There are many ways to have a happy, healthy family that fall outside of the traditional nuclear family unit. Today’s diverse social climate and advanced technology have expanded the definition of family, reminding us that family is a matter of love, connection and care—rather than simply blood and marriage. Children need parents who are committed to loving and supporting them, and that love and support are found in a variety of family structures.
That’s why many people who have split from their partners consider platonic parenting (also popularly known as co-parenting). Platonic parenting occurs when two or more people decide to raise children together, even in the absence of a romantic connection.
Families with platonic parents can take a variety of forms and living situations. Here are just three examples of platonic parenting methods, to help you consider whether this approach is right for you and your family.
1. Platonic Marriage
This first form of platonic parenting is really just a re-framing of a common alternative to divorce. Many couples who fall out of love (and end their romantic relationship) choose to stay together for the sake of the children. Some of these couples begin dating other people, while others commit to delay new romantic relationships until their children have reached a predetermined age.
Platonic marriage offers unique benefits, by inviting an open and honest approach to communication, romantic arrangements, and parenting. Couples in a platonic marriage admit that they are not romantically involved; as opposed to couples who try to keep their romantic separation a secret from their children and friends. Pretending to continue in a romantic marriage can create major interpersonal tensions, and a lack of intimacy or trust within parent-child relationships. The parents may even experience mental health issues due to a sense of living a “double-life,” and associated feelings of shame.
In contrast, intentionally transitioning a romantic marriage to a platonic parenting partnership has many benefits, for both the children and parents. Children learn by watching adults. Seeing their parents model a healthy and kind romantic separation—one that prioritizes the wellbeing of the children—will not only help your kids feel important and valued, but also teach them skills in conflict resolution, communication, and emotional intelligence.
For parents, an open and clearly communicated platonic relationship can allow them to make a healthier transition out of the romantic marriage, and into their new identity as platonic teammates in child-rearing. Though this approach can be difficult, it can be one of the healthiest options for everyone involved if approached with self-awareness, kindness, and courage to do things a little differently. If you’re looking to explore this option, consider checking out resources for conscious uncoupling, a process for lovingly completing a relationship—and turning breakups into an opportunity for personal growth.
2. Platonic Co-Parenting
With more and more people getting married later in life—or choosing to not marry at all—platonic parenting is becoming a popular option, for both strangers and long-time friends alike.
This is especially enticing for those who find themselves flying through their prime child rearing years, without a romantic partner on the horizon. For many people, a sense of adulthood doesn’t begin until their thirties, due to societal factors that delay (or fully negate) previously accessible milestones, such as home ownership and secure employment. Though single parenting is common and perfectly acceptable, many turn to their own network of friends in search of a co-parent, without the pressure of having to rush into a romantic relationship.
If there’s no suitable match in your existing network, parents can also make use of the many platonic parenting matchmaking services. Popular websites such as Modamily and Coparent work similarly to online dating sites, but specialize in setting up aspiring parents rather than romantic partners.
There are many benefits to co-parenting—from sharing the financial load of child-rearing to splitting the time, emotional labor, and physical requirements. Keep in mind, no partnership is without demands. Platonic parenting requires as much clear communication as a healthy romantic marriage.
Co-parents need to be able to get on the same page, both in terms of their approaches to parenting as well as their personal lives. It’s important that potential co-parents get to know each other well, and agree on a common philosophy of parenting—in everything from spirituality to schooling and medical care. Specialists advise that co-parents secure a formal agreement, to help navigate the natural changes and challenges of life as their child grows up. It’s best to form and finalize the agreement before the child is conceived, but it’s never too late to legally ensure everyone’s rights as parents — as well as the rights of your child.
3. Family Constellation
Though blended families are common post-separation, forming a family with three or four elective parents right from the start is a more recent phenomenon. These families are more commonly sparked by the LGBTQ community—folks who may not have biological options for procreation but may connect well with straight individuals (or couples) who want to share in the joy of having a child.
There’s a reason the phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” became an adage. Child rearing is a serious and lifelong commitment, one that’s often made easier with the support of others. Humans have been raising children in communities since the very beginning. The popularization of platonic parenting is perhaps nothing more than a return to our original nature. Today’s legal structures are giving more people than ever before the option to be hands-on caregivers. With all the work that goes into loving and raising a child, who wouldn’t love the extra help?
These parenting methods aren’t for everyone, but no parenting method ever is! All parents are different, and it’s important to assess what’s best for you, your lifestyle, and your children. If you feel your family would benefit from the support of another parent, one of these approaches may allow you to bring that support into your life. There’s no harm in a child being raised by platonic parents — if anything, it teaches the child firsthand that romantic love is not the only type of love in this world. The love between parents and children, and the love shared among a family unit, can be just as strong and fulfilling.
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