What does it mean?
Co-parenting is a term often used to describe a parenting relationship where parents share the burden and benefits of looking after their children and work as a team for the children.
There is no legal definition of co-parenting. It does not mean that the parents spend an equal time with their children.
How did it develop?
In many respects the “co” in “co-parenting” is a product of a change in the way society views the role of a parent.
In 1989 the prevailing law changed with the introduction of the Children Act. We moved from being a society where it was possible to have “custody” over children, to one which had a child-centred approach to these issues. The court had to consider as paramount the best interests of the child. Parental rights were changed to responsibilities.
As time went on, and as family law and societal norms moved away from a gendered approach to parenting (mothers being primary carer and fathers being breadwinners), fathers began to say they wanted to share in the responsibility of parenting their children.
The Fathers4Justice campaigns of men scaling monuments were controversial but shone a spotlight onto this issue.
This was part of a wider conversation that was happening in family law. No longer were school pick-ups and organising playdates the sole preserve of mothers. A more Scandinavian approach seeped through into our culture, as fathers began to ask to spend more time with their children.
Around the same time, employment legislation changed so as to allow the right to be considered for flexible working. Shared parental leave became possible, although the statistics bear out that take up is still relatively low.
As working parents (typically Dads) became more involved in their children’s lives, the idea of a parental “team” started to prevail. The “co” in co-parenting is really a shorthand for cooperative. As we explore in this website, it could equally stand for communication. The parents are working as a team outside of a romantic relationship with a set of shared aims and objectives.
Overall, the connotation is a positive one. When it works well, a co-parenting relationship allows both parents to contribute in their own way to the wellbeing of their children.
It is hard to overstate the positive impact a co-operative relationship can have on children of separated parents, or put another away, the damage that prolonged exposure to parental conflict can have on children.
We will explore on this site how to arrive at that sort of relationship.
What’s the alternative?
Coparenting isn’t for everyone. If you can’t make it work you can consider parallel parenting with the other parent (minimising interaction and parenting as though a single parent) or nesting (moving in and out of the family home). Neither of these are good long term solutions though. Parallel parenting can be hard for the children who find themselves caught in the middle. Nesting is hard for the parents, neither of whom can enjoy their own space.