How to Make Co-Parenting Work?

Co-parenting offers stability, consistency, and security to children, but it's a real challenge for parents to make it work. Learn more.
How to Make Co-Parenting Work?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 06 July, 2023

Having a child is a lifelong responsibility. And this is independent of the development of the couple’s relationship. Many marriages and emotional ties come to an end, but if children are involved, they retain the right to be cared for by both parents. However, it happens that complying with this premise implies dividing time, reaching agreements, and communicating appropriately. It’s not easy to make co-parenting work.

At the same time, it’s important to know that this isn’t the only option available. For example, when parents have ended on bad terms and can’t or don’t want to have contact again, it’s possible to opt for parallel parenting. However, whenever possible, it’s preferable to implement co-parenting, as it confers greater benefits to the children. Let’s see why.

What is co-parenting?

Co-parenting is exercised whenever the two main caregivers of a child share the tasks and burdens linked to their upbringing. However, this term is often associated with shared custody, and it’s in these cases that it’s more difficult to implement successfully.

Therefore, we understand shared parenting as the custody agreement that’s established when two people with a child in common choose not to maintain a romantic relationship. In this way, they choose to exercise their role as parents separately.

This type of parenting is framed within the legal terms approved in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. It seeks to ensure the best interests of the child and takes into account what’s in their best interest. And, in this case, it includes the two adults of reference, who share and coordinate their parental tasks.

Basic components of co-parenting

But, what does co-parenting really consist of? According to an article published in Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, there are four basic components to consider:

  1. Mutual support. Rather than seeing each other as rivals or engaging in a power struggle, both parents work as a team. That is, they support each other and form a united front in terms of their children’s education.
  2. Agreements on parenting differences and values. They’re able to negotiate and respect each other’s points of view to reach agreements on key parenting issues. In this way, they find consensus to follow the same line.
  3. Division of the parents’ work. Time with children is shared, as well as the different tasks. Both collaborate to offer the children the best possible conditions.
  4. Good management of family interactions. Communication between adults is fluid and healthy. In this regard, conflicts are avoided at all costs, especially in front of the children. They even share some special moments, such as birthdays or school events.
A father dropping of his daughter at school.
In co-parenting, both parents have full rights and responsibilities in relation to the child, and decisions are made jointly.

Why does co-parenting benefit children?

For children, divorce or separation of their parents can be a major source of stress. On many occasions, this separation implies a loss of economic resources for the family nucleus, as well as a decrease in contact with one of the parents. And, according to Cantón and Justicia (2007), this increases the risk of future problems and behavioral problems.

However, when both parents act consistently, show a united front, and maintain a cooperative relationship with each other, they’re a protective factor for children. So says an article from the University of Cantabria.

Find out how to make co-parenting work

Although there are some cases in which co-parenting isn’t possible, as much as possible, it’s advisable to adopt this model. But how do you make it work for everyone involved? Here are some recommendations and suggestions.

Set adjusted expectations

Both parents separately need to prepare for this transition and establish what they expect of themselves and each other in terms of parenting. Subsequently, they’ll need to share these expectations, negotiate, and reach agreements that satisfy both parties.

Generate a good relationship between both parents

It’s crucial that both parents can maintain a cordial relationship free of resentments, accusations, and power struggles. This will allow them to support each other, share authority, communicate assertively, and coexist when necessary.

Maintain open and fluid communication

In the case of co-parenting, communication between parents must be done without the intervention of third parties. Therefore, it is crucial that they know how to keep the channels of dialogue always open. In this way, the aim is to establish a common front in parenting and not to divide the child’s life so much.

Parents co-parenting their children.
To maintain good communication, the two figures in charge must offer each other information and feedback relatively frequently.

Know how to negotiate and give in to make co-parenting work

It’s important to understand that what always comes first are the needs of the children and their welfare. And this will often require parents to be able to compromise and negotiate. As neither parenting is raising the children on their own, there must be an openness to listen to the points of view of the other parent and respect and consideration for them. Let’s remember that avoiding discord is one of the keys.

Offer stability and coherence

This implies helping the children to follow the same routines and schedules in both homes and not making abrupt changes in their lives. As stated by the ANAR Foundation, it’s positive that both parents can live close to each other. This will make it easier for the children to keep in touch with their friends and their daily routines, as well as avoid wasting a lot of time traveling.

The children are the priority

In short, co-parenting is a very beneficial option for children, although it can be somewhat complicated for adults to make it work. It requires great maturity on the part of the parents and the acquisition of a series of skills, whether they be communicative, assertive, or emotional management. Without these tools, it’s easy for discrepancies to prevail and conflicts to arise.

For children, watching their parents fight or disown each other, as well as listening to one of their attachment figures speak ill of the other, is really painful and damaging. Therefore, if you plan to make co-parenting work, it may be beneficial for you to talk to a professional. They can help you work through the grief of divorce and offer strategies for managing co-parenting in a healthy way.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • ONU: Asamblea General, Convención sobre los Derechos del Niño, 20 Noviembre 1989, United Nations, Treaty Series, vol. 1577, p. 3, disponible en esta dirección:
  • Cantón, J. y Justicia, M. D. (2007) Características del niño y adaptación al divorcio de los padres. En J. Cantón, M. R. Cortés y M. D. Justicia, Conflictos entre los padres, divorcio y desarrollo de los hijos, (pp.115-132). Madrid: Pirámide.
  • Falagán Izquierdo, S. (2013). Diversidad familiar: el impacto del divorcio sobre el desarrollo psicológico de los hijos e hijas. Universidad de Cantabria.
  • Feinberg, M. E. (2002). Coparenting and the transition to parenthood: A framework for prevention. Clinical child and family psychology review5, 173-195
  • Fundación ANAR. (2021). Consejos ANAR para la custodia compartida
  • Schaffer, H. R. (1994). ¿Es dañino el divorcio para los hijos? En H. R. Schaffer, Decisiones sobre la infancia, (pp. 163-175). Madrid: Visor.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.