Examples of Co-Parenting:
The Three Types of Co-Parenting

Co-parenting is defined as two parents who no longer live together working to raise their children. It does not require that the parents were previously married, but in most cases this parenting relationship is the result of separation or divorce. While it can take many forms, with many different parenting plans, the goal is to create a relationship where both parents are playing an active role in many, if not all, aspects of their children’s lives.

What are the 3 Types of Co-Parenting

Rather than simply define the 3 different types of co-parenting, I am going to provide examples of how they each play out in different family situations.

Family #1: Bob and Kathy have been married for 10 years and have two children ages 9 and 7. Their marriage was marked by a great deal of fighting that they each played a role in starting and escalating. Neither was willing to take responsibility for their role nor were they willing to do much to make things better. They both felt the other was to blame for the problems and each finally gave up on their marriage. As they both engaged attorneys, they shared the desire to find the most cut-throat lawyers possible with the goal of destroying the other in court. The children were constantly put in the middle of their conflicts and were struggling as a result. The parents had little insight into how their behavior was negatively impacting the children and continued to engage in the emotionally damaging high conflict behavior as they attempted to raise them in separate homes.

Family #2: Debbie and Peter have been married for 6 years and have a 5-year-old daughter. Their relationship started as an amazing whirlwind with Debbie being the most charismatic and outgoing person Peter had every met. Once they got engaged,
Debbie started to slowly become more demeaning, controlling, and abusive. She didn’t seem to care how this made Peter feel or how their conflict affected their daughter. They had become totally unable to work together to raise her and Debbie didn’t seem to care. When Peter finally had enough, he filed for divorce. He had no idea how they could possibly work together to co-parent their daughter given their inability to communicate or even be in the same room without things escalating. They agreed to develop a parenting plan where each of them had their own areas of parental responsibility (he was in charge of school issues, and she was responsible for medical issues), they would take turns attending school/sports events so they didn’t need to be there at the same time, and they only communicated via a parenting app.

Family. #3: John and Fran have been living together for 7 years and have two children 4 and 6. They slowly started to grow apart and no longer felt that their needs were being met in their relationship. They decided to separate but continued to remain committed to working together to raise their two children. While they had a lot of areas of conflict and many different ideas about how to parent, they were willing to try to find a negotiated compromise on many issues to provide consistency between the children’s two homes and parenting styles. They worked hard to keep the children out of the middle of their conflicts and to communicate with each other with a basic level of respect.

Exploring Co-Parenting Approaches

Now that you have seen examples of 3 very different types of co-parenting, let’s explore how they differ and the very different outcomes for children that result from each of them.

Bob and Kathy in Family #1 are an example of conflicted co-parenting. Their parenting relationship is marked by constant conflict, an inability to protect the children from that conflict, and little insight into how it is negatively impacting their children. They both want to play an active role in their children’s lives but are unable put their differences aside to work together as a cooperative co-parenting team.

Impact of Conflicted Co-Parenting on Children: This type of co-parenting is the most detrimental for children since they will be constantly bombarded by their parent’s conflictual behavior. Given that the level of conflict between divorced or separated parents is the greatest predictor of children’s adjustment, this type of co-parenting will clearly result in the most significant amount of emotional damage for the children involved of the three examples of co-parenting.

Debbie and Peter in Family #2 are an example of parallel co-parenting. Given that they are unable to engage in healthy co-parenting, but both want to remain actively involved in their children’s lives, they agree to split parental responsibilities so that they will have minimal contact with the other parent. They also know that they struggle to communicate with each other in a respectful so agree to only do so when necessary and via an impersonal co-parenting app that reduces the chance of escalating conflict.

Impact of Parallel Co-Parenting on Children: This type of co-parenting is somewhat less damaging for the children since they will ideally not be constantly exposed to parental conflict. However, there will be little if any consistency between the two parenting styles that the children are exposed to in their two homes. Each parent can raise their children as they see fit when they are at their home, with little or no interference from the other. This may result in one parent engaging in a very permissive parenting style while the other is utilizing an authoritarian or uninvolved parenting style. This can be extremely confusing for the children and can cause them a great deal of distress. It will also result in resentment toward the authoritarian parent given that the children will see how much more positive things are at their other home.

John and Fran in Family #3 are an example of cooperative co-parenting. This type of co-parenting involves parents working together collaboratively to raise their children. While they are no longer best friends, they have figured out how to create a business partnership where the business at hand is raising their children. They work to communicate respectfully, don’t use their children as pawns in their conflict, and put their children’s needs above their own relationship issues.

Impact of Cooperative Co-Parenting on Children: Of the different types of co-parenting, this is clearly the one that is the most protective of children’s emotional well-being. The parents work to demonstrate that they are a united team working together on the children’s behalf. This results in them feeling cared for in a consistent and predictable manner and not feeling that they need to choose between their parents. It is also most protective of the parent’s well-being since they are not living in an environment of constant stress, conflict, and tension.

Two Healthy Homes is devoted to helping parents understand the 3 types of co-parenting and determining which of these different types of co-parenting is most appropriate for their unique family situation. Dr. Ellis, a licensed psychologist with over 30 years of experience in family counseling and co-parenting, will help you sort through these options and walk you through the process of creating the co-parenting arrangement that best meets your needs and protects your children.