Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Co-Parenting: Accepting What It Is Not

How to raise children together, while living apart.

Key points

  • There is value in understanding what co-parenting does not involve.
  • Co-parenting is not easy and may not be realistic for all seasons of a parenting relationship.
  • Co-parenting is not a romantic or sexual relationship.
csp77781308 / fizkes
Father-daughter hug
Source: csp77781308 / fizkes

Co-parenting is when parents who are unmarried, separated, or divorced continue to work together as a team to raise their child or children. Effective co-parenting can result in increased stability and well-being of children.

It is important to highlight what co-parenting is not.

It's not easy.

Don’t let social-media images fool you: Every step of co-parenting will stretch the parents—most significantly in the beginning of figuring out what this concept will even look like in application. This is why people find it easier to avoid it or to engage in parallel parenting.

Like a new business, co-parenting involves a period of adjustment. If we can give a new business two or so years to go through the growing pains and blows to our egos, we can consider doing the same with co-parenting. This is a process and relationship that requires endurance.

Yes, things can get “better” but for some people who are starting from the bottom of the bottom—better may not feel good enough. It is not easy, but with persistence, it can get better.

It's not for everyone in every season.

In truth, what is ideal and what is feasible may not always be congruent. What we sometimes must accept and figure out is, “How can we be in a relationship with our child but not with the other parent?” This is tough.

However, in toxic situations, this may be necessary. When the pain of a romantic relationship is fresh, it is very challenging to enter a healthy co-parenting relationship. Space can give time for perspective, possibilities, and even repair (the post focuses on parent-child dynamics, but the nuggets apply to all relationships).

It's not a romantic or sexual intimate relationship.

It is so difficult to shift from a romantic/sexual “dynamic” (in some cases people may not even consider it a relationship) to a parenting partnership. It may seem that the more involved the “dynamic” the more difficult the shift.

However, in cases where the relationship is more sexual than romantic, people often wonder how to build a parenting relationship that has a limited foundation. In either case, an important distinction is clear. One’s experience with the other adult is no longer the target of the relationship. This is because the central target is now the child: innocent and deserving of as much love, support, and sacrifice as can be mustered.

It's not a dictatorship.

For some parents, the inclination to micromanage the other parent can be kryptonite in the co-parenting relationship. Consultation, sharing resources, providing constructive feedback in the context of a “safe space” relationship: Yes, all of this is valuable. The hard truth is that the need to control and/or know the inner workings of how the other parent makes decisions may be born out of the micromanager's anxiety.

In extreme cases of legitimate concerns for a child’s safety, this is warranted. There are a larger number of situations where there are efforts to manage outcomes unrelated to safety (e.g., diet, academic activities, screen time). While the inclination may be understandable, the drivers and the outcomes are often not healthy or helpful. This is a tough pill to swallow, but accepting this could be helpful medicine for the next point.

It's not static.

Co-parenting relationships are most often not static. Rather, they are quite dynamic, changing as all parties involved, including the children, grow and develop. Many co-parenting relationships significantly improve over time, with two years after the onset of the relationship being a valuable marker. This makes sense, right? Think about it: We are all constantly changing, and our situations change.

Do you know who else changes dramatically? Children. Thinking about developmental realities, they change pretty dramatically over 18 years, with 0-5 being the most dramatic period of change. As a result, we will be different in interacting with them. With time, co-parents may also be different in interacting with each other.

To wrap it up.

As you consider what will be involved in a co-parenting relationship, examine your motives, expectations, and willingness to adjust to some of the realities of this new type of relationship. Going into co-parenting with an open mind and flexibility can make co-parenting a helpful, if not rewarding, experience for your children and your new family structure.


Feinberg, M (2002). Coparenting and the transition to parenthood: A framework for prevention. Clinical Child Family Psychology Review, 5(3), 173-195.

More from Christina M. Grange, Ph.D., Charlie Harris, Ph.D., and Al Williams, Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today
More from Christina M. Grange, Ph.D., Charlie Harris, Ph.D., and Al Williams, Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today