Lets Talk About It

Are you a single parent or a co-parent?

According to Bahamas National Statistical Institute (BNSI), statistics show that, in 1975, about 44 percent of children in The Bahamas were born out of wedlock. In 2020, that figure jumped to over 62 percent. This leads to believe that a major portion of households in The Bahamas are led by a single parent.

A single parent, simply defined, is one who has a child or children and is not married. Generally, there are two kinds of single parents – the person who has never been married and the person who was married, but is now single, due to divorce, death, or separation.

However, it gets more complicated. There are married individuals who have children for a person in a previous marriage, or when they were single, but they are the only one parenting that child. The current spouse wants nothing to do with the child of his/her spouse for another person. Then, there are partners who have children for another person while they are married or dating. It causes lots of tension and confusion. In some cases, the current spouse or partner provides no emotional and tangible support for the child that came between them in the marriage.

Having explained all of that, let’s go deeper. A person who is not married, but has children, does not have to be a single parent, or parenting all alone. If both parents are actively and equally involved in the lives of the children, in practice, that person is not a single parent, but instead, a co-parent.

I encourage people who are single and have children not to refer to themselves as single parents if both parents are active in the lives of the children. I insist that they refer to themselves as a co-parent. Why think of yourself as a single parent when you have a co-parent? To take it further, someone who has a child before marriage and gets married to another person and has more children with the current spouse, that parent will be both a parent (with children with his/her spouse) and a co-parent (with the parent of the earlier child).

Do you realize that effective co-parenting is just as meaningful as the nuclear family parenting? Effective co-parenting requires both parents’ emotional, intellectual, financial, and psychological input in the lives of the children. Unfortunately, there are not many co-parents. Truthfully, some do not want to, or cannot be, a co-parent.

In a July 2020 article, titled, “Single Parent or Co-Parent? Right Words Matter”, Dora Weithers writes, “Mothers and fathers may refer to themselves as single parents, in an effort to disregard the exes. Some go as far as refusing to let the other parent see the child. Intentionally or not, they give the impression that the ex-spouse becomes the child’s ex-parent. Unless there is good reason, like abuse or fear of kidnapping, or other forms of endangerment, it is not fair to deny recognition for the other parent or to prevent interaction between parent and child. Rather, it is healthy to encourage the parent-child relationship, and to teach respect for the other parent.”

It is imperative to understand that spouses with children who are ending a marriage are not by default ending parenting. They are not divorcing the children. When properly executed, they will become co-parents. If they thrust themselves in the single-parent mentality, there will be a greater chance of discord and conflict. Note that having a single-parent mentality will lead to conflicts regarding discipline, how or when the new mate is introduced, diet, sleep time, etc. Weithers stresses: “It is common for the child to take advantage of this parent individuality and feed the hostility between parents.”

An important concern of co-parenting is when to introduce the new partner to the children and how to introduce themselves to them. Wise co-parents can easily agree on a harmonious approach to involving the new partner and introducing children. It is best not to introduce the new partner to the children until the following is in place:

The relationship is a mature one and your decision is settled. Do not allow the child to meet every girlfriend or boyfriend you are dating. It can cause confusion. Co-parents are to have a harmonious understanding about the way forward.

The parent, when introducing himself/herself to a new partner or children, will refer to themselves as a co-parent. Hence, right up front, it is understood that another person is involved in their life and the life of the children.

It is my view, as implied earlier, that effective co-parenting produces a healthy outcome in the lives of the children. Divorce, death or separation, or not being married to the partner of your children, need not be problematic or result in dysfunctional children. Actually, what will create dysfunctional children is living with dysfunctional parents. Yes, parenting itself is a challenge and living alone with children has its own challenges.

In the article, “10 Signs of a Healthy, Effective Co-Parenting Relationship”, written by Jennifer Wolf, a certified parent coach, Wolf lists the following signs as evidence indicators of a healthy and productive co-parenting relationship:

Have a predetermined schedule: Parenting time transitions are more manageable for everyone involved when the schedule represents a solid, predetermined routine, rather than an iffy, ‘we’ll see’ type of arrangement.

Willing to be flexible: While routine is healthy, it’s also important to be flexible with one another. A healthy approach is to be as accommodating with your ex as you’d like them to be with you. Even if you suspect that the same courtesy may not be returned to you, demonstrating the way you’d like things to be between you can be more effective than repeatedly telling them that the current arrangement isn’t working or displeases you.

Defer to one another: This is another sign of a healthy co-parenting relationship. Parents who work well together and collaborate as parents will call one another before leaving the kids with a babysitter.

Don’t engage in manipulation: Parents who share a good, healthy co-parenting relationship do not attempt to manipulate one another or control their children’s allegiances. They recognize that their children need to have relationships with both parents and that their children’s affection for the other parent is no personal threat to them.

Talk to one another about changes: Generally, the kids of co-parents who work well together believe that their parents get along. This doesn’t mean that they necessarily agree on everything, or always like one another, but they do make a concerted effort to show respect to each other in front of their children. They have also learned how to effectively communicate in ways that minimize conflict.

Dear single parent, do your best to become a healthy co-parent today.

• Barrington Brennen is a marriage and family therapist. Send your questions or comments to question@soencouragment.org, telephone 327-1980 or visit www.soencouragement.org. 

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