When a relationship breaks down, everything becomes infinitely more complex and difficult for a couple when it comes to raising children together and managing the challenges of life generally.Sometimes people find the separation and challenge of co-parenting too hard and abandon the situation and children altogether.
For most parents who choose to continue to raise children together separated, the obstaclesare not insignificant.To make matters worse, the start of the co-parenting relationship occurs when people are often feeling hurt, traumatised, and in grief.This can make it difficult for separated parties to focus on the needs of their childrenas distinct from their own needsor feelings for the former spouse and the hurt caused by the separation.
While children can and do overcome the hurt caused by their parents separating, their capacity to do so is largely dependenton the quality of the co-parenting relationship between their parents. Theybenefit from seeing their separated parents get along and cooperate.They suffer when they are exposed to fighting, simmering silence, and cruel words between the two most important people in their lives.
Finding a way forward that prioritises the well-being of the children is of utmost importance. While certain co-parenting situations may seem near impossible to manage, seeking the guidance of a lawyer for child custody can provide valuable support and direction. By working together with a family lawyer and adhering to fundamental principles, you can cultivate a co-parenting dynamic that allows your children to thrive despite the challenges of separation.
Dos and don’ts of co-parenting
As you navigate the complexities of co-parenting, understanding the dos and don’ts becomes essential in promoting a positive and stable upbringing for your children. This list of essential guidelines aims to provide actionable advice for those seeking to co-parent effectively.
- Don’t label the other parentIf you find yourself overanalysing the other parent’s words and behaviours or, worse still, giving them a psychological diagnosis, such as borderline personality disorder or narcissism, it might be time to shift your focus on to yourself and ask what you’re trying to achieve by labelling theother parent.
The internet these days is rife with people who have various theories on other people’s behaviours and how to manage them. But the internet expertsdon’t know you or your former spouse, and they’reprobably not qualified to make a psychological diagnosis anyway.If you find yourself trawling the internet, immersed in YouTube videos about separating from a narcissist or sociopath, I recommend that you stop and go for a run or a coffee with a friend.
If your former spouse is in fact a narcissist, the last thing they’re going to want to hear is that they’re a narcissist.Telling them so will only make matters worse.Categorising their behaviour in certain ways may feel satisfying and comforting, but it’s not going to change their behaviour and is only likely to fuel your fixation on their negative aspects and damage the co-parenting relationship.
- Don’t talk negatively about the other parent in the presence of the childrenChildren generally have an abiding desire and capacity to love their parents, even if their parents are cruel,neglectful, or even abusive.Children want to love their parents and, whether you believe it or not, usually don’t share your views about the other parent and their behaviour.
Further, while it might be that the other parent is in fact cruel to you, this doesn’t mean that they are this way with your children and are a bad parent. Bad people and partners can still makegood parents.
In any event, you should want to do everything to ensure that your children think fondly of the other parent.This doesn’t mean that you should encourage your children to ignore or dismiss unacceptable behaviour and pretend that everything’s okay.However, wherever possible, you should encourage a loving relationship between the children and the other parent.
It’s never to a child’s benefit to hear from one parent that the other parent is selfish or cruel.While it is sometimes acceptable to have a frank, sensitive discussion with the children and acknowledge what’s happening in their lives and how they feel about it, it’s never to their benefit to be exposed to name calling or derogatory taunts about the other parent, whether overt or subtle.
Children have a propensity to internalise such negativity, blame themselves for what’s happening, and equate their own worth with your views about the worth of the other parent.Thus, it’s important to keep your negative views about the other parent contained as much as possible and protect the children from being exposed to harsh words and criticisms.
- Do establish a business-like mode of communicating with the other parentRegardless of how you communicated with the other parent during the relationship, once separated it’s important to establish a mode of communicating that’s business-like, civil, and child focussed.
Before hitting the send button on that SMS or email to the other parent, stop and ask yourself whether the message you’re about to send is brief, to the point (i.e., about the children), and respectful.Avoid lecturing the other parent or writing long self-serving messages that might sound sensible to you but are likely to be received by the reader as tiresome.
A short relevant, respectful message, email, or phone call is communication gold dust. Even if the other parent can’t do it, you should. Model to them what you want them to be.It might not work overnight, but it will eventually make things better over time and make you feel better along the way.
- Don’t use the children as messengersIf you want to convey a message of any significance to the other parent, you should ensure that you do it with them directly and avoid passing messages to one another via the children.Children don’t want to be the conduit for information.It places pressure on them and puts them in the middle of things.
Even if the message is uncontroversial or about a mundane issue, avoid involving the children and talk with the other parent directly.
- Do establish a regular line of communicationTry and set up a regular time with the other parent to meet and talk about the children.It can be either in person or by telephone or videocall.
You might need to bite your tongue and put your hurt and differences aside, but it’s important to keep focussed on the business of raising the children together.If necessary, think of the other parent as a boss or colleague that you would rather not have to talk with but must do so to make a living.At your meetings, stay on topic, keep your sentences brief, listen to what the other parent has to say uninterrupted, and keep on point.
- Do make requests, not demandsWherever possible, try and frame your suggestions about an issue concerning the children as a question or proposal that invites the other parent to consider, provide feedback on, or approve.
Framing your desire as a demand and pressuring the other person to acquiesce will only put them off.If you want to endear them to your proposal, invite them to consider it and askthem to suggest alternatives if they want.Tell them that you value their opinion.
By emphasising that you value their input, you demonstrate that you’re willing to work together for the well-being of your children, which can lead to better outcomes and more harmonious co-parenting dynamics.
- Do separate your childhood from what is happening to you as an adult and parentCo-parenting can be especially difficult for adults who come from dysfunctional or separated families themselves.While our upbringing undeniably influences us, it’s crucial to recognise that past experiences should not dictate our current roles as parents. Separating your childhood from your adult life allows you to approach parenting with a fresh perspective, free from the burdens or patterns of the past.
Focus on understanding your children’s needs, emotions, and unique personalities, independent of your own upbringing. By breaking free from the constraints of the past, you can create a nurturing environment that promotes your children’s well-being and helps you become the parent you aspire to be.
- Do be kind to yourselfMost important of all, be kind to yourself. Co-parenting can be incredibly challenging, much like navigating life itself. Throughout this process, it’s natural to encounter setbacks and make mistakes. Instead of being overly critical, embrace the imperfections and be gentle with yourself. Understand that learning and growth come from these experiences.Find ways to enjoy the journey, savour the moments of progress, and grant yourself forgiveness when you slip up.
Embracing self-kindness will not only ease the pressure you may feel but also empower you to be a more patient and understanding co-parent.
Navigating the path of co-parenting after divorce or separation is undoubtedly challenging, but it can be a transformative journey that lays the foundation for a healthier and more stable future for both parents and children. Remember, co-parenting is a continuous learning process, and it’s essential to prioritise the well-being of your children above all else. By following these dos and don’ts, you can create a supportive co-parenting dynamic that nurtures your children’s emotional and psychological growth, ensuring a brighter and more promising future for the entire family.