Broken by Design

Intentional Co-Parenting Violates Children’s Natural Rights

Co-parenting is a term often heard in the context of divorced parents, but a new social platform in Germany connects adults seeking to co-parent – simply as friends, with no romantic relationship – with other like-minded adults. Familyship.org, a German “social community,” is essentially a dating site that allows adults to form partnerships and become parents together. It offers co-parenting services to anyone who wants to find a match to co-parent with, but without “the burden of a love relationship with its high demands.”

After interviewing co-parents who had found each other through the website, Angelika Walser of the Austrian Academy of Sciences described them as having a “strong sense of responsibility. Usually they live in a reliable and stable setting and make sure that they act in the best interest of the children and their rights.”

But if they were truly acting in the best interest of the children and their rights, would they intentionally bring children into such situations to begin with?

Benefits of Marriage

Very few studies exist on the long-term effects of co-parenting on children and adults, but considering what we know about co-parenting in the aftermath of divorce, we know that children don’t fare as well as those with stable, married parents.

Men and women are equal but different to each other, and, ideally, those differences come together to reflect the infinity of God and the bond between God and creation that can never be broken. By beholding a loving marriage and living within it, children get a glimpse of God’s designs and purposes. When men and women love each other in a marriage, they each love another who is a distinct individual, profoundly and differently gifted, yet the two are also one and so reflect the love shared among the persons of the Trinity. Children see in their parents’ marriage an image of Christ’s self-sacrificial love for creation.

But more simply and basically than that, children observe in their loving parents what a healthy reproductive and emotional relationship looks like. They learn sacrifice, patience, fidelity, forgiveness, and compromise. All marriages maintain within them the opportunity for the reflection of the love between God and creation, even if that ideal can never be perfectly met. Co-parenting, however, eliminates all opportunity for this love to manifest, as two friends raising children are not growing toward the ideal of God’s perfect, self-sacrificial love in a marital partnership.

When children grow up amid instability, they’re statistically more likely to repeat that instability, as evidenced by children of divorce. Children of divorce have a harder time holding a steady job and achieving intimacy in a relationship. They are twice as likely to cohabit before marriage and later divorce. If one spouse had divorced parents, the couple is approximately twice as likely to divorce as are couples who both came from intact, married families. When there was never any type of committed love relationship between one’s co-parenting parents, what does that do to one’s sense of fidelity and marriage?

Complementary Benefits of Mothers and Fathers

Walser found that the co-parenting mothers interviewed wanted an equal distribution of roles in childcare because several of them had “experienced deficits in this regard.” It was also important to those interviewed that both biological parents be involved. Why is this? It’s because we innately know, even if society tries to deny this with the mantra “love makes a family,” that children are a natural product of their mothers and fathers, and both are vital to the child’s overall success and development.

Since co-parenting allows for same-sex couples to share children, and for children to spend more time at one or the other parent’s house, children of co-parents are not getting the benefit of having a consistent daily gender balance in their homes.

A mother’s voice stimulates parts of the child’s brain associated with social communication and self-regulation. Recognition of their mothers’ voices helps children manage their emotions, reduce stress, and increase feelings of well-being. Mothers also provide comfort, nurturing, and fulfillment of emotional needs. Children learn emotional regulation and healthy attachment through motherly interaction, and this provides the foundation for resilience to stress in adulthood.

Fathers provide protection and a sense of security and influence the development of the imagination and critical thinking skills through creative play. The more authoritative parenting of fathers leads to better emotional, social, academic, and behavioral outcomes. Children with higher levels of father involvement have higher levels of confidence, sociability, and self-control. They are less likely to act out in school, and are less likely to participate in risky behaviors in adolescence, such as crime and drug and alcohol abuse. The rough-and-tumble play fathers provide allows fathers to quickly bond with their children, as fathers and children get their peaks in oxytocin from playing with each other, and this type of play teaches the child about the give and take of relationships and how to determine and appropriately handle risk.

Stability

Not only are children in co-parenting arrangements denied daily connectivity with their mothers and fathers, but they must face the instability of shifting back and forth between homes. Two homes increase the likelihood that a child must follow two sets of rules and expectations and varying degrees of parental attention regarding school and behavior. This instability frustrates child development, as children thrive on routines.

The inherent instability faced by children in co-parenting arrangements is openly acknowledged by two people who met on Familyship.org: “How stable can it be when two people aren’t committed to each other in a life-long marital relationship? So we agreed in one of the conversations that our daughter sleeps twice a week with Rüdiger and from summer…every second weekend with him.”

Safety

When entering co-parenting arrangements, there is the likelihood that one of the single co-parents will eventually find a romantic partner, or that one of the pre-established couples will separate and date other partners. Statistically, non-biologically related adults are less likely to be protective of and invested in children. Children with stepmothers receive fewer investments in their health, less money spent on their food, and are less likely to wear seatbelts unless the stepmother also has biological children in the house.

Sociologist Bradford Wilcox states that “children living with their mother and her boyfriend are about 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused than children living with their married biological parents. Likewise, children living with their mother and her boyfriend are six times more likely to be physically, emotionally, or educationally neglected than children living with their married biological parents.”

According to Wilcox, children are also at a significant disadvantage when they are raised by parents who are simply cohabiting, as they experience more instability, emotional volatility, and abuse. If children suffer such disadvantages living with unmarried parents who are at least committed to each other emotionally, what kind of disadvantages are they facing with non-cohabiting co-parents? Who is around to guard the safety of these children when they are with each parent?

Beautiful?

It’s ironic that those seeking to co-parent don’t want the “high demands” of being in love, but that they do want to take on the off-the-charts demanding job of raising children. Perhaps they are to greater or lesser degrees oblivious to those high demands. Perhaps they are also oblivious to the fact that children’s natural rights can never be fully and justly honored through an intentional co-parenting arrangement.

The Austrian Science Fund asks, is the “postmodern family … not perfect, but beautiful?”  It goes on to say that “In a society that sees divorce in every third marriage and more and more single individuals, co-parenting seems to be a logical consequence.” No, intentionally depriving children of their inherent right to their mothers and fathers is not a “logical consequence” of the breakdown of marriage, but is rather an unfortunate consequence of a society that no longer values the sanctity of the marriage bond or the natural rights of children.

The children created through Familyship.org are at a deficit before their lives even begin because they are being created directly into situations that will deprive them of daily connectivity with their mothers and fathers and the complementary benefits thereof. Denying children the healthiest foundation in which to thrive while treating them as commodities in order to fulfill adult desires is anything but beautiful.

is External Affairs Liaison and contributing writer for the children’s rights organization Them Before Us, and a Premier Fellow for the public policy organization Society of St. Sebastian. She has a master’s degree in Mental Health and Wellness and is working toward graduate certificates in Trauma-Informed Practice and Catholic Bioethics. She seeks to spread truth regarding the consequences of dismantling the foundational familial structure.

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