Co-Parenting vs Single Parenting (10 Fundamental Tips)

Co-parenting involves both parents taking an active role in raising their children, this means more than just financial support and includes all aspects of a child’s life. Single parenting describes one parent holding complete responsibility for their child’s upbringing with limited to no support from the other parent.

  • The first important factor to keep in mind is that no form of parenting is easy. Parenting brings huge responsibility, lots of worries, it requires huge amounts of energy and constant vigilance.
  • The next important factor is whether the parents decided to co-parent or single parent or whether the parent was forced (maybe by law or through the death of the other parent) to take on a specific method of parenting.
  • Co-parenting has more advantages for all parties involved especially with a civil agreement about their child’s upbringing.
  • Single parenting might be more difficult and taxing but if approached correctly could be just as fulfilling and enjoyable as any other form of parenting.

Being a parent does not necessarily mean you are involved in parenting because being a parent could merely indicate the biological relationship between parent and child. To do parenting indicates that you are aware of your parenting actions and that you consciously take action to the parent or educate your child.

Parenting also does not necessarily mean that the child involved, is your own flesh and blood because a parent who wants to be a parent can basically parent any child as long as both parties are indeed aware of the relationship and committed to it.

Silhoutte showing co-parenting with parents putting arms together overtop of standing children to show working together and happy family

When a relationship or marriage has reached the stage where separation or divorce is inevitable and there is a child involved,  one of the major issues that the parents are confronted with is how to continue with their individual roles as parents.

Even if you stop being a husband or a wife, you will always be a parent, and being a parent not only refers to you being the biological mother or father of that child but it has far greater implications and responsibilities.

Being a parent is one thing but being actively and intentionally involved with parenting is quite a different ball game.

Before we compare co-parenting to single parenting let’s first ascertain what exactly parenting entails.

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What is Parenting

The aim of parenting is to support and facilitate the physical, emotional, social, and intellectual (cognitive) development of a child from birth until that child reaches adulthood.

Parenting usually implies two parents and in most cases, this implies a male and a female parent. Parenting is not the same as childcare although part of parenting is taking care of your child. A caregiver is not that child’s parent – you are.

“ There is no question that the role of parents is a unique one, a sacred stewardship in life. It has to do with nurturing the potential of a special human being entrusted to their (parents’) care . There is no substitute for the special relationship between a parent and a child” Stephen Covey, 1997).

You are the steward of your child’s mental, cognitive, social, spiritual, and economic potential.

Related Reading: Discussing Different Parenting Styles, Which One Are You?

Co-Parenting vs Parallel Parenting

Co-parenting should not be confused with parallel parenting. These two terms might sound the same but there is no “co” (cooperation) in parallel parenting. The latter is when parents may not get along at all, there is constant conflict, they may not talk and they may not agree about (amongst others) their child’s upbringing.

In such a case parents can decide to spend time with the child separately and independently in order to reduce the risk of exposing the child to the parents’ hostile or toxic relationship. In this case there is often some or other legal agreement, arrangements and regulations involved to protect the child.

Co-parenting Defined

Co-parenting can be defined as the sharing of duties of bringing up a child. The term is mostly used for parents who are separated or not in a relationship.

This form of parenting often describes an arrangement that is made after separation or divorce, where both parents agree to participate jointly in their child’s activities and upbringing.

Interaction between parents are implied and both parents should be committed to maintain a respectful and civil relationship and to put aside differences and issues that led to the separation or divorce.

Fundamentals for Healthy Co-parenting

No form of parenting will ever run perfectly smoothly and neither will co-parenting. However, if some basic principles are in place, life could be much easier for all family members involved. The following could be viewed as the foundation for healthy, responsible co-parenting:

1. Set Boundaries

To a child, boundaries imply security – not punishment. Parents should work together and come to an agreement about boundaries, rules, and limits as far as their child is concerned.

2. Work on a Schedule

Parents should spend time working out a schedule that takes everybody into consideration. The schedule must include arrangements such as transport, activities, and doctor’s appointments.

3. Be Flexible

Having a schedule is very important but we all know that “life happens” and things do not always work out as we have planned or hoped they would. This requires parents to be flexible and accommodate each other where possible.

4. Be Willing to Substitute for Each Other

If one parent experiences a sudden change of plans or an emergency, that parent should have the peace of mind knowing that the other parent will help them out as far as parenting duties are concerned.

5. A Basic Level of Agreement

For the sake of your child, try to reach a basic agreement about what your goals with parenting are. In minor cases where you do not agree, do not disagree in front of your child. That is an invitation for manipulation to start or to intensify.

6. Steer Clear of Manipulation

Parents should not try and manipulate each other through their children. Respect the fact that the child needs both parents in his life. Try not to see your child’s love or admiration for the other parent as a personal threat or sign of rejection.

7. Communicate

Parents should talk to each other on a regular basis and endeavor to keep open, honest, and respectful communication between them going.

8. Do Not Disagree in Front of the Child

If your child thinks that you get along, your child will feel more secure and happy. This will create positive feedback which will be beneficial to all involved in the family relationship.

9. Attend Events Without Tension

Where possible, both parents should attend the child’s sport, cultural and social events and make an effort to be civil and respectful towards each other. In this way negative tension and a negative atmosphere can be avoided.

10. Respect Each Parent’s Role and Contribution

Each parent has their own unique contribution towards the child’s education and upbringing. Respect that of each other to ensure you raise a child that both parents will be proud of.

Silhouette of man and woman with blue sky in background for blog post on how to Get Over the Father of Your Child

Co-parents Should Avoid the Following:

  • Do not expect too much from your child and do not involve him in too many activities just to keep both parents happy.
  • Parents should not try to be their child’s best buddy. Your child needs discipline, support and guidance from both parents. They will find friendships elsewhere.
  • Steer clear of degrading and humiliating the other parent in order to make yourself look like a better person and parent.
  • Parents should not communicate through their children or make the child carry messages from one parent to the other. If you do it will only confirm to the child that the parents are not communicating and that they are angry with each other. Remember that those messages you send also carry an emotional load and the child will definitely pick up on that.
  • Do not allow your child to make decisions about his own safety, education, social interactions and daily activities. These decisions should be covered in a mutual and joined decision-making process.

Related Reading: Co-Parenting After Infidelity [HOW TO MAKE IT WORK]

Single Parenting

Generally, single parenting involves one parent who lives with a child (biological or adopted) and who does not have a spouse or partner. The reasons for being single can vary from:

  • Never married
  • Being widowed
  • Divorced,
  • Separated,
  • Having adopted as a single parent,
  • Being a surrogate,
  • Having a parent in jail,
  • Working abroad

Having a smaller income is often associated with this type of parenting.

Single parenting might be a bit more difficult, stressful, and energy-sapping but these children could also be raised as happy and healthy children when the parenting strategy is supportive, nurturing, accommodating, sensitive, accepting, and respectful.

Related Reading: Can Single Fathers Be Better Parents?

Single father walking his daughter to school in a suburb

Fundamentals for Healthy Co-parenting

For single parenting to be productive and successful, the following ground rules should be considered:

Create Clear and Realistic Rules and Boundaries

Creating rules, boundaries, and expectations that are clear and realistic will make your child feel secure and safe. If you explain their purpose the child is more like to adhere to them. Some rules could be created in cooperation with your child and some rules will be set by the parent and they are not negotiable. The latter normally involves the child’s safety.

Try to Be Consistent With Rules and Boundaries

Being consistent with your child plays an important role in the feeling, safe secure, and cared for. Do keep reinforcing existing rules and create new appropriate rules for your new situation. Being consistent means creating a routine or structure. This should include activities like meals and mealtimes, bedtimes, chores, and other daily activities.

Encourage and Set the Example for Good Behaviour

It is difficult for any parent to get the balance right between being too strict and being warm and caring. Although no child should be drilled like an army soldier they also should not be babied. Do not be overprotective and over caring because you feel guilty about your failed marriage or relationship and because you pity your child for having to grow up without a mother or a father.

Be Tuned Into Feelings – Your Own and That of the Child

As a single parent trying to show your unconditional love. Praise and encourage your child and spend quality time with them. Create opportunities where your child will enjoy your undivided attention.

Manage conflict as effectively as possible and be aware that some power struggles will indeed develop. This is a normal part of your child’s road to independence and also your struggle to let go. You should set an example when it comes to managing your own feelings and avoiding destructive conflict. Conflict management is a skill that can be taught and learned.

Related Reading: Co-Parenting a Newborn – What You Need to Know

Employ Good Reliable Child Care

If you have to make use of childcare make sure that it will provide a safe and secure environment where your child will also be stimulated and supported in their activities. Reliable child care will give you the peace of mind to continue with your own daily commitments and duties.

Remember to Take Care of Yourself

You will be doing your child a favour when you take care of yourself. This includes the physical (health), mental, emotional, social, financial, and spiritual aspects of your life.

Related Reading: The Benefits of Being a Sober Parent

Use Available Support

Arrangements like carpools and playdates work to the advantage of all involved. You will have a bit more me-time and the child will probably enjoy the company of others. If grandparents or close family and friends are available for babysitting, do not hesitate to make use of it.

Be Honest and Try to Have a Positive Mind-Set

From time to time, you will go through difficult patches and it is all right, to be honest with your child about it. A sense of humour can go a long way to break the tension and improve the atmosphere. Try to stay positive by remembering all the blessings you have to be grateful for.

The Gender Role of the Parent Who Is Absent

Do talk positively about the opposite sex and point out to your child examples of solid, healthy relationships that involve both parents and both genders. Also, make your child aware of the fact that it is possible to have healthy long-term relationships with members of the opposite sex.

Avoid falling into the trap of stereotyping the opposite sex. Rather encourage interaction with both genders and teach your child how to behave when in the company of same-sex and opposite-sex people. If you have hostile feelings about the other gender, do not transfer those negative feelings to your child.

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In Summary

Comparing co-parenting to single parenting one should keep in mind that it is often not by choice that we are dealing with a specific form of parenting. The form of parenting that you have to deal with is often the result of choices (good or bad) that were made in the past.

Also, remember that your child is not responsible for those choices and thus he should not be subjected to the negative consequences thereof. Whatever form of parenting you are faced with, remember that you can be a good, reliable, and responsible parent if you keep the following essential aspects in mind:

“Parents aren’t the people you come from. They are the people you want to be when you grow up” – Jodi Picoult

  • Parenting is in essence leadership. You are the leader and you should lead by example.
  • Do introspection of your own values, behaviour and perceptions and make changes if it is required for your own well-being and that of your child.
  • Any child needs warm, sensitive, caring and protective parents.

Parental love is the only love that is truly selfless, unconditional, and forgiving – TP Chia

  • Clear rules make a child feel safe, secure and cared for.
  • All children need support, positive feedback, praise, encouragement and attention.
  • Understand that no parent is perfect and you are not Superwoman or Superman.
  • Get and use support from family and friends.
  • Do not expect your child to realize your dreams. Those expectations create pressure that no child can endure.
  • Practise discipline with respect and warmth. Explain to your child why rules and boundaries are important.

A child who is allowed to be disrespectful to his parents will not have true respect for anyone. – Billy Graham

Employ the following practical advice daily:

  • Show interest in your child and his hobbies, activities and favourite pass-times.
  • Spend quality time with your child where you can really communicate about his thoughts, feelings and fears. One-on-one time is invaluable and your child will enjoy your undivided attention.
  • Praise your child. This is also called positive reinforcement. Point out that you are aware of his good and positive behaviour.
  • Be consistent in what you allow and do not allow.
  • Teach your child responsibility by allowing him to make choices, face the consequences and learn from that.
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