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How do we support co-parenting in youth work?

By Sara Langworthy

A few weeks ago, I attended the Children, Youth and Family Consortium’s Lessons from the Field event on coparenting and divorce. Researchers James McHale Ph.D. and Kathryn Edin Ph.D. talked about their work with divorcing and never married families and ways to promote high quality parenting that benefits children and youth. Their talks raised questions for me about what we’re doing in our Extension programming to support youth and their families, especially when parents are parenting apart.

Increasingly, children and youth are being raised by adults who are parenting separately. With divorce rates between 40-50% in the U.S. and many parents of children never marrying to begin with, many youth are navigating multiple family systems, adult caregivers, and sibling relationships.

Over the past few decades, substantial research has explored the effects of coparenting, or multiple adults sharing caregiving responsibilities, on children and youth. Research suggests that when parents are able to be highly collaborative and express low conflict with one another, fathers are more fully involved in coparenting activities.

However, divorce is often highly contentious and full of conflict, which children and youth may witness. In addition, for families with limited resources, life stressors may increase conflict between parents. It is important to provide parents with opportunities to learn effective and collaborative coparenting skills to best support their children throughout these challenging transitions. Children and youth benefit when parents share consistent communication, encourage active involvement of one another in their children’s lives, and have access to support and respite during stressful situations.

This all made me wonder, how are our programs with youth supporting them through family transitions? Do we consider how we might set up programs to encourage positive coparenting? What supports do we provide to youth when they are going through transitions like divorce and navigating multiple households?

For more information on co-parenting, see Children, Youth and Family Consortium’s latest eReview publication Children in Common: Ensuring the Emotional Well-Being of Children when Parenting Apart.

-- Sara Langworthy, former Extension educator, Children, Youth & Family Consortium, which is part of the Extension Center for Family Development

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