Co-Parenting While Living Together:
The typical vision we have of co-parenting after being separated or divorced is of two parents living in separate homes and sharing the responsibility of raising their children. While most separating parents follow this traditional path, there are other options that are less familiar to most people. One such living arrangement is referred to as either nesting or bird nesting. In this arrangement, the children remain in the family home while the parents take turns living in the home and assuming primary responsibility for the children.
Another alternative is co-parenting while living together, sometimes referred to as a “parenting marriage”. This is where both parents remain in the family home with the children following the symbolic or legal end of their relationship or marriage. The remainder of this article will detail the specifics of this unique co-parenting plan and strategies for how to make it work.
Co-Parenting while separated but living together
Choosing to continue living in the same house once a marriage or relationship with children is over is a decision that needs to be made thoughtfully. It is fraught with complications but also offers many benefits, and these pros and cons must be carefully considered before choosing this as a co-parenting option.
There are many reasons why parents might explore this as an option once they have decided that their relationship is over. These include financial issues (they can’t afford two homes), religious beliefs (they do not believe legally divorcing is an option), or practical concerns (their schedules will not allow for arranging appropriate child-care options). However, most parents who choose this arrangement do so out of concern for their children’s mental health. They believe that continuing to live under one roof as a family unit will reduce the negative emotions that a divorce can cause, and they are putting their children’s needs as the top priority.
There are some obvious benefits to co-parenting while living together after a relationship with children is over. These include:
- Children not having to transition between two homes
- Parents being able to see their children daily
- Maintaining more stability in the children’s lives
- Not having to sell the family home
- Allowing more time to develop a long-term plan
However, there are also some very clear risks that co-parenting under the same roof can pose. These include:
- Children continuing to be exposed to parental conflict
- Confusion for the children regarding whether their parents are still “together” or not
- Parental intrusion into each other’s lives
- Difficulty processing the loss and moving on from it
Navigating Co-Parenting in Shared Living
To experience the benefits and minimize the risks of co-parenting while living together, numerous ground rules must be followed. This will allow for shared parenting while staying in the same home to enrich family life, rather than to continue the negative patterns that resulted in the relationship ending in the first place. The parents need to be honest with themselves regarding whether they can make that happen. This transformation is going to involve re-defining the relationship between the separating parents and creating new job descriptions for each of them. The ground rules are as follows:
**Prior to agreeing on co-parenting and living together, the parents need to have an honest and open conversation about what this will entail, what each of their expectations are, and how it will practically play out on a day-to-day basis for every family member. They will need to restructure their relationship in significant ways and they both need to agree to the details of what that will look like. They both need to agree to move past their prior issues with each other and treat each other with mutual respect if this arrangement has any chance of being successful. .
**It is essential that children be given an age-appropriate explanation of the new parenting arrangement. This must include the fact that things have changed and that the parents are no longer in the same type of relationship (i.e., marriage) but rather are separated but living together. As a result, they will no longer be doing everything together as a family unit. This will allow them to start letting go of hopes for reconciliation and fantasies that they will remain the same kind of family that they were before, and start to develop a realistic set of expectations regarding this new family arrangement.
**A very specific written contract should be developed and committed to by both parents. Some of the details that need to be addressed in this contract include:
- a specific parenting schedule which details when each parent will be responsible for caring for the children
- specific areas of responsibility that each parent will commit to, both within the home and with the children
- details regarding how they are going to manage their finances in this new arrangement
- an agreement regarding how each parent will be able to maintain their own personal space when not responsible for the children and how to ensure that space will be respected both by the other parent and the children
- a plan regarding how each parent can independently move forward in their social life, including discreetly and respectfully starting to date again
- establishing expectations regarding house rules, discipline, and general expectations while respecting each of their unique parenting styles
** Both parents need to commit to how they are going to communicate with each other. At a minimum, all communication must be honest, open, respectful, and transparent for this arrangement to work. Even though they are co-parenting and living together, it can still be very helpful to utilize a co-parenting app such as Our Family Wizard or Cozi. This allows for all communication regarding the children to be in one place and provides useful documentation should misunderstandings arise.
**It is inevitable that arguments and disagreements will arise, so it is essential that the parents agree on strategies for resolving conflict when it does occur. They CANNOT allow the conflict to be a constant part of their children’s lives since this will inevitably result in significant emotional harm. They must commit to dealing with their conflict away from their children in a respectful way. If they can’t resolve issues on their own, they can agree to seeking out professional help from a therapist, mediator, attorney, or parenting coordinator.
Co-parenting while separated but living together is not an easy thing to do well. Dr. Ellis, a licensed psychologist and co-parenting expert, has helped many co-parents learn how to foster a harmonious environment, communicate effectively, and share parenting responsibilities while living together as well as within other parenting arrangements. She created Two Healthy Homes to provide parents with a broad range of resources to create their own unique and effective living arrangements and parenting plans following separation or divorce.