Parenting after a difficult break up
Co-operating with an ex-partner can be a challenge, but worth it when children are involved
Most parents will say they want the best for their child and will go to great lengths to try to ensure this happens. But working out how to parent together after separating is hard. Co-operation and compromise are key in achieving the best outcome for the child.
Following a hostile separation or divorce, being co-operative with an ex-partner can be a challenge. Keeping in mind that they are jointly responsible for the child may help parents put things in perspective and work out a new relationship with each other.
Of course this is easier said than done and it may never be possible to have the same level of trust and respect for an ex-partner. A mutually acceptable arrangement that is centred on the needs of the child should be aimed for by both parents. It may take time to negotiate and work out how best to manage this relationship.
The following may be helpful in helping estranged parents through the difficult early stages and to ensure that children are shielded from the worst of a break up.
Try to maintain mutual respect for the sake of the child
- Both sides should try to respect each other’s parenting style. An ex partner might have different approaches to mealtimes, bedtimes and entertainment. However, neither side should try to interfere with the other’s parenting decisions unless they think they are of detriment to the child or put the child at risk.
- Parents should try to use only positive or neutral language when talking about their ex-partner in front of the child. Family and friends should be encouraged to do the same.
- Children should not be used to find out what an ex partner is now doing. Any idea of asking the child to act as a spy (however tempting!) should be completely rejected. If parents want to find out about anything about what an ex-partner is up to and what goes on at their home they should ask them directly.
- Parents should discourage children from complaining about the other parent. If a child has a problem, they should be encouraged to talk to the other parent about it directly.
- Parents should try to keep their feelings about the other parent separate from their parenting decisions and treat the other parent as they would like to be treated.
- Parents need to try and keep in mind that however much they dislike or are frustrated by their ex-partner, their child still loves them both.
- Be aware that all children of separated parents, whatever age, will struggle with loyalty issues.
Communication is key
- All necessary contact information should be shared. Parents should each know each other’s address, mobile, home and work number so that the other parent can be contacted in any event. As much as possible this should include all school related information.
- The other parent should be consulted regarding all big life changing decisions that may affect the child or the other parent. It may help to set up quite formal meetings to do this, in a neutral environment such as a café.
- Communicating directly with the other parent rather than through intermediaries may help to avoid misunderstandings. The child should not be used to pass messages between parents, even when they are older.
- Texting and emailing can be useful, but it should be remembered that both can be misinterpreted. Face to face contact or telephone calls may be difficult but tend not to carry this risk.
- Sharing information is both good for the child and vital for being a parent. It should not be a competition between parents about who has most information.
- Difficult decisions should be made by both parents together
A shared responsibility
- Make both homes good, comfortable environments for the child, with all their needs catered for. Children should only be carrying their own valued belongings between homes, such as those that make them feel secure.
- Financial arrangements should always be adhered to. If this is not possible, the other parent should be notified about any issues that affect him or her as soon as possible.
- Difficult decisions should be made by both parents together. The child should not be involved until agreement has been reached and a decision made.
- The values that the parents want to their child to have should be decided and shared as much as possible.
- Routines, bedtime, schedules, school expectations, and discipline issues should be shared. Both sides may not always agree about these and in some cases there will be different expectations at each parent’s home. However, it is important for parents to discuss these, as younger children can become confused and older children may play one parent off against the other.
More advice and help for newly separated parents can be found on the ParentConnection, which is aimed at helping couples through the process of separation or divorce, and minimising the effect of this on the children.