Co-parenting coaching gives separated and divorced parents the opportunity to learn and practice more effective ways to communicate and cooperate with each other as business partners regarding their children’s needs. When separated or divorced parents use the family court system to settle disputes, parental conflict can increase because the court system is adversarial. Good co-parenting, however, is cooperative.
Separation and divorce are processes of mourning. Separated and divorced parents typically experience deep sadness about the loss of love, of a partner, and of the hopes each may have had at the beginning of their relationship. Concerns about finances and property division also are common. Although most parents worry about how their children will cope with the separation/divorce and how their children and their relationships with their children might be affected, there may be times when other adult matters can feel overwhelming and distracting. Anger, distrust, and communication problems that were present before or at the time of separation often continue afterwards and can make it hard for parents to discuss and agree on important matters related to their children’s care.*
Even under the best of external circumstances, separation and divorce are stressful and painful life transitions for children and their parents. Even when children know their parents are unhappy, they rarely want them to separate or divorce. Of course, children who have been exposed to high parental conflict may experience some relief when their parents separate. Despite such relief, however, most children experience pain at having the two most important people in their lives separate. When parents have successfully shielded their children from their personal dissatisfaction and conflicts, children can be caught by surprise and may experience their parents’ separation as a bomb that shatters their lives. Although most children eventually recover from the trauma of parental separation and divorce within one to two years, as many as 25% of such children exhibit serious and lasting symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and/or behavior problems. Because each child and each family is unique, however, it is difficult to predict which children simply will suffer the normal pain of having their parents separate/divorce and which will develop more severe, longer-lasting symptoms. Sometimes one or more children in a family may appear relatively unaffected, while other children in the same family may exhibit serious problems. Sometimes children’s symptoms arise near the time of the parental separation. Other times, problems may not be evident until many years later. Nevertheless, it is well-accepted among mental health professionals that the best predictor of a poor outcome for children of separated and divorced parents is continued parental conflict. This danger is compounded when children become directly involved in the conflict, such as when parents argue or fight with each other in the children’s presence, bad-mouth each other, or discussing adult disputes with or in the presence of the children.
It is important to remember that PARENTS ARE FOREVER. The romantic relationship between the parents may end, but the parental relationship as must continue. Children need both parents in their lives and need them to relate to each other, if not as friends – which may be difficult, at least soon after a separation – at least as civil, business partners regarding the needs and best interests of the children.
Co-parenting coaching is not strictly psychotherapy, but it can be therapeutic by providing parents with a place and a process to learn new ways (or to remember ways previously used) to communicate, cooperate, and find common ground about the children both parents love.
*If there are concerns about violence, chemical dependency, or any other problem that creates safety concerns, these concerns must be addressed appropriately before co-parenting coaching can be effective. It will not be possible for parents to work with each other cooperatively if either parent is afraid that the other parent will become violent or if either parent is impaired by a chemical substance.