Photo depicting a Black family from behind with the parents carrying children on their shoulders.

Navigating Co-Parenting in Seattle’s South End

by Danielle Marie Holland

Almost a quarter of Seattle parents are raising their children in co-parent or single-parent households, and the percentage of blended families nationwide is on the rise. While every household structure comes with unique challenges and struggles, some hit harder than others. Just financially, the median income for married couples with children under 18 in Seattle peaked at $237,300 in 2021, according to U.S. Census data, but for single mothers, that number drops down to $58,600, well below a living wage in this city for an adult with children.

While information is not tracked on how many single-parent-led households are actively co-parenting, most parenting plans resulting from a divorce or separation in Washington involve shared custody agreements. Lucia Ramirez Levias, collaborative divorce lawyer and partner at DuBois Levias Law Group, said, “Our courts have generally looked at kids needing both parents in their lives, to the extent that those parents are fit and able to care for them.” The movement toward 50/50 parenting plans ensures dads are also recognized as valuable, important parents in kids’ lives.

In her role as a collaborative divorce lawyer, Levias supports parents beginning the co-parenting journey. Collaborative divorce allows parents to opt into a court-free process of “least destruction.” Levias advocates that each parent receives co-parenting coaching as they move through the process. “Co-parent coaching can help parents in many ways — even from the beginning, even from, ‘How do we tell our kids about the divorce?’” said Levias. She says sitting down and figuring out a plan together has proven to be one of the most effective ways to begin a healthy and intentional process through a time of intense transition.

Sydney Swonigan is one such local co-parenting coach. Through her company Exes & Babies, Swonigan has been building a co-parenting community, while putting resources directly into the hands of parents. A co-parent herself, she knows how few resources once existed for co-parents in the Seattle community. “We noticed the gap and have since been committed to serving this community through training, panels of co-parents and family professionals, and coaching,” Swonigan said.

Exes & Babies offers local workshops that cover steps for effective co-parenting, setting boundaries, creating a shared vision and plan for your child, and how to co-parent like a winning team. It also coaches individual co-parents and co-parent “teams.” Swonigan guides co-parents in collectively developing a set of guiding principles for parenting and communication. “When things get sticky, parents can reference back to that and remember — we are operating as a team,” she said. The principles become an ongoing reminder that the parents share the same vision: a happy, healthy kid. Exes & Babies is expanding its social events for the area and will start offering a group coaching option this fall, aiming to uplift and up-level co-parenting through “actionable, modern, and relatable resources.”

Kristin Little, a licensed mental health counselor and child specialist in collaborative divorce, came to this work after experiencing a collaborative divorce herself. Despite increased resources, Little believes the stigma around co-parenting and single parenting still exists today, as vulnerability and shame can move in a multitude of directions — from the vulnerability of people knowing one’s private business (i.e., a divorce) to shame if a parent isn’t having the most beautiful co-parenting experience. “Co-parenting does take two people, and each person gets a choice of what kind of relationship they want,” Little said. Often, a co-parent struggles when they have a substantially different parenting style or hands-on approach versus the other parent. This is where resources come into play. Little, a contributor to The Co-Parenting Handbook, shares tools for setting boundaries, respectful communication, and decision-making.

Families of Color Seattle (FOCS) is an excellent resource for South Seattle parents of color. FOCS supports all types of parents in raising compassionate and strong children through parent-group programming and peer-facilitated affinity groups that increase participants’ parenting skills while providing a place to talk about identity and race. FOCS’ next South End summer event will take place Aug. 20, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Judkins Park. It will welcome parents and families for snacks, drinks, and fun games. According to FOCS community engagement and advocacy manager Abbie Altamirano, parents looking for community can sign up online to find friends and parenting groups to discuss their experiences. These parent groups are completely free.

Yolanda Williams, a Parenting Decolonized parenting coach, advises seeking support from people who are going through some of the same things. The core of her work is on building a village community. “Many people end up isolating themselves because of shame and guilt,” Williams said. “There are support groups for newly divorced people that you can be a part of. Isolating ourselves because we feel shame and guilt is counterproductive. We need to reach out to more people and find people who are going through some of the same things so we can talk to someone that understands.” She says building this community may or may not include family or current friend groups. Parents might need to look further for this community, but “your people are out there,” she says.

Swonigan reminds parents to “recognize other parts of the village” that they might feel hesitant about after a divorce or separation. She intends to shift the narrative and culture of co-parenting, babymamahood, and babydaddyhood to be synonymous with teamwork and peace of mind. As part of this culture-shifting work, Swonigan advocates that co-parents remain connected to all extended family members. “If you were married, you would leverage these relationships. Is there an auntie who wants to teach your kid drawing? A cousin who can help with math tutoring?” She states that the benefit of children witnessing a parent being resourceful and leaning on community is a life lesson that goes a long way.

Besides group support, Little suggests parents get personal support with a therapist. “There are great resources available online to find a therapist who has experience navigating co-parenting. That is going to be your world, and it’s important to find those people. Well-meaning professionals, friends, or family members can at times contradict your goals as a co-parent.” Another option is leaning into your cultural or spiritual affiliations and community. “Finding support, resources, and community is not just for wealthier people. It doesn’t have to be. You can find people who fit into your values, culture, and practices.”

Building community, whether through group co-parenting classes, social event outings, or a parent affinity group, can help parents become more cooperative, collaborative, and compassionate versions of themselves. All of these co-parenting coaches advise that by reaching out to local and online resources, parents can build a stronger and more resilient blended family.

Danielle Marie Holland is an essayist, transformative writer, and podcaster. Danielle is a regular contributing writer at Parents Magazine, and her work has been published in DAME, Insider, Rewire News Group, and beyond. Her book A String of Apologies is forthcoming via Hinton Publishing.

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