In the midst of the stress of ending a relationship, couples with children face the extra pressure of making decisions about how they will parent after separation. This can be a very difficult time for families.
We know from the calls we get that many parents struggle to reach an agreement on what is the best ongoing care arrangement for their children; whether day-to-day care should be shared between both parents or, if one parent has the children full-time, when and how should the other parent have contact with the children.
Ideally, parents are able to reach an agreement by putting aside their differences and focusing on what is best for the children. This may include considering things such as: how to ensure both parents continue to have a close relationship with the child, how to minimise the amount of changes and keep the child’s routine as much as possible, how to set-up a channel of communication that supports co-parenting after separation.
However, many times parents are unable to agree and end up feeling angry, defensive and resentful towards each other. At Parent Help we often hear from callers who have been unable to reach an agreement with their ex-partner or are unhappy with the current arrangement in place. When this is the case, there are some general strategies that we recommend to parents who are separated.
Reframe your relationship: The best thing for children is to maintain a positive relationship with both parents. In order to do this, parents must reframe their own relationship to co-parents (think of it like becoming business partners), where the wellbeing of the child is at the centre. This can be very hard to do in the midst of a painful separation; however, working together as a parenting unit will help minimise the stress and anxiety experienced by the child. It also teaches them useful skills in negotiation and communication, when they see you dealing respectfully and calmly with each other.
Communication is key: In order to resolve disputes and agree on a co-parenting arrangement, effective communication is necessary. It’s important to find the right time (and place) to discuss your needs and concerns. We also recommend writing down the important points you want to discuss in advance, this can help avoid getting side-tracked by minor disagreements or personal grudges. Plan to focus the discussion solely on day-to-day care arrangements and allow room for both viewpoints to be expressed without leading to arguing.
If you haven’t already, take the Parenting Through Separation Course: This 4-hour free course is geared towards understanding the needs of your children and giving you tools and tips, including how to make a parenting plan. The course is run in small groups and you will not be placed in the same group as your ex-partner.
Ask a mutual friend or mediator to assist: The process of separating can make one-on-one communication very difficult. If you are unable to agree, it may help to have a third-party attend the discussion, such as a friend, family member or professional mediator (such as Fairway Resolution). Mediation can be helpful for agreeing on the initial parenting plan and also for resolving new disagreements that may arise in the future.
Take the age of the children into consideration: It is important to consider whether children are old enough to be involved in conversations about their day-to-day care before involving them; the age of the child is also an important when looking at how different care arrangements will affect them. For example, in some cases it is recommended that very young children do better with one home base while continuing to have frequent contact with both parents to maintain attachment; whereas, school age children and older may be more equipped to handle shared-care arrangements. See the parenting plan workbook for more information.
Take care of yourself: The process of separation can be extremely emotionally challenging, and it may be necessary to take extra steps to ensure you are looking after yourself. Make sure to schedule in an activity each day that recharges your batteries, so you will be better able to make plans and decisions about the future. Asking for help from friends or family, or seeking counselling support, are also important strategies for looking after your own well-being.
If you have found this information useful and would like to talk with one of our trained telephone support workers, give our free Nationwide Parent Helpline a call on 0800 568 856. We are here to talk about any of your parenting concerns. We receive calls about all age groups – from babies to adolescents – and no issue is too big or small.