What is Co-Parenting (And How Can I Be a Good Co-Parent?)

It’s a relatively new term, so you’d be forgiven for asking: what is co-parenting anyway? Well, to put it simply, co-parenting is what happens when you team up with someone to help raise a child. Now, when we usually think of “parenting,” we have to acknowledge that our society has a pretty strong bias towards the whole mom-and-dad unit. For a large portion of our population, there’s no questioning the notion that a mother and a father is somehow best.

Figuring Out This Co-Parenting Stuff

Of course, that’s not necessarily borne out in the research. And even if it were, there are so many people for whom that model is either unrealistic or undesirable. A mother and a father might work for some, but it won’t work for everyone.

That’s why co-parenting is such a useful model. It provides everyone with a way to formulate their own parental roles, no matter what their living situation might be. Co-parenting partners can be siblings, two women, two men, mother and step-father, you name it. Now, that doesn’t mean that all forms of parenting are equally acceptable. It just means that when people partner up to provide for the betterment of their children, we can call it co-parenting.

Popular Types of Co-Parenting

While co-parenting can mean a wide variety of things to many different people, it’s usually used in a couple of different contexts. The first such context is in the case of expanded families. For example, when parents are divorced (or never married and then separate), there’s much potential for expansion.

In those cases, step-mothers and step-fathers (and step-siblings) can often fulfill parental roles. And it’s not as though a step-father is any less of a father figure by default. Indeed, in some cases, four or more people could be sharing parental roles and they’d all be as legitimate as any of the other parents.

In other cases, co-parenting can refer to non-traditional parental configurations. Often, this can apply to lesbian and gay parents (although in those cases “parents”–without the qualifiers–is just as legitimate in terms of labels). In all of those cases, it’s generally recommended that you yield to the preferences of the actual parents in terms of something as relatively low-stakes as this particular label.

Why is Co-Parenting Popular?

Modern co-parenting is popular largely because times have changed and wider forms of parenting are now more socially acceptable. Make no mistake, though–people have been making and remaking the so-called nuclear family for ages. That’s nothing new. What’s new is that we’re more open about, more accepting about it.

Usually. The law has been a little slow to catch up. And so co-parenting units aren’t always immediately recognized by bureaucracies. If you want to enshrine your co-parenting setup into law, you’ll likely have to seek out the services of an attorney who specializes in family law.

Then again, that’s nothing new either–though, perhaps particular iteration of it is. People have been using family lawyers to legally solidify their families for ages.

It’s Your Family

Ultimately, the shape that your family takes is largely going to be up to you. And that’s the way it should be. Sure, there are some configurations that are socially traditional. But you most people these days don’t let that dictate what will work best for their families, and I can’t say I find much fault in that.

Co-parenting might be a step in a certain direction or it could be the destination. What’s important, I think, is that parents continue to put the best interests of their children first. No matter the label you put on your family, that’s the thing that matters most.

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