Parenting on the same page can be hard enough when you all live under the same roof. Throw in a relationship breakdown, emotional turmoil and separate homes, and it isn’t hard to see why so many separated parents struggle with co-parenting.
With approximately 1 in 5 Australian kids living in a shared care arrangement, this is a common issue for many parents.
In a perfect world we’d all be able to “consciously uncouple” yet remain good friends for the sake of our children. But we all know life doesn’t always work like that and break ups can be messy.
Just like all stages of parenting, there are no step-by-step how-to manuals for effective co-parenting after a breakup. However there are some dos & don’ts that are a good guideline for maintaining a positive co-parenting relationship:
DO remain child-focused – after all, in this situation it is all about the child/ren and their needs.
DO respect each other as your child’s parent – you both are the most important people in your child’s world. Be courteous if nothing else.
DO communicate – this might by via text, email or face-to-face, whatever works for you both, but keeping open lines of communication in regards to your child is an important foundation for respect and working together to meet your child’s needs. Keep emotions out of it and keep it business-like – the business at hand being the children.
DO learn to let some things go – pick your battles. There are times when the other parent will do things that you don’t agree with “on their time”, however that probably works both ways. Try to establish clear boundaries through open communication.
DO stick to your agreements – follow through on commitments and be reliable. This is all part of a respectful relationship.
DON’T talk about the kids in front of them – they are people, not possessions and need to be respected as well.
DON’T badmouth the other parent – ever! This not only undermines your child’s relationship with the other parent but also can damage the trust your child has for you. They love both their parents.
DON’T make your child be a messenger or go between – this isn’t fair on the child.
DON’T ask the child questions about the other parent’s life – this will put them in the position of feeling like they are betraying the other parent or have to keep secrets. Also don’t jump to conclusions based on what the child says, check facts with the other parent if you have concerns.
DON’T expect everything to be smooth sailing from the start or even all the time. Just like any relationship, your co-parenting relationship with your ex is likely to have highs and lows. Keep your expectations realistic, of both your ex and yourself.
Obviously, a successful co-parenting relationship takes two. Just like any relationship, both parties need to be invested and child-focused.
Relationships Australia has some great resources to help establish a positive co-parenting relationship. Tools such as this Parenting Plan are a great way to outline your agreements. (Note this is different from a Parenting Order by the Courts).
Their counselling service for separating/divorcing couples can help you navigate this tricky time and they also offer mediation services if there is a total communication breakdown.
Most importantly, take care of yourself. As parents we can become all consumed by the needs of our children. Take time out to look after yourself physically and emotionally so you can be the best parent possible.