Co-parenting after separation – achieving better outcomes for the children
If you have separated or are thinking about separating from your partner, it is easy to lose sight of what is important and get distracted by the many issues you will be facing. Let’s look at some things you can consider doing to try to achieve a positive co-parenting relationship with the other parent while providing your child with the necessary care, security, warmth, stability and boundaries that they will need.
- Positive communication – Keep the other parent up to date about the child. This can be achieved by sending them a text or email about what is happening while the child is with you. It could be an achievement at school, score at their soccer game or how they felt after a play date or a feeling they shared. By keeping the lines of communication open you will hopefully create an environment where the other parent will also keep you updated. Even if the other parent doesn’t reciprocate, you should still do the right thing. Remember while these can be trying times you need to focus on staying child-focused even if the other parent is not. There are a selection of Apps that you can use to have one place to discuss the kids like Divvito, Our Family Wizard and others.
- Respond, don’t react – You might find yourself drawn into a conversation, text or email exchange where your default may be to “put the record straight” or “now I’m going tell them what I really think!” Before you do stop and think “Am I reacting to what they have said to me or am I responding to a real issue being raised?” Try not to say anything that you will not feel proud of later. Keeping communications child focussed is a great measure to use. Using emotive language is likely to inflame the conversation rather than resolve any differences. Be the bigger person and use the response as an opportunity to lay the foundations of a positive co-parenting relationship. We know this can be difficult and feel impossible at times, but it will have the best long-term outcome for your child. A strategy that can be great is to write that email where you say it like it is and then re-read it when it is not in the heat of the moment and review it carefully before hitting send.
- Help your child feel connected to their other parent – Find ways to draw a connection for your child with the other parent. Speak positively about them if the opportunity exists, don’t remove all pictures and traces of them from your home. That type of messaging is unhelpful. Find opportunities to talk of the other parent in passing – maybe it will be to mention a specific dish that they cooked whilst you’re making dinner or when they will be collecting the child speaking positively of the fun they will have. Sharing a positive story about the other parent will assist your child to build a positive image of their family. Remember they are half of you and the other parent so when you put the other parent down you are effectively putting your child down too.
- Parenting styles – You and the other parent may have different parenting styles. This is normal and probably even happened during your relationship. Before raising an issue, think about whether it is something that is a need or a nice to have. A need would be something like brushing teeth, completing homework, maintaining some routine while a nice to have would be being on the same page about how much junk food the child has. Use your judgment and if the child’s needs are being met it is probably best to “let it go”.
- Try and agree on a predictable schedule – Try to reach agreement about when the child will live with each of you as early as possible so that the child feels that there is some predictability they can rely on. It is also important to share as much information about the child’s day to day routine as possible. For example, you might agree to use a shared calendar (e.g. Google calendar or iCalendar) to set out due dates for school assignments, extra-curricular activities, play dates, camps, and holidays. This will avoid misunderstandings and also ensure there is a free flow of information between your households.
- Be proactive about courses or therapy – You may want to communicate to the other parent that although your relationship is over you will still be parenting into the future for many years together and that you would like to give your co-parenting relationship the best chance possible of surviving the aftermath of a separation. There are child development courses and post-separation courses available that you can attend together or separately. You may also want to look at the option of family therapy to discuss how to navigate parenting post-separation together. It is okay to ask for help and it often will lead to having the necessary conversations about how to parent together in a manner that supports the child.
- Give the child space to express their emotions – Your child may want to speak to you either about the separation or the other parent. Be mindful about the language you use and how you express yourself as your child is like a sponge. They will soak up the eye roll, frown, stiffening of the body or holding of your breath when you hear the other parent’s name. It is important that you acknowledge their feelings, try and see things from their perspective and reassure them that you and the other parent will be there for them no matter what. This means your actions will need to match your words.
Remember that parenting is not an easy task and it is not made any easier in the post-separation realm. If you are finding yourself in a difficult position and require support and a strategy to help you, please feel free to contact us.