Co-Parenting from the Inside Out: A Q&A with Karen Kristjanson

Karen L. Kristjanson, MSc, MA is a professional life coach, writer, and member of Leading Women for Shared Parenting. A co-parent herself, she has over thirty years’ experience supporting adults tackling change, to help them both survive and grow. Kristjanson writes for Divorce Magazine and the Huffington Post Canada. She lives in Surrey, British Columbia.

Why is co-parenting worth talking about?

Co-parenting after divorce is important because divorce continues to happen to almost half of marriages, which means millions of children each year have parents who need to figure out how to raise them after separation. It’s worth talking about because parenting is a challenging, long-term undertaking. Anything which will allow more resources to be channeled – two parents, rather than one or one and a bit, is worth serious consideration.

How does co-parenting benefit children?

Research is mounting that demonstrates benefits to children raised by both parents, rather than one. They tend to have better academic results, fewer emotional and behavioral problems, and lower rates of incarceration as they mature. The results for children raised fairly equally by both divorced parents closely resembles the outcomes for children raised in intact families.

What will co-parents get from your book Co-Parenting from the Inside Out: Voices of Moms and Dads?

They will get a deep, reassuring sense that they aren’t alone, no matter how lonely they may feel at times. That co-parenting is worth it, for the kids’ sake. That attending to themselves and their own growth is key. And that doing the emotional work to grieve the marriage ending is essential. Parents in diverse situations will find themselves in these pages, as the stories include moms and dads in highly conflicted and highly collaborative situations, straight parents, lesbian mothers, parents who grew significantly in themselves and those who remained stuck, alienated parents, families with special needs children, and more.

What was the hardest part of co-parenting for you? What were the rewards?

For the first years, I felt uncertain and anxious whether this was going to work, if the boys would be okay. My fear that they would be damaged by our separation was huge. I also wondered if I was doing things right, if I would survive financially, and if life would ever smooth out and feel normal. The biggest rewards were longer-term. I could, when they began high school, see the boys were doing okay. They had, and have a good, solid relationship with both their dad and me. In the short term, to counteract the stresses of each week, I had Sundays all to myself, which felt like gold. I recharged.

How can family and friends support co-parents?

Do empathize with their situation. Do things the other parent might do , like buying a birthday gift for the parent. Do give the co-parent a break now and then by taking the kids on an outing. If you are close family and can afford to, offer to help with extraordinary expenses. Don’t bad-mouth the ex. Don’t encourage the parent to demonize their ex, it’s not helpful. Do ask them how you can support them.

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