When a parent becomes a single parent, either through the loss of their spouse or through separation or divorce, it is common for friends and family to step in and help with the day-to-day care of the children involved. They may simply help by doing some grocery shopping or babysitting on occasion. However, sometimes a close friend or family member will move in with the newly single parent and take on a more significant parenting role. Although this can be helpful for the single parent and the children involved, it can also be stressful to figure out boundaries and how the new family unit will function. Below are some ways that co-parenting counseling can help if you are entering a parenting partnership with a non-romantic partner.

Discuss Boundaries and Expectations 

Often, when a friend or family member moves in with a recently single parent, the decision is made quickly and without a lot of discussion about the exact types of support the single parent will need or expect. If you moved in with a single parent without a clear plan for how you will help support them and what your life will look like as part of their family, it is important to have a discussion about your expectations and boundaries. In co-parenting counseling sessions, this may involve setting a schedule for your free time, and discussing how involved you will be in sensitive issues such as discipline. 

Deal With Authority Issues 

Many children have difficulty accepting the authority of a new parent in their life. If you are in a non-traditional parenting relationship, it can be even more difficult to establish a parenting relationship with the children. Furthermore, it can be difficult for the recently single parent to accept you as an authority figure and you may have trouble seeing yourself as an authority in the family as well. 

For example, it may be difficult to make the transition from being the "cool aunt" who brings toys and gifts to the children to being a parental figure to the children. Co-parenting counseling can help you define your role in the family and deal with insecurities about authority problems.  

Create a Parenting Plan 

While both of you may have similar parenting styles in theory, it is helpful to put those ideas into a concrete plan. For example, creating a schedule that gives both the biological parent and you free time each week is an important part of co-parenting. Additionally, you may want to create a concrete plan for establishing you as a parental figure in school and other social environments. 

Discuss Insecurities About the Future

In traditional step-parent relationships, the expectation is that the step-parent will be involved in co-parenting for the rest of their life. However, with a non-traditional co-parenting situation, you may have to deal with insecurities about what will happen as the children grow or as you and the children's parent go through major life changes. For example, will you continue to co-parent if you enter into a serious romantic relationship? What will happen if the children's parent needs to move for a job? Will you move with them? 

Discussing insecurities about the future will help you define your role in the family and feel secure about your relationship with the children. 

Dealing With Co-Parenting In the Case of Divorce 

If the other biological parent is still alive, such as after a divorce, it can be even more difficult to take on a non-traditional co-parenting role. You may have to deal with the other parent not accepting your authority and questioning your interactions with their children. If possible, co-parenting sessions with the parent you will be supporting and the other parent will help smooth out potential conflicts. 

Whether you plan to help co-parent for a limited time or you are moving in permanently, attending co-parenting counseling sessions can help you and your co-parent define your relationship and move forward with the best structure for you and the children. 

Talk with a counseling center or click here for info on parenting therapists and co-parenting counseling.