Parenting 101: Complementary Co-parenting and why I love it

complimentary co-parenting-mum and dad walking with child

I am prepared to admit that when I became a parent, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Then, to have to change gears and become a co-parent … well, let’s just say the verb ‘to fumble’ was prevalent in my life. But like all parents, I went with my instincts and found a way. In the process, I developed a new style of shared parenting, which worked wonders for my family. I call it complementary co-parenting.

Our parenting setup

My situation was this: My ex-husband and I cared for our young daughters with a 50/50 arrangement. He (my ex) was a good, hands-on dad. Our girls effortlessly wrapped him around their little fingers. Their wish was his command. It was actually quite amusing in a sweet, non-condescending way.

This is what happened

The end result of this was that while they were with him, they had soooo much fun. Some may say, too much fun. (Co-parenting mothers are nodding knowingly right now.) They would go to his house and have THE. TIME. OF. THEIR. LIVES. And, yep, you’ve got it, they would return to me exhausted, full to the brim with junk food and with the believe that ‘ask means get’ and that’s that.

But, I have to admit that ultimately .. they were happy.

So, what is complementary co-parenting? 

What happens next is key to complementary co-parenting.

I didn’t argue. I didn’t quibble. I didn’t start a fight (Lord knows I’ve had enough to last a lifetime). One thing I knew for sure was that there was NOTHING I could do to change his parenting style … and quite frankly, who was I to try? My children were happy. What more can a mother ask for?

Instead, I made the decision to ‘complement’ his parenting style.

By this, I mean when the girls came home exhausted, I provided downtime. When they’d had so many McDonalds, they were on first-name terms with the staff; I provided healthy, nourishing food. When they’d been living from one day to the next like mini rock stars, I provided routine.

I knew their father’s parenting style was not sustainable. I knew there were gaps, so I filled them. I completed the circle of parenting so that between my ex and I, we offered our children what they needed.

They had wild times, but they also had calm times. They ate out, but they also learnt to cook and enjoy food at home. They were the original routine breakers, but they thrived from an evening story and set bedtime. They had chaos, yet they had balance. But most importantly, they had love—love from two parents who weren’t arguing.

What better gift can we, as separated parents, give to our children than to make their lives easy, happy, and free of conflict?

Parenting 101: dad dancing with child

The road to complimentary co-parenting

1. Consult a Family Lawyer

Drumroll, please, because here comes the complex part of co-parenting - the legal and technical stuff. I started with understanding my legal rights and responsibilities. Consulting a family lawyer gave me clarity on custody arrangements, child support, and visitation rights. If you haven't started on one yet, a lawyer can also help you draft a co-parenting agreement. This document will ensure that you and your former partner are on the same page.

2. Engage in Mediation

Separation and divorce can get really ugly. My ex and I had to go through a lot of disagreements before consulting a mediator. Trust me, you do not want to go through all that drama. Mediation helped us resolve disputes and make co-parenting decisions without the stress of court battles. This process helps us parents work through conflicts and focus on the best interests of our children.

3. Set Up a Consultation with a Co-Parenting Counselor

After successfully resolving our conflicts, thanks to our ever-patient mediator, we scheduled an appointment with a co-parenting counsellor. A co-parenting counsellor provides strategies and resources to improve your co-parenting relationship. I was impressed by how our counsellor gave tailored advice on communication techniques, conflict resolution, and establishing routines. A counsellor can also help co-parents create a parenting plan that aligns with their child’s needs.

co-parenting counsellor - couple in disagreement with mediator

4. Maintain Boundaries

Maintaining clear and respectful boundaries is crucial for a successful and amicable co-parenting relationship. In my experience, this means setting rules for effective communication, respecting each other’s time, and keeping interactions focused on the children. We maintained healthy boundaries to prevent misunderstandings and reduce conflicts.

5. Follow a Structured Pathway

Developing a structured pathway may sound complicated. But it's basically creating a detailed plan with all the parental responsibilities, schedules, and protocols for handling common issues. This plan should be flexible enough to accommodate changes but detailed enough to provide consistency for your kids. Remember to regularly review and update this plan if needed.

6. Manage Emotions Effectively

Managing emotions is one of the most challenging aspects of co-parenting, for me at least. But it's essential for creating a positive environment for your kiddos. Find healthy ways to cope with stress, anger, or sadness, such as therapy, support groups, or self-care routines. Doing quick yoga sessions at home every day helped me stay focused and calm. Remember, your emotional well-being directly impacts your children, so taking care of yourself is also taking care of them.

Summary: Why I love complimentary co-parenting

Co-parenting is not competition; it is collaboration. And you don’t always have to pull together as parents to make this happen. As separated parents, it may not be possible. Instead, work with what you have, complement what your former partner is offering, and watch as your children thrive.

I’m not saying complementary co-parenting is easy. I’ve bitten my tongue so many times I’m surprised it’s still intact. But somewhere along the way, in this messy thing called life, I know I got something right. And, as it turns out … it was one of the most important things that has given my children the greatest gift of all: happiness.

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Sally Love

About the author

Sally Love is a pseudo single mum author who has been writing about single motherhood, separation and divorce for 8+ years. She has been a single mother for 10+ years and has two daughters, one of whom she co-parents and the other she solo parents. Sally has experienced all aspects of single motherhood from legal, financial, parenting, dating, travel as a single parent, re-partnering and re-building a career. She is an integral part of the Beanstalk community chatting and helping single mothers across the globe, as well as sharing her expertise, experiences and genuine reviews with major national newspapers and appearing on nation-wide television shows.

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