The Co-Parent Trap: Get It Together for the Children
Coming of age in the 1990s, I rarely saw healthy co-parenting represented in pop culture. In many movies, divorce was the plot, with little about what happens next. In "Mrs. Doubtfire," in the aftermath of his divorce, a father developed a serpentine co-parenting plan by posing as a nanny, and in 1998, there was a remake of the 1961 movie "The Parent Trap," which echoed the message of parental romantic reunification.
Because of this, I fretted about the outcome of my own divorce, until I recalled an old friend's wedding: Her divorced parents walked her down the aisle together.
Breaking up is hard to do
The day the movie "Marriage Story" was released on Netflix, my husband texted me a screenshot of the movie's cover and added: "You have to watch this so we can talk about it."
Noah Baumbach's film is about a divorcing couple facing the added challenge of having a child with one parent wanting to relocate. Serendipitously, I was watching the movie at the exact moment and took a screenshot of my iPad to show him I was almost done with it.
We met that evening but walked away with quite different views on the movie's applicability to our circumstances.
"We shouldn't hire lawyers," he said.
"Will you move to D.C.?" I asked.
All I wanted was to leave Michigan and split everything equally, including custody of our two-and-a-half-year-old daughter. However, we both hired lawyers, and a year and a half later, we now both live in D.C. less than 10 minutes apart. It took nine months to figure out how to get along.
Chris Reid from Kid 'n Play opens up about his parenting style and how he supports his ex-partners as they raise their children. Watch the full interview here.
Impact on the family
There are many different familial configurations children are raised in: with both parents, single parents, grandparents and other relatives.
No matter the arrangement, a child can be profoundly impacted by discord within these relationships. Studies have shown parental conflict can have a wide range of negative effects on children, such as on their mental health, academic performance and/or behavior. Separation can act as a reset on those conflicted relationships. The ability to model any configuration of a healthy relationship is essential, as it holistically influences a child's physical and emotional development.
How difficult children find parents' separation can be influenced by factors such as their developmental age, cultural context or the various causes for the separation. There are a wide variety of resources, tips and age-appropriate books to help children adjust to this big change in their lives.
Strong social ties have an important influence on children and also have a large impact on having healthy romantic and platonic relationships throughout their lives. Extended family and social networks can be a source of stability during parental separation. This can be especially important for separating couples who may be members of smaller social networks, such as specific cultures, the LGBTQIA+ community or rural settings.
Strategies for navigating co-parenthood
Ultimately, parenting is a lifelong endeavor. Creating a plan can facilitate successful long-term outcomes for everyone. There are a number of resources available based on your unique needs and goals. Some co-parents may choose to spend holidays together, while others may choose to adhere to a firm visitation schedule and division of financial resources.
Beyond court mandates, we cannot compel the cooperation of others and are fully entitled to our own personal boundaries. However, I hope I'm speaking to the enormous importance and benefit of cooperative co-parenthood.
One important caveat is the added challenge of being in an abusive relationship—there are many resources for survivors of domestic violence.
It was hard to figure out how to co-parent, but now that we have a rhythm, it is priceless. I see my daughter every day, even if it's not my custodial time. Furthermore, the hurdles of parenthood are easier with good communication, like when our child is sick or is going through a new phase. Successful co-parenting is not often represented in our culture.
At times, it confuses people when I post vacation photos with my entire family, along with my co-parent. I don't know if that kind of upbringing will make my daughter more or less likely to get married, but wherever she walks, I know we will both be by her side.