There’s no question about it: successfully co-parenting your children after divorce or separation can be a challenge. It requires mutual goodwill, patience and commitment: all virtues which are easier listed than practiced, of course.
Most parents want the best for their children, and are perfectly willing to work hard to ensure their happiness and welfare. They know that contact with both parents – whenever possible – has an important role to play. But it’s all too easy to lose sight of the latter principle if your marriage or relationship ended acrimoniously.
Parents filled with bitterness towards their former spouse or partner can find it very hard to keep their emotions at bay. The temptation to say critical things about the absent parent or row with them in front of the children may be strong: but such behaviour is both undignified and unfair to the children. Almost all youngsters find confrontations between their parents upsetting, even traumatic. They usually love both their parents and want to please them equally.
Other common co-parenting problems include:
- Absent parents who become so absorbed in their new lives, jobs and second families they break commitments, forgetting birthday parties, school recitals or similar events. Children keen to win the attention and approval of the absent parent can be left disappointed and deflated.
- Income disparities: tensions often arise when children transition between one parent who is struggling to make ends meet, unable to afford expensive clothes and holidays, and another who is much more comfortably off.
- Irresponsible parents who make questionable decisions, even if they have the best of intentions.
Finding your way through such problems while allowing your children to continue spending healthy amounts of time with both Mum and Dad will never be easy. It can require sensitivity and diplomacy, alongside a willingness to be firm when necessary. We all want to protect our children from avoidable upset, disruption and risk.
The first – and arguably most crucial – step towards successful co-parenting is to recognise that, whatever your personal history, you and your ex have (or should have!) a common goal: to do the very best for your children and help them grow into healthy adults. Each of you may have different parenting styles and priorities, and both approaches may be equally valid, even if you personally find your ex’s way of being a parent frustrating or annoying.
The second step is to keep the lines of communication open, in whatever way works for you. If talking with your ex face to face isn’t possible right now, use email or text each other. Some parents give their children notebooks to pass on to the other parent. These books contain important snippets of information (for example, current medical and school issues), alongside general updates on the child’s welfare or behaviour.
Important step number three is: keep it civil. Never argue in front of your children and never say anything overtly critical about the other parent, no matter how tempting it may be. Children, especially younger ones, rely on their parents for a sense of security and safety. Few things are more guaranteed to make a child feel disturbed than upset and angry parents at loggerheads with each other. So save the venting for your friends.
And finally: don’t be afraid to seek help if you need it. Talk to a counsellor or seek mediation if you can afford to do so. A neutral third party can bring clarity and calm to the turbulence of family breakdown. They can also deliver sometimes very necessary wake-up calls to parents who have become so absorbed in their own dramas that they have lost sight of what’s best for their children.
If you would like to discuss this blog, please contact Gail, Simon, Tricia, Jeremy or Adam on 01223 443333.