According to one survey, at least 46 states have mandated or established co-parenting programs for divorcing couples. For good reason: reams of psychological research into the children of splitting-up couples has shown unequivocally that parental conflict is damaging to the kids. But guess what, it’s not only the children of divorcing couples who experience the harm of parental conflict. Happy couples are never perfectly so, and plenty of their kids find themselves caught in the middle of tug-of-wars, whether sparked by exhaustion over 3 am feedings, who gets to decide whether the big bed is for Parents Only or how strenuously to enforce the “no texting at the table” rule. When you become parents together you embark on one of the most profound and emotionally disruptive journeys humans can undertake. But unless you’re actually calling it quits, no one “orders” you to sit down, talk out your differences about parenting and come up with a plan and a way to handle disagreements that protect your kids from fall-out.
Our notions of what makes a family are changing, due to the commonplace frequency of divorce, single-by-choice parenting, same-sex parents, and, most recently, co-parents who are not romantic “couples.” Whatever your opinion of this shift in family life, these changes highlight an often over-looked truth about traditional “parenting while married.” Couples have a relationship as co-parents that is separate from their connection as loving, life partners. That bond needs to be strengthened, nurtured and supported just as much as the romantic one. And “date night” isn’t going to be enough to do it. So if you find yourself frequently breaking that “not in front of the children” rule of couple conflict, find some support. No state or county is going to step in and force you to do better by your kids. It’s up to you.