By Christine Rushford, MS, LMHC, LLC
We often hear the term co-parent as it relates to couples who are divorcing and attempting a “new normal” when it comes to raising their children in the aftermath. Many times, I will have couples come to my office for therapy who happen to be parents. As they discuss their marital issues, it starts to become clear that they have a difference in parenting that is contributing to their day-to-day unhappiness. This is when I introduce the concept of co-parenting with your partner to bring peace to your home.
Co-parenting is simply sharing the duties of raising a child. If you and the person you are sharing that responsibility with continuously disagree about how that should be done, it is time to sit down and determine the mission for your family. Before you decide what your child’s behavior should look like, the first step is to determine the following: What are the big picture values in your family? What do you want your family to look like long term? Maybe one of the values in your family is “being kind.” If being kind is important, then your expected behaviors will be shaped around that value (including the adults in the family). If we used the example of “being kind” as our family mission, the behavior expectations would look something like this: “In our family we don’t hit, because it is not kind. In our family, if we scream at each other, we make amends, because screaming isn’t kind.” Both parents would spend time discussing the important long-term values desired for the family. Most parents are capable of agreeing on broad family values much easier than the day-to-day behavior expectations and consequences. The mission statement for your family is a common ground for co-parents to work from in shaping that day to day life. All behavior expectations should support the mission of your family. Many families have multiple values that make up their mission statement and that’s okay too.
Once the co-parents have sat and discussed their mission statement, behaviors and consequences tied to those values, they are ready to sit down with the kids and present the concept of a Family Mission Statement. Make the Family Mission Statement creation day a fun, family event. Bring out a big piece of paper, crayons or markers to document your statement. Everyone is included and gets to contribute, but the parents have already sat prior to the family event and agreed on their own important values to contribute. It’s important for the kids to see that co-parents are a united front who have the same expectations of them. It’s also important to allow the children to contribute their ideas of what should be included in the family mission statement. By creating this framework as a family, it is more likely that the children will buy into these values and adapt their behavior (although not always) to the family mission.
Note: Your co-parent isn’t always a spouse or ex. Sometimes the co-parents in the family are a grandparent, a regular sitter or a close family friend. Whoever is helping day-to-day to raise your child, is the person to sit down and first begin crafting your mission statement. Once the mission statement is complete, all parenting conflicts can be resolved by asking the question, “Does this support our Family Mission Statement?” Decisions are then made based on a predetermined guideline that everyone has agreed to, rather than an in-the-moment emotion. The result will be peace with your co-parent.
Christine Rushford is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, with a focus on working with children, adolescents, parents and couples at Coastal Counseling in Destin. For more info, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 850.420.2640.