The initial months following a separation or divorce can be some of the most painful and difficult you’ll face. When you add children to the equation, everyday things can make life difficult to cope with, let alone the enormous task of arranging shared childcare between you and your ex for the next however many years. In this haze of hurt feelings and self-doubt, the term ‘co-parenting’ may be hard to accept, but in reality it is just a way of helping you liaise and communicate better with your ex about the important decisions in your child’s life. Whether you are at the beginning of this difficult process, or right in the thick of it, these six steps to successful co-parenting can help you balance the needs of your family with your own well-being.
Use a parenting plan – There are a number of different kinds of parenting plans available – Splitting Up? Put Kids First is one that comes recommended. Plans like this are especially helpful if you’re struggling to communicate well. Plans can be used to manage and monitor child-care arrangements, work towards a compromise, or simply organise your own thoughts. Parenting plans that are online are really useful for those who can’t even be in the same room as their ex, as all decisions can be made remotely. This means that emotions are less likely to get in the way and confuse matters. The best thing about a parenting plan is that it strips away all the unnecessary detail and allows you to focus on the well-being of your children and their day-to-day lives.
Talk to friends and family – As highlighted in Step 1, it is completely natural to feel angry, depressed, guilty, jealous and insecure all at the same time, even if you’re sure you’ve made the right decision. While keeping conflict away from your children, it is really important that you share your feelings with someone, and take as long as you need to grieve for the relationship you’ve lost. For some this might mean making an extra effort to see friends and family and being really honest about your feelings. With them you can shout, sulk, and cry dramatically if that’s what you feel like – they’ll understand. For others, it will be about seeing a professional counsellor. Bottling things up, or punishing yourself for your emotions, will only make matters worse. Take ownership of your feelings – they are nothing to be ashamed of.
Don’t create a ‘villain’ – There may be a rage burning inside you that’s hotter than bubbling lava, but there is never a good reason to share that rage with your kids. You might have a set of perfectly good reasons to be angry with your ex-partner, and you are well within your rights to both feel and express those emotions. But there is a time and a place, and ideally, that place should be far away from little impressionable ears. By criticising or blaming their other parent you are only punishing your child; they will always love their Mum and Dad. And the healthier their relationship is with both of you independently, the healthier and happier they will be. Even if you think your ex is a ‘bad parent’, it is your responsibility to support and encourage that relationship, for your children’s sake.
Compromise for everyone’s sake – Co-parenting is not a competition and sometimes, as with any relationship, you might have to agree to a decision that was not your first choice. Anger, resentment and pride can make separated parents feel as though they must fight to the death over every detail of childcare arrangements. But if you always put the needs of the children first, then these disagreements can usually be turned into compromises. If there is something that you categorically cannot agree on, you could try to suggest a completely new option; one that neither of you feels any sense of ownership over. Remember that your parenting plan is not set in stone from here on out, but rather, it will adapt and develop over time. So agreeing to a less than ideal arrangement right now is not necessarily something you’re going to be stuck with long-term.
Be kind to yourself – This is probably a tip to be heeded by everyone, whether going through separation or not. So often we forget to look after ourselves, and extend the same kindness to our own bodies and minds that we do to those we love. Whether you enjoy a game of golf, an afternoon shopping trip or a long hot bath with a good book, it’s really important that you give yourself a break and treat yourself during a difficult time.
Take a deep breath – When your emotions are running at this level, it can be almost impossible to hear someone else’s point of view over the sound of your own teeth grinding. But you have to really train yourself to listen to your ex-partner in order to make the best possible decisions for your children. The parenting plan we mentioned earlier has some useful videos that are designed to help improve communication during those difficult conversations. Try the ‘uninterrupted’ technique, in which you each have a few minutes to speak while the other person stays completely silent and listens. This is often easier said than done, but actively listening instead of working on a zingy comeback allows for a much more frank and constructive discussion. By doing this, you and your ex can put the issue to bed and move on.
This is an emotional time, so don’t be disheartened if what we’re talking about here isn’t coming naturally. We’re all carrying baggage and we’re all carrying a few regrets. Forgive yourself freely and cut yourself some slack for the things you perhaps could’ve done better, and don’t forget that things will get better in time, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. If you and your ex-partner focus on the children’s future instead of what has happened in the past, this will help you both move forward into better things. Co-parenting blog © OnePlusOne used with permission