Married couples with children have two distinct roles: spouses and parents. During divorce, the role of spouse ends; and the role of parent not only exists, but expands to two households. This results in a significant change to the “business of parenting.” Families need a parenting infrastructure that supports the two separate households —and co-parenting specialists can help!
Co-parenting specialists are generally mental health professionals who have worked clinically with children and adults. Many are also trained in both mediation and parenting coordination. They help parents build communication and decision-making skills. In addition, co-parenting specialists help parents address the children’s needs that are specific to the transition and challenges of divorce.
The overarching goal is to keep conflict and hostility at a minimum in order to clear the lines of communication and focus on the process of complex decision-making. Co-parenting specialists do not make the decision for the parents, but act as a guide or coach helping parents learn the skills so they can independently work more effectively together. Co-parenting is not psychotherapy. It is consultation to help parents work better as the primary caretakers in their children’s lives.
For example, both parents may determine that signing up for soccer is a great idea for the spring season only to find out three weeks into it that the child is not enjoying it. One parent believes it should be discontinued. The other parent wants to give the experience more time before a decision is made.
In this scenario, the co-parenting specialist assists the parents by helping the parents communicate without hostility and argument. Instead, the communication would likely focus on understanding and respecting the concerns and priorities of each parent with regard to the situation. The co-parenting specialist would guide the parents to more effective communication and the development of an action plan. In fact, in many circumstances, it is possible to honor each parent’s priorities as it pertains to the child. Perhaps in this case, they would come up with a strategy for dealing with the rest of this season and a plan for what activity the child should try next.
It is common that parents vigorously debate whether “A” is better than “B”. They argue over “A” or “B” even though they don’t persuade one another. Getting stuck in the argument increases conflict, increases unpleasant contacts between the parents, and can lead the child to feel responsible for the argument because from the child’s perspective, “They are fighting about me.” The co-parenting specialist can help parents make a decision that takes into account both “A” and “B” as they make a decision using a process that is different from what they are used to.
We will examine this idea of “A” and “B” instead of “A” or “B” in a future blog so stay tuned!
Please contact us with your questions.
My Divorce Recovery
Jeffrey Zimmerman, Ph.D., ABPP
Lauren Behrman, Ph.D.