Advantages and disadvantages of co-parentingSubmitted in Parenting Stories by Lightbee on June 20, 2013
So you've been through a separation, or maybe you never lived with the other parent of your child/ren. But now
So you've been through a separation, or maybe you never lived with the other parent of your child/ren. But now you have these little people who you want to have a relationship with both of you. And as you do not live together, you're now looking at a way to co-parent.
For the sake of this article, I am going to define co-parenting as when you and another person - most likely the child's other biological parent, but not always - have a child or children that live with each of you in separate houses for a reasonably equal amount of time. It doesn't matter if it's week and week about, month and month about or they changeover everyday.
In my particular situation, my ex and I share care of our girls week and week about. We try to be flexible to accommodate special requests, but as a general rule, it's a pretty steady thing. When I started down this road, I had never spoken to anyone who had been a parent in this situation and I didn't know what to expect. I found that the situation had advantages and disadvantages, some of which I never would have thought of if I hadn't lived it.
I thought it might be nice to start with the good stuff, so these are what I see as the advantages of co-parenting:
- No need for babysitting
I find that there's only a handful of things - if that - that I can't put off until my off-week. So the week I have my girls I am their sole carer and the other week, I socialise, I work late, I see my counsellor, I travel.
- Focussed attention
Tied in with the point above is the advantage that as I take away all other commitments in the week I have my girls, I am able to be more focussed on looking after them than I would if I had to do all the other stuff as well.
- Single life
For me one week out of two I am free of the responsibilities and pressures of being a parent. I can live the single life. I can hang out with my friends and do all the things I can't do when I have kids. I can sleep in on Saturdays. I can eat a bar of chocolate without being begged to share it. I can tidy the house and IT STAYS TIDY! I can also relate better to my single friends (or those couples without kids) because I live that life a bit more closely in that week.
- Two relationships
I once heard or read somewhere that you really only get to know someone when you can stay with them overnight. I have witnessed that in my own life, cause noone can keep up a mask 24-7. If you're co-parenting, your kids get that opportunity to truly know and have a relationship with both parents.
- Tidy house
This one is so rare for most parents, that I wanted to make the point again. I can actually have a tidy house one week out of two. It really helps me to feel sane to get rid of the clutter, so that's great. It also allows me to do a spring clean and pull everything out for a day or two without having little fingers looking through everything.
- House stocked up
Other people may feel differently from me, but when money is tight, I want to give to my girls first. In my situation it means that I only need to keep the house fully stocked with food and grocery items for one week. In the other week, I make do with what's in the cupboard, I am lucky enough to get invited out dinner at friend's house and similar things. I have found that I can't get away with such frugal living when the girls are with me, but I can when it's just me.
Much as I love my girls and want to spend time with them, there is often a feeling of relief when they go to their dad's house. Looking after kids is a full-time job and it can be very draining. And that's with someone else living with you to help parent! When you have had no break for a week, then the subsequent time off is very inviting.
- The Split Life
When you parent like this, you can have the best of both worlds. You can be the full-time parent and do all the parent stuff, and you can equally be the kid-free single person with all the freedoms that comes with it.
However, as the title of the article suggests, there are also disadvantages to co-parenting.
- Missing out
You miss out on things. Some are big things like the first word or their first day at school. Others are little things like knowing that they needed to bring a paper bag lunch to school that day for a school trip.
No matter how good your communication is with the other parent, the is always something that either was forgotten or overlooked. Or that they didn't realise was important at the time. Or just something that is not at all important, but you would have loved to have known. And - lets face it - often the relationship with the other parent is somewhat strained and clear communication is not easy. And yet, this is when it is most needed as the only way you know some things is if the other person remembers to tell you.
- Lost articles
Going between houses, it is so easy for things to get lost. Or if something's lost one week, and the other parent doesn't take the trouble to look for it, then that window of opportunity is lost and the article is likely to remain missing.
- Keeping up-to-date
There's any number of things that it's hard to keep up-to-date with, but one big one for me is when the kids grow out of clothes. Although we are meant to have our own clothes for the kids, we do share their school uniforms. Also, I become aware that they don't have the right size of clothes when they come back from the other parent. Usually one parent is more vigilant about noticing these things and making them happen, but when you do not parent together, it makes it hard to keep on top of it.
- Well-meaning people wanting to help out
For me the one week I have out of two is precious time. I don't want to have to share them in that week with other people. Often, if I am with a group, especially if my kids are being boisterous, some well-meaning person will want to take them away to another room to play to "keep them out of your hair" or "to give you a break". The truth is that I don't want a break! I want to make the most of every moment I've got! It's such a hard situation because you get torn between your reason for being in the group at that time and between being a parent. Sometimes its great to say "The kids are just being ratty cause they need a sleep / food" etc. and that's an excuse for leaving a group early.
- No stable home
I've noticed that my kids never refer to anywhere as "home". It's always "Dad's house" or "Mum's house". It's never "my house". Or for that matter "our house". I don't think there's anyway around it, but we just try our best to try and help them to feel that they have two homes instead of one. And that they each have their own space (bedrooms) in each house that is not shared with anyone else.
- Filling up the off-week
While it is great to have a week to do everything, the truth is that there is often too much of everything to fit into one week! One of my friends knows that I am happy to be more social when I am in my off-week and often wants me to do things with her 3 or 4 times in the week. However, it is also my week to work late, to see my counsellor, to take time for me to relax, to do the spring cleaning that seems impossible around the kids, to do uni assignments - and I can get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of stuff that needs to be done. It seems to so much easier to say "No, I have the kids this week" than it is to say "No, I don't have the kids so I want to sleep in".
- Family Tax Assistance / Centrelink Benefits / Child Support
It must be said that any benefits you receive while caring for your children full-time, are likely to be reduced when you moved to shared care. This can be quite significant as the incoming income drops, while the outgoing expenses can be relatively unchanged. I experienced this as I received a fairly significant child support payment while I had the kids full-time, but when we moved to co-parenting, I ended up being the one who had to pay as I earned more than my ex. Things like that can be a real shock to the system.
It can be very easy to slip into a spiral of depression in this situation. You can feel guilty you're not around for the kids all the time, guilty they're now in a "broken home", guilty that you feel relieved when you get to say goodbye at the end of your time! Sometimes, just the fact you miss them and miss being a parent can cause depression. When the girls first started staying overnight with their dad, I used to sink into a depression as soon as they left and couldn't enjoy the time to myself while they were away. I now combat that by having things I'm looking forward to when its my time and making the most of it.
- The Split Life
I know I put this as an advantage, but it is also a disadvantage. The two different lives often don't mesh really well and it can leave you feeling torn as to which role you really play - who you really are. The parenting role, especially, is hard to fall back into naturally. You don't realise until you've been there, what a different mind-set it takes to be a parent. And when you try and slip in and out of that, sometimes the gears don't move too smoothly.
- Lack of understanding
Although there are many wonderful people out there who don't judge, there are still people who do. But even among those people who don't judge , unless they've lived the situation, they can't truly understand how it affects you. Why getting a week to yourself is both exciting and devastating. All the emotions that come from playing the parenting game, when the rules have all been changed.
So what's the conclusion? You're not alone... Often you don't get to decide whether or not you will co-parent. You only get to decide what you will do now that you are. And that can be very hard. But you're not alone...