At the start of the 21st century, the field of coparenting was found to be centrally crucial across diverse families and structures. While the term has been associated with divorce or separated families, it doesn’t necessarily refer to the current relationship of the parents. Instead, coparenting refers to how two or more adults work together to care for and raise children with respect and support for each other’s role and function as parents.
Children from infant to adolescent have been found to benefit from positive coparenting. Children that grow up with parents that support and collaborate together tend to exhibit prosocial behavior, work actively and independently, and have better attentional capacities. This may be associated with a child’s imitation of the positive relationship dynamics they observed in coparents; in turn, they tend to display these same dynamics to others later on in life.
The Impact of Coparenting
Children of all ages benefit when the parental figure in their lives provides a healthy environment through positive coparenting. A lot of studies found that well-coordinated coparenting has been related to a wide variety of child development. Here are some ways that show positive coparenting as a significant role in supporting a child’s healthy development.
- Sleep Duration. Healthy maintenance of coparenting habits can have a positive effect on the efficient implementation of a child’s bedtime routine and improve their sleep. However, if parents are unable to maintain positive coparenting and the routine, it may induce emotional distress in their child. This may also interfere with a child’s sense of security which can affect their sleep.
- Emotional development. The limbic system, most commonly known for emotion regulation, starts to develop during the first year of a person’s life. Positive coparenting can help babies regulate emotions, reduce distress, and learn rhythms. This will also support an infant’s emotional development, directing them to have stronger emotional regulation later in life.
- Reduce behavioral problems. Unresolved difficulties in coparenting may result in an unstable environment for a child to grow up in. This may cause the development of problematic behaviors such as social withdrawal, depressive/anxious symptoms, aggressive or antisocial behavior, and hyperactive symptoms. To lessen these problems, coparenting can predict child emotional adjustment and behavior.
Positive coparenting can be developed before a child is born and is a process that can grow in the family through nurturing and practicing. Coparents who build stable habits while their children are young will be more proficient at keeping solidarity as children grow older. For this, Mark E. Feinberg formulated four coparenting components that can be applied when developing positive coparenting habits.
- Childrearing agreement. Parents need to decide how to handle and manage their child’s life. This includes the educational priorities, discipline method, moral values, and emotional needs of a child. Parents will be practice how to tackle disagreements and agree on their ways so they may pass down knowledge and values to their children.
- Division of labor. Parents need to divide responsibilities and tasks related to the daily routine of childcare and household early on. Apart from that, they have to manage their expectations and beliefs when dividing their duties. This will affect the level of satisfaction and flexibility between coparents.
- Support/undermining. Parents have to show their support towards each other, such as affirming the other’s competency as a parent, acknowledging and respecting the other’s contributions, and upholding the other’s parenting decisions and authority. The negative counterpart of this is expressed through undermining the other parent through criticism, disparagement, and blame. To prevent this, parents will need to learn how to voice recognition, appreciation, and encouragement towards each other.
- Joint family management. Managing family interactions is an essential responsibility in coparenting that can be seen in at least three ways. First, there has to be an ample amount of communication that parents engage in when managing coparenting duties. Second, the amount of conflict that emerges when parents discuss or engage in coparenting activities should be kept to a minimum. Third, the interactions and involvement between parents and children should be balanced. Overall, parents will need to learn how to manage communication, conflict, and participation in the family.
Positive coparenting has a vast impact on children’s lives that can only occur when the adults or parental figures in a child’s life provide adequate protection, safety, and respect. As such, its function will be determined by how much the parents manifest positive coparenting in daily life. Once coparents can maintain a healthy way of working together, there is a bigger chance for children to experience a higher level of security within the family. This will manifest when coparents support one another and are attuned to the needs and sensibilities of their children.