There’s a new modern family coming to a neighborhood near you—it’s called co-parenting.
It’s when two people who are not in a love relationship want a child and connect for the sole purpose of co-parenting a human together. It’s a whole new way of relating and partnering—one that doesn’t exist with the same aspects anywhere in our culture. There are even a few websites that match people with this desire anywhere in the world.
Even if you’re not filling out a profile on one of these co-parenting sites, the fact that you’ll be joining forces with (most likely) a stranger or someone you don’t know well (yet), makes it essential to get clear about what’s important in raising a child.
When two people meet and fall in love knowing they both want kids, they don’t sit down and discuss if their kids will be vaccinated, how they’ll be disciplined, or how they’ll handle disagreements as parents—until they have kids.
When you’re considering co-parenting with a mere stranger, on the other hand, you do. At least I do. And that’s exactly what I’m doing—getting really clear about the top five characteristics of my co-parenting partner because I’m looking for him in a neighborhood near me (Oakland, California) by February 2016, to be the father of the child growing inside of me (from donor egg and donor sperm through IVF).
Having the door wide open to get clear is not only exciting, but daunting too. I think about the fact that these are my beliefs now, and honor that they will likely change along the way. Without having the experience of being a parent yet—without knowing who this child is nor what the world we live in will be like in the future—I can’t say these values will still be mine five or 10 years from now.
I’m unconsciously incompetent around parenting ideals because I haven’t walked that road yet, so really I’m only as clear as a non-parent can be.
For now, these are the top 5 values I’d like to share with my co-parent:
1. Mindful and Open Communication.
Lots of people say communication is important, but how we communicate during and through conflicts (which are inevitable when raising a child together) is key. I believe in direct, honest and compassionate communication, and am looking for the same in a co-parent.
It’s important for me that each parent is aware of what he or she brings to the conversation—the expectations, desires, triggers, et cetera—and owns those, while listening and working towards a mutually agreeable solution. And when a mutually agreeable solution isn’t possible, agreeing to disagree and accepting that wholeheartedly with love and compassion. This is not easy—and I imagine will be even more difficult with someone I’m as attached to as my own child—but essential.
The other piece of communication that’s important to me is meaning and honoring what you say, and saying what you mean. This is integrity, and it’s one of my highest values. Even in the face of a challenging conversation or fear that the other person won’t like what you have to say, honoring your word is essential. To be clear, honoring doesn’t mean you do something you said you’d do that no longer works for you, but that you’ll communicate the change in your word.
2. Safety and Guidance (versus Control).
As a parent I think our role is to not only support and guide our child to be the best version of herself, but also to keep her safe. As safety and guidance counselors we could be strict and controlling or we could allow her to make her own mistakes and decisions, to learn from them and help her evolve as a little human.
I don’t believe in high control, whereby the parent doesn’t let their child fall down at the playground, or forces her to hours of piano practice until they get it perfect. I want my child to be a child, to experience the chaos and joy of exploring herself in her body, environment and in relation to other people and her desires. Of course there will be boundaries around this because we live in a culture with norms, but I’d like our focus to be on keeping her safe while she explores her world.
This world has a million things to offer, and I think one of the greatest gifts to a child is access and exposure to variety so that she can uncover what makes her heart sing—what lights her up so she brings her best self to the world.
I’d like my child to be exposed to different cultures, people, hobbies and activities, even beyond those I participate in, so she can learn and honor who she is through her own experiences, rather than those I force on her because I like them.
4. Expression and Acceptance.
Of course there’s a part of me that hopes she’ll like to dance like me, and isn’t a soccer player (being a soccer mom isn’t part of my dream), but no matter what I will honor, accept and love her, whoever she is—and I’ll proudly be that soccer mom if that’s what she loves.
It’s most important to me for her to express herself in the way that feels best and right for her, and not for me or anyone else. If she wants to dress up in two different colored socks, or wear a tuxedo to school, go for it—have fun; express! And she’ll of course learn that not everyone accepts her for who she is and will, perhaps, modify her behavior (as most of us do whether we admit it or not). That’s part of life. But my job as a parent is to support and accept her expression—whatever that looks like—even if accepting it doesn’t come easy for me. I’m looking for the same in a co-parent.
5. Conservation and Minimal Consumption.
As Americans, we often consume in excess. We have more stuff than we need, eat more than we need to, and sadly throw a lot away. While I’m not a gypsy by any stretch, I do think it’s important to live conservatively and not over consume, in an effort to support the sustainability our environment. This spans through re-using and recycling, as well as buying less. Sure it’s nice to splurge once in a while on that special something, but Santa Clause, a. doesn’t exist (nor will I lead my child to believe he does) and b. doesn’t deliver a butt-load of presents that will get a month’s worth of attention and then be boring.
I’d like to instill the value of conservation and minimal consumption in my child, and am looking for a co-parent who is interested in the same. Materialistic men need not apply.
I haven’t even touched on my thoughts on circumcision, vaccinations, education, religion and so on. This co-parenting exploration has only just begun.
Parents, what advice or insights would you offer a non-parent in my shoes?
Author: Audree Halasz
Editor: Toby Israel