Single Parent or Co-Parent? Right Words Matter

Updated on September 22, 2019
MsDora profile image

MsDora—parent, grandparent, Christian counselor—offers suggestions on raising confident, conscientious, responsible, productive children.

My father died near my second birthday. My mother raised me on her single income, without the presence or influence of a father figure. She was a single parent.

When my marriage ended, I became single-again, but my children continued to have two parents. Their father supported them financially, held his door open to them and accepted their invitations to school and community functions. On occasions, both he and I still show up at the same time in response to their request. We have always been co-parents, never single parents.

Image by Superbenjamin.  Text added.
Image by Superbenjamin. Text added. | Source

In a case where a parent is alive but completely non-functional, the active parent can truly be a single parent; but if both parents contribute to the welfare of the child, the co-parent who insists on having the status of a single parent may fail to benefit from positive co-parenting experiences. True, not all co-parents work happily and effectively together, but even that might improve when the adults face the truth that each is an important one in a team of two. The following strengths which may develop can only help, not hurt.

Recognition for Both Parents

Mothers and fathers may refer to themselves as single parents, in an effort to disregard the exes. Some go as far as refusing to let the other parent see the child. Intentionally or not, they give the impression that the ex-spouse becomes the child’s ex-parent. Unless there is good reason, like abuse or fear of kidnapping or other forms of endangerment, it is not fair to deny recognition for the other parent or to prevent interaction between parent and child. Rather, it is healthy to encourage the parent-child relationship, and to teach respect for the other parent.

Source

*According to Amy Morin, LCSW, young children are often concerned that if their parents can stop loving one another, their parents may stop loving them; grade school children mostly worry that they caused the separation because of some misdeed; teenagers may resent one or both parents for upsetting the family nucleus. It is better for them to hear from both parents, rather than hear one parent assume how the other feels.

Assurances from both parents will lessen the child’s fears of not being loved, relieve them of guilt for imaginary transgressions which they think caused family friction, prevent them from siding with one parent against the other.

When there are two parents, the single-parent mentality may lend itself to bad-talking or downplaying the significance of the other parent. When both parents understand and perform their co-parenting roles, they will teach and the children will learn family love and commitment despite physical separation. Both parents and children will learn forgiveness and the truth that family is forever.

Agreement on Discipline

Where there are co-parents, the single-parent mentality also lends itself to conflicting methods of discipline. It is common for the child to take advantage of this parent individuality and feed the hostility between parents. The child will make complaints about one to the other, hoping for sympathy from the listener who may compensate the child with gifts or privileges, in an effort to show the child who is the better or more loving parent.

It is good for the children to understand the co-parenting concept. It lets them know that their parents are civil enough toward each other, to agree on acceptable and non-acceptable behaviors, as well as appropriate disciplinary action when behaviors do not measure up. It makes it easier for them to conclude that both parents love them enough to steer them straight into responsible, productive adulthood; that there is no way out of discipline.

Clarification for New Mates

It is alright for a man and woman to introduce themselves as singles, if they really are; but when it comes to introducing the children, it is wise to mention that they co-parent. That gives recognition to the other parent, along with notice to the prospective mate that he or she is expected to share parental authority should a new union take place.

When this matter is addressed early, the new couple has time to address the challenges that result from blending a family. It will not be a sudden surprise when:

  • a spouse has to communicate with an ex who is a co-parent;
  • the ex who is a co-parent shows up to celebrate the child’s achievement;
  • the child prefers to spend a holiday with his or her biological father;
  • the child desires to share an event with both dads or both moms.

With recognition and respect for co-parents, there is likely to be happier support from exes for blended families. The children are more likely to be satisfied with the new family setting, than they would-be if they are forced to ignore one of their biological parents. This experience of making the most out of less-than-ideal circumstances can impact their attitudes and intentions throughout their lives.

Co-Parenting Appreciation

Photo by Boris23. Text added.
Photo by Boris23. Text added. | Source

The first time one of my children declined my phone call, I panicked. Was my child in the middle of some horrible experience too traumatic to talk about? Was my child, for whatever reason, unable to speak? The tiny letters scrolling at the top of the WhatsApp screen gave notice of inactivity for two days. I called my co-parent immediately, and while he was trying to reason with me, our child called.

I apologized to him. “Sorry. It must be just old-age jitters.”

“Not at all,” he responded. “You’re just being the caring mom you always were.”

Coming from my co-parent, that comment was authentic commendation on my parenting. I felt justified in ensuring that my children respected him as their father. It might be another year or two before I call to speak to him again, but I keep his phone number. I am a single woman, but I have never been a single parent.


* Morin, Amy: The Psychological Effects of Divorce on Children, VeryWellFamily, (September 14, 2019)


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Dora Weithers

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      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        2 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Sean. I appreciate your encouragement.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        2 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Lora. Well said: "the term co-parenting . . . also helps the children to recognize both parents equally and strengthens their sense of security."

      • Sean Dragon profile image

        Ioannis Arvanitis 

        2 weeks ago from Greece, Almyros

        You are a treasure, my dear Sister, in so many ways! Thank you for another helpful article! You have done fantastic work here!

        Blessed are the givers!

        Sean

      • Lora Hollings profile image

        Lora Hollings 

        2 weeks ago

        This is a wonderful article reminding us of the importance of putting the children first over any negative feelings that may persist for a former spouse. The children's welfare must be considered above all else! Many times, the children pay the price in a marriage breakup and it just isn't right. I think co-parenting is a much better option when both parties can work an arrangement out that recognizes that two people working together to be responsible parents in raising children is a much better choice than a parent who decides to go it alone. Parenting is such a difficult job that it often requires more than one person. And who better than the parents of these children. I like the term co-parenting better than a single parent as I think it also helps the children to recognize both parents equally and strengthens their sense of security. Thank you for sharing this helpful and instructive article on this important issue!

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        2 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Antonio, thanks for your notice and your kind comments. Best to you, always!

      • profile image

        Antonio50S 

        3 weeks ago

        To Dora.

        I know you update and write new articles on a regular basis, but just to let you know. In future, I won't be posting comments on all new articles you write on, Just letting you know that in case you wondered what happened.

        I know a lot of your readers comment on a regular basis, which is good, but for me, will only comment on selected subjects now ( when i can ) due to reasons.

        But you do write on a lot of very good subjects which is helpful to many people, including myself.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Liz. Embracing the contribution of the other parent helps lighten the load, and it can add to the child's joy to have both parents involved.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        3 weeks ago from UK

        This is an insightful and interesting article. You give an interesting perspective on this common situation and 'coparent' is a positive way of describing it.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Antonio. Your message is clear: "It's all about the children (Not about the issues split up couples have with each other after the split). That's true.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Bill. My daughter, who is also a writer, counseled me to find unique topics in my own life story. It helps.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Flourish. We must always assume that we may need the help of the other parent, one day. Not necessarily for us, but for the children. It pays to be respectful toward them.

      • profile image

        Antonio50S 

        3 weeks ago

        Thanks Dora. But this subject is a serious one. Bottom line, it's all about the children ( Not about the issues split up couples have with each other after the split ). The one thing children need most after a couples failed relationship is stability, yet that's the worst time for them to get that.

        Whatever reasons couples split in the first place ? I'ts a fact, ( Most of them spend more time arguing and fighting after the split/divorce than before ) It's actually much easier to work through the issues while still together than afterwards. Assuming they are mature enough ? If not, then why are they in the relationship ?

        Children need that stability, and while couples are still together, children will test the limits at times, but after the split they are put in situations where one child is defenfing one parent by taking a sides. Subconsciously, that's the last thing a child wants to do. What they really want is stability and to see both parents getting along with each other.

        Me personally, I would say the GOLDEN RULE for any split up couples is to ALWAYS AGRREE with each other IN FRONT of the children, even if they don't on a personal basis. It's not about the issues of the split ups, or who's right or wrong, it's all about the children, what they are witnessing, and how that will effect them in the years to come.

        These split up adults should also take responsobility for their own failed relationships, and not put it onto their children. If we think about it, the reason many of them argue and fight even after the split, is for the same reasons that drew them together in the first place. Their own issues, insecurities, lack of responsobility, In "Love with being in Love" and SO ON. Basically not having the skills and tools to see the Job through, then add to all that, they continue to fail their children.

        A good soul search or reality check on ourselves can help us to avoid these pitfalls in future.

      • lifegate profile image

        William Kovacic 

        3 weeks ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

        Dora, you always have interesting topics with a unique perspective. I hope not only that many read you, but apply your teaching. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        3 weeks ago from USA

        It’s good when parents can put aside their personal differences and place the priority upon their children. I like the example that you used regarding you leaning on your co-parent when needed.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Linda. Would be happy if it makes a difference in the lives of some co-parents especially.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Antonio. It makes me happy to write something that pleases you. I appreciate your affirmation.

      • AliciaC profile image

        Linda Crampton 

        3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

        This is an excellent article, Dora. You've shared some wise and very important information. I hope it's widely read.

      • profile image

        Antonio50S 

        3 weeks ago

        To Dora. This is very well written.

        ( Malachi 2:16 NKJV ) Came to mind "with the good advice you give" Strong words from the author of Malachi, and Yahweh/Jehovah.

        I like the quote from "-IYANLA VANZANT" as well.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Well said, Bill. "Parents can control that depending on how they act around each other." It doesn't hurt to try.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks, Pamela. It wasn't always smooth but perseverance has its merits.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks Shaloo, I think that every parent owes it to their children to make them their priority. Glad too, that we are able to do that.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        3 weeks ago from Olympia, WA

        I completely agree with you. Divorce should affect the children in the smallest way possible,and the parents can control that depending on how they act around each other. The children must come first!!!

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        3 weeks ago from Sunny Florida

        I also think children need both of their parents, whether they live together or not. This well-written article that covers the topic of co-parenting very well. Too many children seem to only have one parent today. I like the way you and your husband have been co-parents.

      • swalia profile image

        Shaloo Walia 

        3 weeks ago from India

        Your children are blessed to have both of you as parents who put their differences aside and were always there for the children. Great hub!

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Lori, co-parenting is not always smooth, but having the other parent in the child's life is still a good thing. It helps them form their own judgment about good and not-good parenting.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Shey, sorry about your bad luck with men. Happy that you have a co-parent for son. Take advantage of that. Your kids will learn and appreciate the difference.

      • lambservant profile image

        Lori Colbo 

        3 weeks ago from Pacific Northwest

        Great topic. My ex and I co-parented technically because our son went to his dad's a few days a week. However, he refused to work with me on discipline or any thing else, partly because he was lazy. He felt it was too difficult to be diligent, consistent, and work hard at it. Yelling and screaming was his only method for family conflicts. Part of it was spitefulness toward me. My son went through so much and he was undiagnosed Aspberegers until she 14. Your children were blessed. I k ow this article will bless and help many.

      • mygoblin profile image

        Shey Saints 

        3 weeks ago from Philippines

        Wow. I absolutely had no idea that there's such a thing called co-parenting. I guess I'm both a single mom and a co-parent. My eldest daughter's father is an irresponsible pr#ck so I'm a single mom in this part. My only son (my middle child) is with his dad though I take him with me on some occasions so he can be with his siblings. Can't believe I can regard myself as a co-parent for my only son. My youngest daughter is my full responsiblity so I'm a single parent for her. By the way, my only son and youngest daughter have the same dad while my eldest has a different one...life. I was never lucky with men. They weren't lucky with me either.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks Eric, this topic has been on my heart for some time. Co-parenting does not have to mirror the sadness of separation. Instead, it can help both parents and children embrace the blessing of resilience and redemption.

      • MsDora profile imageAUTHOR

        Dora Weithers 

        3 weeks ago from The Caribbean

        Eric, thanks for sharing your experience. Glad your wife finally understood the dynamics of a happy blended family. Gabe is in a privileged position. You all are. Best to all the Dierkers going forward.

      • Tim Truzy info4u profile image

        Tim Truzy 

        3 weeks ago from U.S.A.

        Good relevant article for these days, Ms. Dora. Co-parenting, if done correctly as you wrote, could be a blessing for everyone involved. Thank you for a great article which I will refer to some friends. God bless your talents for communicating truth.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        3 weeks ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        Marvelous. I had never broken it down before. For some reason this had me singing Ephesians 5:30+ I think.

        After about a year my ex and I just had love and fun raising our 3 children. How sad for those who do not.

        My wife was jealous at first until we had Gabe and then she got it. And she treats my older children like they were her own and same for my ex with Gabe. Thanks be to God.

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