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Co-Parenting: Advantages and Disadvantages for Children and Parents

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“Co-parenting” sounds functional, a bit like co-working. It sounds like division of labor and flexibility. And it sounds like a departure from the traditional mother-father-child family.

All of that is co-parenting, somehow. But do you know how exactly one defines the term? Because if you think of separated parents who share custody of their child, say 50-50, then you are wrong. Co-parenting can encompass a whole range of different constellations – but two biological parents of a child who live separately are not one of them.

At least not in the scientific definition of the sociologist Christine Wimbauer from the Humboldt University in Berlin. She has just published a comprehensive study on co-parenting. She says: Co-parents are two or more people, regardless of gender, who are not in a love relationship with each other – and have a child together. A model that, as Wimbauer noted, can mean great opportunities, but also problems for everyone involved.

The benefits of co-parenting

It is more inclusive than the classic model

The “practical” thing about the co-parenting model: it allows more people overall to have children – no longer just men and women in a heterosexual couple relationship. “You can enumerate different constellations here,” writes Christine Wimbauer in her study. “Be it homosexual-oriented people who start a queer family together, for example the lesbian couple who start a family with a befriended or still to be found (possibly) gay man or pair of men and then three or four co-parents are in a multi-parent family. Or the 41-year-old, who did not allow for a long-term love-couple relationship with her studies, career entry and high professional flexibility requirements. “

It can relieve parents emotionally

Granted, a relationship without love, that sounds very unromantic. However, it also has an advantage, says sociologist Wimbauer: Parents who have no romantic demands on their co-parent – or their co-parents – are in many cases more relaxed. “If there is no romantic love between the parents, then no romantic love can cool down and it cannot be hurt,” writes the researcher.

In co-parenting, it doesn’t matter – at least in theory – if you don’t present the other person with a nicely arranged dinner after a hard day. Or if you don’t feel like having sex. Instead of these classic topics for couple quarrels, co-parent relationships are about other things, says Christine Wimbauer: “About family reliability, about securing the common livelihood and upbringing of the child or children.”

The focus is completely on the child

This also leads to the next advantage that co-parenting can have: Those who decide to do so do not do so to crown their love affair with offspring or to do their partner a favor. No, he does it because he desperately wants a child – or several children. “It is very noticeable that in families everything revolves around the child’s well-being and that everyone emphasizes their great love for the child,” writes Christine Wimbauer. Children in co-parent relationships, she says, hardly arise “by chance”; their parents consciously choose them. The result is often a “high child centering”, she writes.

Child can benefit from “bonus parents” and “bonus grandparents”

“It takes an entire village to raise a child,” is supposedly an African proverb. And indeed: if there are more than two active parents, then the child in this constellation has so-called “bonus parents”. If it is treated well by everyone, it can be very positive for the offspring. Such “multiple parenthood” comes about, for example, when a couple starts a family together with another person; when two couples have a child together; or if a network of friends makes a joint decision. Not to forget: this is often accompanied by loving “bonus grandparents”.

The disadvantages of co-parenting

Role models and routines can be missing

The freedom of co-parents also means a lot of ambiguity – and often tedious negotiation processes. In contrast to the classic mom-dad-child family, co-parents have fewer role models whose everyday routines they can copy.

Especially in constellations with more than two mothers and fathers, the parents often have to find their role first – and often very laboriously discussing all parenting issues. Who should be the mother giving birth? Who is the genetic father? Who should participate in what financially and how intensively? Which school should the child go to one day? And when should it spend how much time with which parent? “Those involved definitely need the will to discuss, negotiate and agree on everything,” writes Christine Wimbauer.

Inequalities persist

As sociologist Wimbauer found out in her study, gender inequalities do not stop at the most progressive parenting constellations. The inequalities that she observed in some co-parent families are “more than known from heterosexual couple relationships”. And further: “Above all, women and (co) mothers do more care work, which is usually little recognized and often made invisible.”

Legal Discrimination

Legally, explains Christine Wimbauer, only two people are possible as parents in Germany. In constellations with more than these two, this automatically means that at least one parent, at least officially, has no claims – for example to the right of custody and residence.

There are various things that a so-called “social parent” is, but legally not one, actually not allowed to: pick up the child from daycare, bring them to the pediatrician without authorization and obtain their diagnosis, travel abroad by plane. “Everything together sometimes makes the parents into everyday jugglers”, writes Christine Wimbauer, “because the actual care work should and will usually be shared.”


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