How you co-parent after a divorce plays a critical role in how your children will adjust and grow. Your co-parenting style will depend on the type of post-divorce relationship with your ex, specifically the degree of conflict vs. cooperation in your relationship.
Different experts have different labels for the various co-parenting styles. There is a pattern that develops, however, as you read through the literature. Let’s take a look at several experts and how they identify co-parenting styles. This will help you better identify your style and perhaps your ex’s style.
In their book Mindful Co-Parenting: A Child-Friendly Path through Divorce, Gaies and Morris identify 3 types of co-parenting relationships: Cooperative Co-Parenting, Parallel Co-Parenting, and Encapsulated Co-Parenting.
Cooperative / Low Conflict co-parenting style is best for parents who share a very healthy relationship, are able to communicate easily, show respect for one another, are flexible, focus on the well being of their children, adapt easily to requests for changes in the schedule/routine and resolves conflicts calmly.
Parents using this style are able to co-parent without many issues affecting the children. They are able to show their children how to problem solve, be respectful and communicate effectively.
The Moderate-to-High conflict/Business Partners model allows the parents to interact on a limited basis, communicate only when they need to, share schedules, and come together to make decisions for big issues. But they make their own decisions for everyday stuff. They keep their communications and interactions minimal, allowing them to keep their emotions in check. Since their contact with the ex is limited, stress levels are also lower for both parents and children.
Some parents have such severe levels of conflict after their divorce that even a parallel co-parenting relationship is out of the question. When not managed properly, conflicts escalate. Parents have constant fights, enter into destructive relationships, bring the children in and put them in the middle of their conflict, trash the other parent, try to sabotage the relationship that the child has with the other parent, and don’t abide by preset rules or schedules.
High-conflict co-parenting is destructive to the children. Children are used as the go-between to communicate with the other parent, which puts them in an uncomfortable situation. These children never get to see what a healthy adult relationship looks like, and don’t get to experience what cooperation and positive problem-solving looks like.
For the sake of the children, co-parents in high-conflict relationships have to find ways to co-parent their children with minimal or no interaction with each other. Many families in this situation rely on a mediator or a trusted third party for any communication or handoffs of the children from one parent to another.
Trevor Crow Mullineaux identifies 2 types of co-parenting relationships: high functioning/secure and low functioning/highly anxious/sabotaging.
Characteristics of High Functioning / Secure Co-Parenting include focusing on the best interest and well being of the children. Parents exhibit respect, flexibility, fairness, safety, supportiveness, kindness. This type of co-parenting sets healthy boundaries, uses a calm communication style between the parents, works collaboratively, appreciates the role of the step-parent.
Low Functioning / Highly anxious / Sabotaging Co-Parenting characteristics include anger, vindictiveness, physical threats, inflexibility, resentment. Parents who fall into this type of co-parenting often use the courts to resolve their conflicts. They communicate in loud angry methods, use the children as pawns to get what they want. They break the rules, demand that the children love them more than the other parent. This type of parenting is very harmful to the children and puts them in an unsafe environment at times.
In their book, Co-Parenting 101: Helping Your Children Thrive in Two Households after Divorce, Deesha Philyaw and Michael Thomas identified 3 types of co-parenting styles: Super Friends, Business Partners, and Oil and Water.
Super friends have open respect for one another, put the needs and well being of the children first, have an ongoing path of communication and as a result experience very low levels of conflict.
The business partners type of co-parenting sets clear boundaries, but all emotions are kept close to the vest. There is minimal communication and the lives of the tow divorced parents are very separate.
The last style of co-parenting, oil and water, is also the most toxic for the parents and children. There are constant verbal and even physical altercations. No one is able to compromise and both parents continue to harbor anger and resentment from the past.
Jennifer Wolf identifies 10 co-parenting styles: Immature, contentious, distant, ambivalent, balanced, manipulative, co-dependent, negative, abusive, nonexistent.
With an immature style of co-parenting, a parent must seek the advice of the other parent frequently. They are unable to make parenting decisions. The author suggests that time and experience will help work through this style and move the parent to a more confident style.
Contentious styles show parents arguing frequently, dwelling on their past conflicts and looking for ways to annoy the other parent. One of the best ways to deal with this style from your ex is to find a trusted friend with whom you can vent. It is always best to keep in mind that arguing and speaking negatively about the other parent in front of the children is never a good idea.
In a distant style of co-parenting, one parent is absent, either physically or emotionally. He/she rarely shares parenting responsibilities and has very few, if any, contacts per year. You can only encourage the distant parent to be more involved…you can’t change someone.
An ambivalent style usually means you are not interested in your ex any longer. You don’t care about their social life and don’t need their approval. While this might not necessarily be a negative thing, you might want to reach out periodically to talk about the children.
A balanced style of co-parenting is the golden prize for most couples. You have a routine that is working for both of you, respect each other and have worked through the negative aspects of your relationship.
A manipulative style means that one of you is unwilling to compromise, threatens legal action regularly, uses the children as a pawn against the other parent. This style can be very serious and often a third party has to get involved to remedy the issues.
A co-dependent style is one where a parent takes the blame for everything, constantly gives in, feels responsible for the ex’s behavior. If you fall into this style of co-parenting, often professional counseling is your best option to help you through this.
A parent in a negative style of co-parenting constantly sees the other parent in only negative terms. They always find fault and are unable to see any good in the other parent. It might just be a phase you have to move through, but remember to leave the children out of your negative expressions of your ex.
An abusive style is dangerous because there is a fear of physical harm for you and/or your children. You are on guard for their temper and outbursts. If physical violence is feared, then you need to get a restraining order for your own safety.
The nonexistent style is just that….no contact verbally or in writing. You often do not even have their contact information. If you are facing this style, then your best options are to learn to be the best solo parent that you can.
In her article, The 5 Categories of Co-Parenting. Co-Parenting Works! Helping Your Children Thrive After Divorce, Tammy Daughtry summarizes the research done by Dr. Constance Ahrons through a study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health and the University of Wisconsin Graduate School. Dr. Ahrons’ book, The Good Divorce, also includes a description of these five categories: Perfect Pals, Cooperative Colleagues, Angry Associates, Fiery Foes and Dissolved Duos.
Perfect Pals (high interactors-high communicators) This type of relationship starts off with the parents being good friends. They have joint custody, communicate easily with each other, seek advice from each other, keep in touch with their ex’s extended family, often do holidays together. Studies show, however, that this closeness changes over time as they become more distant but still friendly.
Cooperative Colleagues (moderate interactors- high communicators) This type of relationship was the most common in Ahrons’ study. They communicated often, but always about the children and perhaps extended family. They did not share information about their personal lives, did not spend holidays together and were able to compartmentalize their relationship. They were able to stick with the topic of the children and did not bring other issues into the conversation and relationship. Those that used this style of co-parenting were most likely to maintain this relationship over time, according to Ahrons’study.
Angry Associates (moderate interactors-low communicators) The anger each had before the divorce continues into the co-parenting. Most conversations bring in past anger issues and topics. The relationship always shows stress, tensions and a sense of hostility. In this group, the study showed that most of the custody arrangements were for sole custody.
Fiery Foes (low interactors-low communicators) These parents rarely interact. Most conversations end in a fight. They tend to use the legal system more often to resolve their differences. Tensions are always high. Past conflicts are often brought up repeatedly and usually exaggerated. They usually present a negative opinion of the other parent to the children.
Dissolved Duos (non-interactors-non-communicators) Ahron’s study did not represent any in this category because of the study participant parameters. This type of relationship has no communication or interaction between the parents. This could be due to distance, but the noncustodial parent is not involved in the children’s’ lives at all.
Summarizing these different categories, experts agree that the best approach for children is the Cooperative Colleagues. This allows for stress-free interactions, easy conflict resolution, but also the ability to create new family traditions, practices, etc. because it allows each parent to develop their own life and family dynamics.
In her blog, Julia Hasche describes three common co-parenting styles: High Conflict, Parallel and Cooperative/collaborative.
High conflict co-parenting: This style is marked by many conflicts between the parents., Since there is very little discussion, communication is usually through a third party. Negative and toxic arguments abound. This style is definitely most harmful to children.
Parallel co-parenting: Parents tend to ignore each other and don’t communicate much with each other. Their lives are separate, and they rarely discuss any parenting issues. If they do talk, it is very business-like. Parenting plans are often set by a third party or written agreement. Communication often tends to be through the children.
Cooperative and collaborative co-parenting: This is the most beneficial style for the children because it is low conflict, open communication, respectful. There is a sharing of decisions, The key to making this work is that both parents need to be on board.
Dr. Claire Nicogossian identifies 4 co-parenting styles: authoritarian, permissive, authoritative and neglectful.
Authoritarian: The parent shapes and controls the child’s behavior. They set very high standards, many rules, high expectations, and consequences. Children are often anxious, withdrawn, frustrated, academically successful and not likely to be involved in high-risk behaviors.
Permissive: This is the “anything goes” type of parent. They set little expectations, rules or expectations. Children tend to be insecure, have poor social skills, quit things easily, have more episodes of defiance and antisocial behavior.
Authoritative: Parents with this style use rational thinking and open communication. They set rules and consequences and then offer explanations. They are adaptive. Children are happy and self-confident, cope well, exhibit strong social skills, are flexible and communicate easily.
Neglectful: A parent in this style is emotionally absent from the child. They set no rules, expectations or consequences. The child basically raises himself. Children are often depressed, anxious, have low self-esteem, low academic performance and have difficulty with relationships.
Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D. and Anita Gurian, Ph.D. have also identified 4 parenting styles in extremely similar terms.
Authoritarian parents are highly controlling and rely on punishment. There is very little negotiation and their children are expected to offer no resistance to parental rules or decisions.
Authoritative parents tend to be great communicators but yet set realistic expectations for their children. They stay in control but listen to their children’s viewpoints. They usually hold firm on their position but allow their children to express their feelings and independence.
Permissive Parents are warm and affectionate. They are very interested in their children’s creativity. The parents make few demands and have few rules.
Uninvolved parents: These parents demand very little and are often emotionally absent.
After a thorough summary of various co-parenting styles, here are some tips for dealing with a parent who operates under a different parenting style from you.
Dr. Claire Nicogossian gives us 9 Ways to Co-Parent with Different Parenting Styles.
- Talk: Parents need to learn to communicate with each other without criticizing or placing blame.
- Compromise: Learning to be flexible and to compromise is a key strategy for dealing with a co-parent with a different parenting style.
- United Front: Both parents should support each other in their decisions. If you disagree with something the other parent has set as a rule, then you should discuss this without the children being present.
- Teach Healthy Ways to Resolve Conflict: Some disagreements can be teaching moments for your children, so be open to talking about some of these issues in front of your children.
- Parent with Intention: Be willing to adjust your parenting methods as situations change and as children get older.
- Be a Role Model: Be cognizant of your behavior in front of your children and try at all cost to mimic positive behaviors.
- Take Care of Yourself: Being well physically and emotionally makes you better able to deal with parenting styles, your children and all that issues that the divorce has surfaced.
- Educate Yourself on Parenting Styles and Strategies: Learn as much as you can from the experts so you can be at your best.
- Understand How Your Childhood Impacts Your Parenting Style: Examine the way your parents parented and try to incorporate positive methods into your parenting style. Leave negative methods out of the mix. It is also helpful to understand how your es was parented in order to give you a more comprehensive perspective.
To discuss further the suggestions for dealing with these many different co-parenting styles, Brette Sember offers 6 tips:
- Your children are getting the basic care from your ex. If there is a real problem with a rule or something else that is happening at the other parent’s home, address it with the other parent. If not, let it go if it is not a dangerous issue.
- What happens at the other parent’s home, stays there. When your children are with your ex, don’t judge, criticize, monitor, etc.
- Don’t dwell on what is happening at the other parent’s home when the kids are with your ex. Move on with your own life while they are gone.
- Don’t pump your kids for information on what happened at the other parent’s house. Listen to their stories, but don’t pry for details.
- You cannot change your ex and how he/she parents.
- Two parents are still a good thing for your children, so look at that as a positive thing in their lives.
Deborah Serani, Psy.D. gives us several do’s and don’ts for co-parenting well.
With the goal in mind to reduce developmental issues for your children, putting the needs of your children first can help to make co-parenting positive. Here are her do’s and don’ts:
- Commit to making co-parenting an open dialogue with your ex. Keep the lines of communication as open as possible through emails, texts, phone calls, face-to-face conversations, etc.
- Agree upon rules for both households. Children thrive on routine and structure. Keeping consistent rules at each household offers stability for the children.
- Positive talk. Parents should avoid disrespectful talk about their other parent and family. Don’t allow your children to talk disrespectfully about their other parent as well.
- Agree on boundaries and behaviors. Again, consistency is the key here.
- Parents should agree upon the role and access of extended family members.
- Recognize the challenge of co-parenting. It is not about you or your Ex, but about your children.
- Slippery Slopes. Children will test boundaries, but through a united consistent front, parents can address these issues together. Again, structure and consistency are important in a child’s life
- Try not to schedule too many things for your children. Downtime is important too.
- Update often. Keep your ex updated on important things about you and your life that might affect your children so that everyone can be supportive for the children.
- Go for the High Note: Recognize your ex’s differences and strengths in a positive light.
- Don’t burden your children. Keep conflict away from your children as well as negative talk about the ex.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t react to negative things your children say or report. Get the facts and try and remain neutral.
- Don’t be an unbalanced parent. Don’t always be the fun parent or the mean parent. Strike a balance and respect the other parent’s role as well.
- Don’t give into guilt. Parental guilt can often lead to overindulgence that can then lead to the children having difficulty learning needs from wants.
- Don’t be a deliberate thorn in your ex’s side by bending the rules. Stick with the rules and parameters you both set and find another way to express your negative emotions.
- Don’t accuse. Speak up about issues that trouble you. Communication is vital in your children’s emotional health through the divorce.
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We have examined seven experts and their identification of various co-parenting styles. A common theme runs through them all and it is your challenge to identify your style among these lists. We further offered some expert advice on how to deal with a parent whose co-parenting style differs from your own. We hope that the advice from these experts help you develop further your co-parenting style and set you on a path to positive parenting for your children.
Gaies, Jeremy S. and Morris, Jr., James B.., Mindful Co-Parenting: A Child-Friendly Path through Divorce
Mullineaux, Trevor Crow, Strategies for Successful Co-Parenting, Retrieved from Very Well Family website, 4/8/18
Ellis, Latisha Taylor, 3 Co-Parenting Styles: Which are you? Retrieved from Lotus Therapies website, 5/12/17
Wolf, Jennifer, 10 Co-parenting Styles … With Tips to Fix What Isn’t Working, Retrieved from Live About website, 2/16/17
Parenting Styles/Children’s Temperaments: The Match by Robin F. Goodman, Ph.D. and Anita Gurian, Ph.D.
The Do’s and Don’t’s of Co-Parenting Well, by Deborah Serani Psy.D. from Psychology Today website March 28, 2012
Three Common Co-Parenting Styles blog by Julia Hasche on The Single Mother Survival Guide website, November 20, 2018.
Balancing Parenting Styles After Divorce by Brette Sember for WomansDivorce.com website.
What type of parent Are You? Four parenting Styles Summarized, by Dr. Claire Nicogossian, from MomsWellBeing.com website, February 29, 2016
9 Ways to Co-Parent with Different Parenting Styles by Dr. Claire Nicogossian from MomsWellBeing.com website, May 22, 2016.