CO-PARENTING COUNSELING in ST. LOUIS, MO
Children Are Happier When Parents Resolve Their Conflict
LIFT THE BURDEN OF CONFLICT FROM YOUR KIDS
With Co-Parenting Counseling
- Parents are co-parenting whether they think of it that way or not.
- Children's growth and development depend upon how effectively parents co-parent.
Co-parenting counseling helps parents who are unable to get along move towards a healthier, more nurturing environment for their children. Co-parenting counseling is not psychotherapy although it is psychologically informed. It does not attempt to change who people are, but rather to help parents learn work more effectively with each other. It does not attempt to restore or correct the partner relationship.
Achieving a more positive environment for the children is accomplished by structuring parent behavior with clearly-defined, detailed expectations in five areas:
1. Minimize Conflict
Because parental conflict is the primary destructive force for children in divorce / separation, it must be mitigated as quickly and completely as possible. The first step in co-parenting counseling, therefore, is disengagement. Therefore communications between parents should be minimized. Less contact means less conflict.
The most productive way for parents to communicate is in a face-to-face meeting facilitated by me. At the same time, however, since children are involved, there is likely to be a need for some parent-to-parent communication outside of meetings. If it is truly necessary for a parent to communicate directly with the other parent, I suggest that it be done via email with a copy to me, and that the content be restricted to logistical and administrative matters only – no history, narratives, back-stories, clarifications, sniping, defending oneself, or attempts at decision-making. If these guidelines cannot be followed, then I might ask that the emails be sent to me for screening / editing before being sent to the other parent.
Similarly, joint attendance at child events are discouraged unless and until they can be carefully and specifically orchestrated in advance.
2. Improve Information-Sharing / Communication
Minimizing communication outside of co-parenting meetings has the effect of moving information into the meetings and keeping me informed of what is going on. Co-Parenting meetings become a forum in which parents may exchange information and it puts me in a position to be able to facilitate how and which information is shared. The goals of controlled information flow are to:
- Keep parents out of the past.
- Resolve current problems jointly and establish how to avert similar problems in the future.
- Discuss parent behaviors between meetings (including, the question of whether or not each parent did what s/he agreed to do).
- Examine behaviors in the current meeting – establish civil, business-like relations.
- Plan ahead (i.e., no surprises and no unilateral decisions).
- Identify areas of agreement (that each parent can share with the children).
I document the areas of agreement between the parents and share the agreements with the parents in a follow-up email. The benefits of putting the agreements in an email are that it:
- Demonstrates to parents that they can actually agree on things.
- Shows parents that they are making progress (even though it may not feel like it).
- Documents what was agreed to and avoid future uncertainty or “forgetting.”
3. Establish Clear Boundaries / Protocols / Expectations
With parents experiencing conflict, it is important to establish clear boundaries. Minimizing inter-parent communication between meetings is the first step in this process. Documenting Agreements reached in co-parenting meetings is the second step. Defining specific behavioral expectations is the third step.
Detailed protocols are established in every area of parenting, including:
- Child exchanges
- Telephone access to children
- Household rules and consequences
- Joint attendance at events
- Selection of children’s activities
- Medical appointments
- Information sharing
- School Issues
Parent behavior in each of these areas must agreed upon, monitored, and reviewed in each of our meetings since consistent compliance is crucial to establishing a minimum working level of trust between the parents.
4. Facilitate Joint Decision‑Making
Once conflict has been mitigated and clear boundaries have been established, co-parenting meetings can focus more successfully on child-related issues and decisions. Potential activities can be discussed in advance and each parent’s level of commitment (i.e., financial support, willingness to transport, and agreement to allow the child to participate on that parent’s time) can be determined and established before involving the child.
Problems, concerns, etc. raised by either parent are framed as a parenting matter that requires the attention and input of both parents. Each parent’s thoughts about child health, growth, adjustment, behavior, and activities are solicited and discussed – emphasizing the need for the parents to work together to correct any child-related deficiencies regardless of whose house or in whose care the difficulty is observed.
5. Improve Parenting Skills
When parents are able to focus on their child’s needs, each parent’s strengths can be reinforced and additional parenting techniques can be introduced and developed. I also provide insight about possible future problems which the parents might not otherwise anticipate since they have not yet had children older than the one(s) they have now.
Parents are encouraged to use co-parenting meetings not just to resolve differences or exchange information, but also as an opportunity to look for areas of agreement which they can acknowledge and share with their children. Finding positive areas to share with the children reduces their anxiety considerably.