This page offers several tips and strategies that programs can use to support effective co-parenting practices with the fathers they serve.
Co-parenting includes the shared responsibilities, goals, and needed collaboration between two individuals who work together to ensure the well-rounded development and well-being of their child. Co-parenting is important for both the caregivers’ and their child’s well-being and is associated with better quality relationships between parents who are romantically involved.
Co-parenting does not have to solely include a child’s biological parents, but can also include a parent’s domestic partner, grandparents, extended relatives, or other caregivers. Additionally, co-parenting can be categorized as either positive or negative. Positive co-parenting can be linked to a child’s healthy cognitive, social, and behavioral development. However, negative co-parenting can result in a child’s behavior problems, poor social skills, and reduced brain development, such as slower language development and difficulties expressing emotions.
Tips & Best Practices
- Fatherhood programs can share tips on effective communication strategies and examples with fathers. This can enable fathers to communicate more effectively with their co-parent and other adults involved in their children’s lives. For example, this resource published by Child Find of America provides some initial communication prompts.
- Fatherhood programs can support fathers when introducing a new partner to their children, which often poses a challenging but important time for open and honest communication. Single Parent Action Network has a useful resource on introducing new partners that programs can share with program participants. It includes reminding fathers that they serve as a role model for their children, that quality time is important, and not to pressure children to feel a certain way about a new partner initially.
- Support incarcerated fathers with co-parenting and communication prior to reentry. While parental incarceration can result in negative child outcomes, programs can help by ensuring incarcerated fathers maintain communication and co-parenting skills[DJ1]. While many elements of co-parenting are similar, programs supporting incarcerated fathers should highlight the importance of both parents being involved in decisions concerning their child. This includes encouraging discussions about childcare, schools, and health care. It also includes providing insight into the child’s life, such as how they are doing in school, or sharing photos, artwork, or other updates.
- Don’t forget about stepfamilies! Programs can also promote healthy stepfamily communication by encouraging fathers to retain cordial relationships with former spouses, use compromise to solve problems and model healthy communication methods to their children.
The Center for Urban Families in Baltimore, MD, emphasizes mediation activities to help parents build co-parenting relationship skills. Sometimes working with traditional third-party mediators, the program prefers non-traditional mediation activities designed to help parents gradually learn to cooperate with each other.
The center also operates Couples Advancing Together, a pilot program in partnership with the Maryland Department of Human Resources. Couples Advancing Together provides healthy relationship skills-building, employment assistance, and case management services for couples with children receiving public benefits through the Department of Social Services. The pilot features a 6-week (12 sessions) curriculum, home visits, and long-term follow-up. Group sessions are led by skilled facilitators who create a learner-centered, positive, respectful, and comfortable environment that allows couples to share their experiences and knowledge with peers. With assistance from family services coordinators and group facilitators, participants develop a family self-sufficiency plan to help them set family and career goals, compete in the job market, and develop family budgets. Transportation assistance, childcare, and dinner for parents and their children are provided.
How can programs support fathers when introducing new partners to their children?
Programs can work with fathers to communicate openly and appropriately. For instance, fathers can be encouraged to introduce a new partner to their children once the relationship is happy, stable, and they are sure the relationship has a future. Children should also not feel that the new partner being introduced is a replacement for their other parent. Programs can encourage fathers to communicate openly with their children about their new relationship, while also listening to what their child has to say. This includes reassuring their children about how much they love them and how the new partner will change the relationship between father and child.
How can programs support step-families?
Programs can work with fathers in stepfamilies to ensure that the father maintains a cordial relationship with former spouses, that he uses compromise to resolve problems, and that he models healthy communication and commitment for children.
What additional resources on co-parenting can I explore to better support fathers?
Supporting Children Through Co-Parenting Strategies, developed by Yale University’s Child Study Center, is a great place to start. This resource provides an overview of the obstacles, interventions, strategies, and benefits for co-parenting in a variety of scenarios. Additionally, Co-Parenting: Resources and Best Practices for Service Providers offer best practices programs can use when developing a co-parenting curriculum.