I remember growing up and almost everyone on our street lived with their mom and maybe a grandma if they were fortunate enough. Black men were somewhat visitors to the household and depending on the situation, maybe non-existent. The vision of single mothers taking their sons to places of masculinity such as the barbershop or a football game was viewed as the norm. I was a teenager when I started hanging with kids who had biological dads in the household. My observation is like the data which says that over 66% of African Americans in the United States live in single-parent homes. Kidscount, an organization that completes this data, notes that this percentage is higher than white families and other races.
Despite the low number of fathers in the household, we have black fathers who are willing to be in their child or children’s lives, which requires the need for co-parenting. Co-parenting can be described as the relationship between two or more people who have taken responsibility for sharing the responsibility for the welfare of a child or children. This phrase seems somewhat new, and people who are resistant to the concept think parenting only works with people being in the same home. However, co-parenting has made it possible for parents to work together to provide structure and reduce stress.
Black fathers are absent out of the household for one reason or another but sometimes, the dynamics of the relationship between two parents created a roadblock in being present for dads. A study by Rodney and Mupier showed that children who have a relationship with their father excel better in academics and have a smaller chance of high-risk behaviors such as drug use or being jailed(1999). Parenting is not an easy task and sometimes co-parenting can be even harder. Co-parenting for the black man can be attached to social barriers and misunderstandings about the role that they serve in parenting if they are no longer in the home. Sometimes men feel that the struggles with the other parent can be too difficult to deal with and those negative interactions can lead to high levels of stress and issues such as chronic stress disorder, anxiety disorder, or instances of depression.
How Do We Reduce Stress from Co-Parenting?
- View your relationship with the other parent as a partnership. You and the other parent are partners in the health and wellness of your child. Partners work together and not against each other. Recognize that you all are on the same team.
- Establish boundaries. For every type of relationship, including the ones with your kids, it is very important to make boundaries. What are some things you don’t feel comfortable discussing, what is the latest that you should be in communication, what are appropriate things to be in communication about? These are all questions that should be considered so that boundaries are established and expectations can be created.
- Recognize your role of fatherhood. Contemplate what fatherhood means to you and the relationship you would like to have with your children. Write these things down and revisit them whenever you feel you are losing insight. Get away from what media says is alright when being a father and look at your personal values.
- Live in the present. The transition from being in a romantic relationship to co-parenting of a child is challenging. There may have been things that both parties could have been better on but live in the present. When you decide to co-parent, make a rule to not discuss issues in the past that are not related to the kids. This can become stressful revisiting issues can take over the importance of serving your kids.
- Practice communicating better. Communicating is key in a partnership for co-parenting. Sometimes we assume things like “I thought you knew I couldn’t take her this weekend” or “I thought you would have made that decision instead of me” which makes the partnership tense and harmful. Communicating establishes trust with each other.
I know that some partnerships are not easy ones to start or have. If you become stressed out from this partnership and need a mediator to help with co-parenting, you should consider attending family-structural therapy or seeking out a legal mediator. Co-parenting should be a rewarding experience that allows both parties to know that they are in a good relationship with each other.
Rodney, H. E., Mupier, R. (1999). Behavioral differences between African American male adolescents with biological fathers and those without biological fathers in the home. Journal of Black Studies, 30(10), 45-61.
Shanelle Clay M.A, LPC, NCC, is a second-year doctoral student studying Counseling Education and Supervision. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in Washington DC, a National Certified Counselor (NCC), a Board Certified Tele-mental Health Provider (BC-TMH), and a certified School Counselor. She is a clinician for EMC2 Educational Consulting and Counseling, LLC located in Washington, DC. Her research topics include child and adolescent issues, racial stress, clinical supervision and trauma interventions.