Co-Parenting Often Means Making the Relationship A Priority

E! News host Giuliana Rancic has found herself in the middle of a controversy over a comment she recently made about marriage and parenthood.  Rancic said she and her husband Bill put their relationship first and their son Duke second ‘because the best thing we can do for him is have a strong marriage’ but she has now clarified her comments.  She explained to E! News: ‘Bill and I understand that my comments have sparked some debate and feel it is a good thing to open the conversation about how to find a balance between your marriage and your children. Your relationship is the first example your child learns from and we will do everything we can to show our child how much we love, respect and are devoted to one another. He can only benefit from this, and hopefully it will carry over into his other relationships throughout his life.’

As you can imagine, blogs, television and twitter are on fire discussing Rancic’s comments. It seems most commentators do not believe Rancic meant to say she loves her son less than her husband, but rather she was stating that it is important to make the marriage relationship a priority – not necessarily the priority – because a strong marriage is important for the child.

With divorce rates being as high as they are, one must wonder whether it would drop if people placed a greater priority on their marriages.  Maybe, maybe not; some marriages – despite hard work by both spouses – just cannot be saved.  Even when a marriage cannot be saved, if spouses respect each other enough during the marriage to communicate with each other and if they work on their relationship with each other as parents, their divorce proceeding may not be a devastating one filled with conflict.  Also, they may be more likely to succeed at co-parenting, which is at the heart of helping children transition through their parents’ divorce.

Even with best laid plans, marriages end.  The irony is that often a factor in a marriage ending is that the spouses disagree on parenting issues; but upon divorce, the law demands co-parenting, which  requires the parents to reach agreements with each other.  Co-parenting is a monumental shift for many people, so here are some tips on how to approach it during a divorce and even during an intact marriage.

  1. Communicate.  Communication is the key to co-parenting.   Often people need to learn how to communicate with each other in a positive yet businesslike manner concerning the children.  Parents should ideally share information with each other about the children including their progress in school, medical issues, and anything affecting the children’s welfare.  Reaching agreement on these issues is often much easier when there is full and honest communication between the parents.
  2. Be Flexible.  For many people, a custodial schedule defining where the children physically spend their time is important.  But life happens, meaning the unexpected occurs as parents face changing work demands and children’s needs or schedules change.  If this occurs, consider being flexible with the custodial schedule – swapping days and allowing for make-up days.
  3. Do Not Micromanage.  If both parents can develop a level of trust in each other (admittedly a very difficult thing to do in the face of a divorce or the end of a relationship), then they can reduce resentments by having less inclination to micromanage what takes place in each other’s home.  There is a difference between bad parenting and just different parenting styles.  Differing parenting styles are not necessarily bad, but the more that parents can collaborate to create consistency between the parenting styles in their separate homes without imposing rigid requirements on each other, the less likely the children will view one home as “better” or “more fun” than the other. The result will be more harmony and less conflict in the co-parenting arrangement.

There are many, many ways to increase success at co-parenting. Each family’s situation and chance of success is different, but one thing that always is the same is that it takes willingness and work by each parent to make the arrangement succeed.  This means that even after divorce, the parenting relationship must remain a priority for the sake of the children.  Really, this thought is not much different than what Giuliana Rancic was criticized for stating about an intact marriage.  Working with a skilled co-parenting therapist can be the key to success, but regardless of how parents approach co-parenting, both parents must remember to do what is in the best interest of the children. When they view their actions and decisions in that light, it will increase the chance of co-parenting success.