Part-time parenting’ can benefit kids while liberating mums and dads

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Lucy Good loves being a co-parent.

Key points:

  • Co-parenting is when two or more adults work together to raise children
  • It occurs most commonly when a relationship breaks down
  • Shared custody allows parents to give full attention to the children, a psychologist says

When her relationship with her husband broke down five years ago, they agreed splitting the time with their two daughters 50/50 was the best option.

Not only does she treasure having both her own space and one-on-one time with the kids, she believes the girls have better relationships with her and their dad because of it.

“When in a partnered relationship you may have a break here and there, but it’s limited to a few hours,” the Noosa mum of two said.

“With co-parenting, having that ‘me time’ is extremely valuable, not only to recharge and just take a break, but it enables you to work on yourself — whether that is health, career or just concentrating on the future.”

Co-parenting is when two or more adults work together to raise children despite not being in a romantic relationship or even the biological parents. 

It occurs most commonly when a relationship breaks down and the parents agree to equal responsibility of the child’s upbringing.

Lucy, who writes a blog with the aim of supporting other single mums, said if she had continued her marriage, she would have remained “just mum”.

“But instead I’ve had the space to start my own business and be my own person again,” she said.

“It’s something your kids watch you do and learn from.”

Quality time with the kids, space to date, time to develop a career or for personal development, and “binning the babysitter’s number” are all benefits of co-parenting, according to Lucy.

And although she acknowledges shared custody doesn’t work for everyone, she said it was often a structure that benefited the children too.

“It’s a brilliant way to parent,” she said.

“In a typical relationship you have mum, dad and kids, and mum does most stuff with the kids, so their relationship is not as strong usually with dad,” she said. 

“But when you co-parent, the dad builds up a relationship with the kids that perhaps wouldn’t have been there in a parented couple.”

Lucy said she was proud her girls could see their mum and dad making good decisions.

“We could have stayed together and lived in an unhappy home where our children lived amongst conflict and grew up to believe a normal relationship was unhealthy one — now instead they see mum and dad getting on reasonably well and building bridges.”We asked if you were a “part-time parent” and for you to share your experience in the comments.

Children benefit from one-on-one time: psychologist

Child psychologist Kimberley O’Brien said shared custody allowed parents who were not in a relationship together to give their full attention to the children.

“There are lots of benefits to having one-on-one time,” she said.

“They [the children] aren’t competing with the other parent for attention.”

Should you stay for the kids?

It may seem obvious to call a relationship quits if you’ve fallen out of love, but for couples with children it’s not always black and white.

Dr O’Brien said it could be a point of tension in a nuclear family when it can often be “all about the kids”, and when parents were taking care of themselves, they had a lot more energy to give.

“They aren’t feeling tired or resentful of their own time being eaten into by children’s needs,” she said.

“If they have three days to themselves to socialise or work or do the things they need to do, then have time to focus on the children, parents can be less stressed and really appreciate that time they have with the kids.”

We also know that children in joint physical custody are happier than those in sole parental care — with 2016 research from Stockholm University finding they had less “psychological complaints”.

But there are some drawbacks for children, including having to pack up their personal belongings regularly, and adjusting to living in two locations while trying to maintain social or educational activities.

Dr O’Brien said parents should be mindful that children took time to adjust.

“That transition to week-on, week-off for example can be exhausting for kids, and parents should expect a settling period after that changeover,” she said.

Dad getting a lot more ‘me time’

Aussie expat Dylan Kissane lives in France where he has his seven-year-old son Jamie every other week.

He separated from his French wife when Jamie was two, but the relationship has remained amicable, allowing them to be flexible with shared time when necessary, for example during holidays.

Dylan Kissane with his son Jamie walking along the street

Dylan said the shared time meant Jamie got the best of each parent.

“I can organise my time to give as much to him as I can during the week he stays with me, and then devote myself to other activities and work when he is at his mum’s apartment,” he said.

“It means that I can work longer hours during the week he is at his mum’s and work shorter hours to make sure I can see him during the weeks he stays with me.”

Finding time to see a movie or go for an evening run is all easy the week he doesn’t have Jamie.

“There’s much more ‘me time’ in those weeks,” he said.

Dylan said staying flexible was key to a successful co-parenting relationship.

“We know that parenting is a lifetime job. If his mum spends a day or two longer with him this vacation than I do, or if I have him for two Christmas Days in a row, that happens.”

For Jamie, the two households have created a great space for his learning too.

“Jamie’s school is bilingual and he spends one week learning in French and then continues classes the next week in English,” Dylan said.

“We’ve got things sorted out so that during the weeks he has English classes he stays with me, and the week he learns in French he spends with his mother.”