When I first heard the term, co-parenting, I immediately thought of couples who were divorced and were sharing custody of their children. I was wrong; that’s shared custody, not co-parenting.
Then I thought of gay and lesbian couples who wanted children and that wasn’t right, either, because they were in a sexual relationship with each other so they didn’t qualify as co-parents. Then I thought of my client who wanted a child with her lover, but she didn’t want to marry him, but that wasn’t co-parenting, either.
At that point, I couldn’t think beyond those options so I did some research.
It seems that the generally accepted answer for co-parenting is that two people want to have a child together but they do not want to enter into a conventional relationship.
They are not in a romantic relationship with one another; they don’t want to marry each other, and they don’t have sex with one another; pregnancy is by IVF. They are totally committed to the child rather than being committed to one another.
They do live in the same house for the purpose of devoting themselves to the care and raising of their child but they don’t love each other romantically and they aren’t sexually involved with each other.
In today’s society, women are often torn between wanting to be a mother and also wanting a rewarding career. If she focuses on her career, she may have to sacrifice her dream of having children when her biological clock runs out.
For women who have always dreamed of having children, this may be the hardest decision of their life.
What amazed me is that instead of co-parenting with the same person for all their children, they often co-parent with a different partner for each child.
There is much more to this co-parenting than two people getting married because instead of being physically attracted to one another and having one set of gonads calling to another set of gonads, all of that is irrelevant.
When a woman is looking for a co-parent she looks for different qualities than if she were looking for a husband. She’s not interested in the sexual chemistry; she’s interested in his character. She is looking at the man’s qualities that she hopes to see in their child.
Of course, she has to like the man. Since they will be sharing decisions about medical care for their child, education, finances, religious or spiritual beliefs, and the type of child rearing they will do, they have to share the same goals and the same child rearing styles. He also has to be financially solvent.
For an arrangement like this to be successful, they don’t date other people; they devote their time and energy to the raising of their child in a loving environment. They can still pursue their careers but now they have each other to share the midnight feedings and the sick days of their child.
In time, one or both of them will want to move on. They may want to find a marriage partner and start a conventional family, or they may want to find another partner to co-parent another child.
The important thing to remember is that they are co-parenting this child for the rest of his or her life and nothing can be allowed to take the focus away from the child no matter what other circumstances arise.
So, in effect, this is a lot more binding than a marriage because it means that the child learns to love both parents equally and they don’t have to vie for its love. Whatever decisions have to be made, their contract is with the child and not with each other.
Some co-parents have a legal contract and others do not. To a very large extent, they have to trust each other, and they have to trust that they will co-parent this child forever in whatever style they had agreed to. They can eventually go on to other partners and have other children but they must remain committed to the child they co-parent.
In today’s society, the divorce rate is very high and marriage doesn’t have much to recommend it in terms of stability. Children are often the pawns in a bitter divorce and custody fight. At the end of a marriage, the partners are often in emotional pain, hurting, angry, and bitter, and the children get lost in the shuffle, afraid to take sides.
While it’s not something I have ever considered, co-parenting, if it’s carried out the way the concept is intended, has a lot of redeeming features to it.
It sounds as if both partners can have their cake and eat it, too; they can have the best of all possible worlds . . . if they don’t fall in love and mess it up with emotional and sexual entanglements.