One of the harshest realities of separating from a partner when you have a child together is the likelihood that you’re going to have to find a way to keep working as a partnership.
Regardless of whether custody is split 50/50 or if the child is only seeing one parent every other weekend, it is vital for the health and wellbeing of the children that you and your ex are able to co-parent. This may seem impossible, but remember all the times you’ve said you’ll do anything for your child? Well, this is one of those times! It doesn’t mean you have to be mates with your ex and it certainly doesn’t mean it’ll be easy, but it is completely necessary.
1. YOUR CHILDREN ARE YOUR FOCUS
Whenever it starts to feel as if communicating with and working with your ex is too much to be dealing with, remember why you’re doing it. Your children remain your absolute priority and the thing that’s going to get them through a separation is your love and your ability to discuss parenting calmly and rationally with your ex.
2. SET UP A LINE OF COMMUNICATION
How you communicate with your ex will vary depending on your circumstances. There was a period when I was forced to require my ex to communicate with me only via a specific email address I had set up for the purpose. She was told I would check it once a day. This meant I was not inundated with unpleasant messages all hours of the day and could check in when I felt up to it. It may be that something similar works for you, but anything – be it email, text, phone or face-to-face – is fine as long as the rules are clearly outlined. A schedule may also be of help so as to stop the receipt of unwanted calls or messages.
3. BE HONEST
As much as there may be lots of things you’re unwilling to discuss with your ex, when it comes to co-parenting you have to be honest. If notable things happen when your child is with you (such as erratic behaviour, or perhaps them making an admission about their feelings or worries) then you have to be able to tell your ex. Parenting becomes very hard when you’re not in possession of all the facts and making that job more difficult for your ex out of spite helps absolutely no-one.
4. HAVE BOUNDARIES
At the same time, have boundaries. When it comes to your child you must accept and require honesty and transparency, but this does not give your ex license to drag up other issues or make unrelated accusations. This is especially important when one partner has a history of manipulation or abuse. Make it clear that you’ll exit the conversations if they deviate from the subject of parenting, and do just that if they do. If a fight starts brewing, just walk away and come back when you’ve both had time to calm down.
5. BE CONSISTENT
Kids are generally at their most content when they know where they stand. If they’re able to get away with certain behaviours with one parent but not the other, that’s confusing for them. You and your ex need to agree to a set of behaviour expectations and have the strength to enforce them. If your ex fails to uphold this, then they’ll have to be challenged. It’s also possibly grounds for limiting access in the eyes of the courts. On that point…
6. WRITE IT ALL DOWN
One you’ve agreed upon things like contact schedules and allotted email/phone arrangements, write them down so you both have a copy. This means that should your ex try to change anything, you have documented proof of what they had previously agreed to. This sort of thing is especially important should you end up in court.
7. THINK ABOUT HOW YOU SAY THINGS
Barking orders and getting angry at your ex is far less likely to achieve anything than calmly explaining your thoughts and requesting their cooperation. Positive behaviour is far more likely to occur if it’s reciprocated, too. As negative as your feelings may or may not be toward your ex, treat them with respect – even if it’s feigned – and you’re more likely to get the same in return.
8. DON’T INTERFERE ON YOUR EX’S TIME
Try as hard as you can not to interfere when your children are with your ex. This is something I really struggled with at first, as I had legitimate concerns about what my daughter was being exposed to. But ultimately you have to accept that your children will have a relationship with your ex and that relationship will be largely independent of you. If you’re worried about negative influences then all you can do (providing your are certain of your child’s safety) is ensure that you’re teaching them what’s right when they’re with you and giving them the strength they need to cope.
9. DO NOT BAD MOUTH YOUR EX
Regardless of what you may be feeling, do not criticise your ex to your children. They do not need to hear it. Over time your children will form their own opinions of both of you, and the parent who offered unconditional love, understanding and decency can expect fare best in that situation.
10.EXTENDED FAMILY ACCESS
One of the logistical concerns about co-parenting is the widening of the family net, especially when new partners are introduced. Children can end up with as many as eight grandparents and who knows how many aunties and uncles, and it’s only fair that everyone gets the chance to be involved in the child’s life.
11.IT’S NOT A COMPETITION AND YOU DON’T WIN BY BEING THE ‘FUN’ PARENT
The urge to ensure that the time your kids spend with you is somehow ‘better’ than the time they spend with your ex is often very powerful, but do try to resist it. Don’t be sad if your kids have a good time with your ex – be happy. It’s a good thing. And if you do feel bad about it, the best thing you can do is to make sure they also have a good time with you. No-one wins in the race to be the ‘fun’ parent, however. Fun and discipline need to be a part of both families, and no-one should be allowed to permit guilt to eradicate responsibility. Again, children need to understand boundaries and know where they stand.
12.ACCEPT THAT YOU CANNOT CHANGE YOUR EX
It may well be the case that your ex will have some sort of negative impact on your kids. But the truth is that it’s unlikely you’re perfect, either. All people are a mix of good and bad and parents are no different. A vital lesson I learned was that I could not change my ex and I couldn’t stop her doing things that I personally felt she shouldn’t be doing around my daughter. It may well be the case that her mum feels the same. But all I can control is how I behave around her, and if I do my job correctly then my girl should be well equipped to deal with whatever challenges come her way, be that from her mother or anyone else.
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Image (cropped) by Michel Filion under a creative commons licence