What It Takes to Be Great Parents

Six dos and don’ts that will improve your co-parenting skills

Posted Jun 09, 2016

By Emily Stewart, Kristina Kochanova and Laura Pittman

What does it take to be a successful parent? Unless you’re raising a child by yourself, you’re asking the wrong question.

A good way to reframe the topic is: What does it take to be a great co-parent?

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Co-parenting involves two or more adults (usually parents) who work together to raise children (McHale, Lauretti, Talbot, & Pouquette, 2002). To do it well, it requires coordination of parenting and support for each other, particularly when dealing with conflict (McHale, Kuersten-Hogan, Lauretti, & Rasmussen, 2000).

And it’s important to do it well.

Positive co-parenting has been linked to children having fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression, and behavioral and social problems (Teubert & Pinquart, 2010).

Much of the research has focused on co-parenting younger children, which requires efforts to provide constant supervision and care. However, co-parenting also plays an important role with adolescents.

During the teen years, parents must strike a delicate balance between setting clear rules and expectations and fostering children’s age-appropriate attempts to increase independence and autonomy (Feinberg, Kan, & Hetherington, 2007). Positive co-parenting is linked to adolescents being less involved with risky behaviors, having fewer depressive symptoms, and having better adolescent life-satisfaction (Baril, Crouter, & McHale, 2007; Feinberg et al., 2007; Riina & McHale, 2014; Teuberg & Pinquart, 2011).    

So how can you improve your co-parenting skills?  What follows are six suggestions.

  1. Share decision-making responsibilities. Parenting decisions should be based on your own opinions as well as the opinions of your co-parent. When you don’t agree, it’s essential to find compromises to create rules and set boundaries you can both enforce.  
  2. Don’t undermine each other. When one parent makes a decision or sets a boundary, the co-parent should be supportive of that decision and enforce it in the same way.
  3. Present a united front when setting limits for children. This helps the child understand rules and provides them with structure, which can be particularly important as children age and push for more autonomy and freedom. Children will learn if one parent will be more lenient than the other, and they may take advantage of the parent who is more lenient when asking for privileges.
  4. Don’t allow children and adolescents to dictate your parenting decisions. You’re the parents—and that means you are the decision makers. While it’s important to listen to your child’s perceptions of rules or punishments and keep their feelings in mind, decisions need to be made by parents after thoughtful consideration together.
  5. Communicate, communicate, communicate! To effectively remain on the same parenting page, it is important to talk with each other about your children—even if you disagree on setting a rule or enforcing a punishment. Set aside time each day (maybe over breakfast or just before you go to bed) to talk about what is going on with your kids. This time together will likely foster your co-parenting relationship and help you both be the best parents you can be.
  6. Do not involve your kids in parenting conflicts. Some disagreements between co-parents are inevitable, and they should be managed in private. Involving children will force them to choose sides and increase conflict between you and your partner. Your child may suffer, too, from being drawn into the fray.

The bottom line is this: Parenting is a tough job. That’s why it is necessary to have a supportive co-parenting relationship. And, in the future, your grownup son or daughter might just say “thank you.”

Emily E Stewart is a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology Program at Northern Illinois University.  Her research interests include contextual factors that influence child development including co-parenting, chronic illness, and other risk and protective factors. 

Kristina Kochanova is a graduate student in the Clinical Psychology Program at Northern Illinois University. She is interested in research related to parenting, low-income families, poverty, parenting stress, cultural contexts, and youth outcomes.

Laura D. Pittman, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology and Director of Clinical Training at Northern Illinois University. She teaches courses about developmental psychopathology, ethics, and diversity issues in clinical psychology. Her research is focused on how family, school, and cultural contexts influence psychological and academic outcomes among children and adolescents.


Baril, M. E., Crouter, A. C., & McHale, S. M. (2007). Processes linking adolescent well-being, marital love, and coparenting. Journal of Family Psychology, 21, 645-654.

Feinberg, M. E., & Kan, M. L. (2008). Establishing family foundations: Intervention effects on coparenting, parent/infant well-being, and parent-child relations. Journal of Family Psychology, 22, 253-263.

Feinberg, M. E., Kan, M. L., & Hetherington, E. M. (2007). The longitudinal influence of coparenting conflict on parental negativity and adolescent maladjustment. Journal of Marriage and Family, 69, 687-702.

McHale, J. P., Kuersten-Hogan, R., & Lauretti, A. (2001). Evaluating coparenting and family-level dynamics during infancy and early childhood: The coparenting and family rating system. In P. K. Kerig & K. M. Lindahl (Eds.), Family observational coding systems: Resources for systemic research (pp. 151-170). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

McHale, J., Lauretti, A., Talbot, J., & Pouquette, C. (2002). Retrospect and prospect in the psychological study of co-parenting and family group process. In J. McHale & W. Grolnick (Eds.), Retrospect and prospect in the psychological study of families (pp. 127-165). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Riina, E. M., & McHale, S. M. (2014). Bidirectional influences between dimensions of coparenting and adolescent adjustment. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 43, 257-269. 

Teubert, D., & Pinquart, M. (2010). The association between coparenting and child adjustment: A meta-analysis. Parenting: Science and Practice, 10, 286-307.

Teubert, D., & Pinquart, M. (2011). The link between coparenting, parenting, and adolescent life satisfaction. Family Science, 2, 221-229.