicts are solved in an effective manner, children are less likely to feel upset and caught in the middle. Strategies for resolving conflicts effectively include:
- Using clear, non-defensive communication
Use ‘I’ statements when talking about your feelings. By beginning sentences with ‘I’ instead of ‘You’, the other person is less likely to become defensive.
- Listening patiently
Focus on what the other person is saying and wait until they are finished talking before responding.
- Respecting the other person’s opinion
Think about the other person’s point of view and try to understand their perspective.
- Staying calm
Take deep breaths and try to stay calm during a disagreement. If you become upset, take a break until you have calmed down.
- Avoiding criticism
Avoid finding fault with the other person’s thoughts and ideas. Focus on what you want to change.
Coparenting can be difficult but is important for children’s well-being (Ganong et al., 2011; Papernow, 2014) and helps children understand they have a home with both parents. Additionally, positive coparenting practices reassure children that both parents want what is best for them and allows children to develop meaningful relationships with both parents. By working cooperatively and being involved in important decisions, parents provide children with feelings of love and support, while lowering feelings of guilt and reducing the chance that children will be caught in the middle of disagreements.
- Beckmeyer, J. J., Coleman, M., & Ganong, L. H. (2014). Postdivorce coparenting typologies and children’s adjustment. Family Relations, 63, 526-537.
- Bonach, K. (2005). Factors contributing to quality coparenting. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 43(3-4), 79-103.
- Ganong, L., & Coleman, M. (2017). Stepfamily relationships: Development, dynamics, and interventions (2nd ed.). Springer.
- Ganong, L. H., Coleman, M., Feistman, R., Jamison, T., & Markham, M. (2012).
- Communication technology and postdivorce coparenting. Family Relations, 61, 397-409.
- Ganong, L. H., Coleman, M., Markham, M., & Rothrauff, T. (2011). Predicting postdivorce coparental communication. Journal of Divorce and Remarriage, 52(1), 1-18.
- Jamison, T. B., Coleman, M., Ganong, L. H., & Feistman, R. E. (2014). Transitioning to postdivorce family life: A grounded theory investigation of resilience in coparenting. Family Relations, 63, 411-423.
- Papernow, P. L. (2013). Surviving and thriving in stepfamily relationships: What works and what doesn’t. Routledge.