It’s possibly one of the most difficult aspects of a separation: co-parenting with your not-so-significant other. As a divorced mother of four-year-old twins, I am no stranger to co-parenting (or attempts at it). Here are some tips collated from my own experience as well as from my family law clients who are navigating the same:
1. Remember: it’s not about you
Often so much has happened between you and your ex-partner at the point of separation, and afterwards, that it is difficult to imagine your children having a positive relationship with that person. Their actions may be unforgiveable for you. But unless there are significant issues of risk and a threat to your child’s safety, very often co-parenting is about putting your issues with the other parent aside and remembering: Parenting is not about you; it is about your children. You are both their parents, and they love you both, and want to be loved and cared for by each of you.
Try to compartmentalise what has happened between you and your ex-partner, and any negative feelings you may have towards them. Instead, focus on the primary aim of co-parenting, namely, to enable your children to have a positive and blossoming relationship with both of their parents, whom they love very much. Children are often at the centre of their parent’s wrath and research shows that exposing children to conflict can have negative effects on their mental health and development.
2. Learn the art of compromise
All separated parents experience this: “sorry, I can’t do this weekend because of X,Y,Z, can I change my weekend with the kids to next weekend?” Cue red-faced me, having already planned my child-free weekend, now having to change all my plans and swallowing a response like “no, too bad”.
Remember, compromise can be your friend. In a months’ time when YOU are the one who has that event or appointment and you need to swap days or you want to spend a specific day with the children that happens to be on the other parent’s time, you will need the other parent on your side.
3. Have clear and consistent arrangements in place where possible
This is where we come in. Children thrive on clear and consistent parenting arrangements; they know what’s happening when, and Mum and Dad aren’t fighting at the school gate about who is going to take them home. There’s often a period where that’s not possible; perhaps you’ve just separated and you are trialling what works between you. That’s ok so long as when you find what works, you draft a clear and thorough arrangement that you both understand. This can be in the form of a parenting plan, or parenting Orders sealed by the Court. The key is to be detailed: detail what will happen with changeovers, how will your arrangements re-start after school holidays, have some fall-back arrangements if you are unable to agree. It is always better to be proactive than reactive.
When you both have a written document to work off, you don’t need as much back and forth between you, and it can reduce snarky arguments about who has the children when or what time pick up is.
4. Try to be open and transparent in your communication
This is really important. If you don’t communicate when school events occur, what day is sports day, when a child has a fever or didn’t go to school today because they had a stomach bug, co-parenting quite simply will not work. The best way to communicate is freely and without conflict, but that is not always possible. Many of our clients are assisted by a parenting App such as MyFamily Wizard. This has a communication function and a calendar function where you can input your respective times with the children and any other significant dates. Communicating openly and transparently enables a smoother co-parenting arrangement and can reduce conflict.
5. Don’t micromanage: try to Let It Go
This one is HARD. My ex has a habit of giving the children lollies in the morning. It gets me every time. But in the grand scheme of things, a red frog is not going to de-rail their health or development, so unless there are real issues of risk I often need to tell myself to Let. It. Go. (yes, I just referenced Frozen: four year old kids, remember).
If you allow yourself to get hung up on what the children are eating or doing with the other parent, or the other parent being 15 minutes late bringing the children home, you risk creating a breeding ground of mistrust and an unhealthy power dynamic, neither being good for an amicable co-parenting relationship. You and your ex may have different parenting styles; you also will be now leading different lives. You may well not agree on whether lollies can be given in the a.m. Equally, they may not agree on you allowing the children to eat on the lounge (guilty). But these are not issues of risk. Arguing over them can throw compromise out the window (see Tip 2), but more importantly, this can create conflict that the children will often pick up on.
Finally, go easy on yourself!
Separation is a traumatic experience, made all the more difficult when children are involved. Co-parenting is far from easy no matter how amicable the situation. Go easy on yourself. Seek help when you need it. It is hard, but trust me, it does get better.
If you need legal advice on parenting, property or divorce matters upon separation, please do not hesitate to contact us on 95 235 535. We are more than happy to help, and our extensive experience in family law matters enables us to provide a high quality service designed for your needs.