The term “co-parenting” is used to describe a situation where two parents work together to raise a child following separation, divorce or changed living conditions. Both parents maintain some type of shared responsibility, equal or otherwise, as a protection of the child’s right to continue to receive care and love from both parents.
Lynette Galvin, our Accredited Family Law Specialist and Family Lawyer, has seen lots of co-parenting successes. But she’s also seen co-parenting fails, including her own. Lynette understands the world of co-parenting because she lives it everyday as a stepmother. Therefore there’s no one more qualified to assist you in your co-parenting journey. Here are Lynette’s top 10 tips for successful co-parenting.
1. Do not relay messages through your children
Try to communicate directly with your ex-partner and avoid asking your children to relay messages on your behalf. Co-parenting is about working together, and if you show your kids you cannot talk directly with your ex-partner, you’re sending the wrong message. Furthermore, asking a child to relay a message could be somewhat distressing to the other parent. Messages such as “Mum says you should be putting us to bed earlier”, put a lot of pressure on them. Protect your child’s comfort and deliver the message yourself. If you primarily communicate through text or email, remember that tone and intention can often be misconstrued.
2. Keep conversation to the point and business-like
While it’s important that you speak directly and often to your ex-partner, it’s also important to keep things brief and matter-of-fact. This is especially so if your conversations tend to lead to an argument.
Stick to the facts and what directly impacts them or the kids. Avoid rolling your eyes, a disbelieving shake of the head, tutting, or any other gesture that can be just as hurtful as name calling. If you do slip up, apologise immediately. You’re in the business of taking care of your children, so try to speak or write to your ex-partner as if they are your business partner. That means being cordial and respectful.
3. Only speak positively
When you make a conscious decision to speak only in positive terms about your ex-partner (at least in front of the kids – we know some venting is needed), you allow your kids to grow up with feelings of respect and admiration. These feelings are crucial for their wellbeing and comfort.
The only person you have control over is yourself. Even if your ex-partner doesn’t show the same courtesy by speaking positively of you, try to take the high road. Learning to ignore a badmouthing ex-partner will result in a big family payoff.
If your ex-partner has something bad to say, be careful with your response. Explain to your kids that sometimes people say things they don’t necessarily mean when they’re upset, and then advise them that you’ll talk it over in private. Whatever you do, don’t lash back with name calling. Model the best way to respond to difficult situations with maturity and integrity and your children will respect you for it.
4. Be considerate
Even though you are no longer together, you are allowed to care for your ex-partner. That said, you need to give your ex-partner time to understand and process the breakup. You might be feeling okay about things but how people deal with a break up of relationship varies enormously. Your ex-partner might be hurting and you should consider this and allow them time to get over you. Be polite and respectful and if they don’t want to talk at first, don’t push. Explain that you are open to communications any time they are ready and sincerely ensure that if there is any time they would like to talk that you’ll be there.
Being considerate also includes letting your ex-partner know about school functions, being flexible with schedules and asking them for their opinion. Recognise that working together means putting your kids first and that it requires sacrifice. Not easy for either of you, but necessary.
5. Back off when it’s not your time
It’s fine to want to know what your kids are up to when they are with your ex-partner and it’s also okay to try and coordinate schedules. Nevertheless, you must try to avoid intruding on your ex-partner’s time with the kids. Avoid scheduling children’s activities on the other parent’s time without clearing it with them first and don’t call or text too often. Pick your battles and don’t pull up on every small component of parenting you would have done differently. If your ex-partner took the kids to McDonalds or sent your son to a birthday party in a dirty T-shirt, is it really the end of the world?
6. Refrain from exposing your fears
Talking to your kids about emotions and helping them to understand what effect they can have on others is important for building a healthy emotional vocabulary. Crying is a natural and normal thing to do, but it has its time and place. Following a relationship breakdown, kids are feeling scared. Seeing you cry teaches them that you care and that the breakup matters, but if you are crying everyday it can be quite frightening for your kids. Children need to know that everything is going to be alright, even when you’re not sure it is. Teach them that being upset is okay, but when you feel the waterworks coming on repeatedly, slip into the shower to hide some of your pain.
7. Think about the future
There are bound to be times when it all seems too hard. You will want to scream and shout and declare that you are “done”. But think about the future. Imagine your child’s graduation, their wedding, or the day they give birth to their first child. If you show unreasonable behaviour now, will it prevent you from standing beside each other on these special occasions? If you’d like nothing more than to make your child happy on these momentous days, take a deep breath and keep calm.
8. Leave decision-making to the parents
Whether you’ve entered a new relationship or your mother is on your case about needing “more time”, “less time”, “more money” or a “cleaner home”, keep parenting decisions between you and your ex-partner. Other people are entitled to show some angst, but their angst shouldn’t impact how you choose to co-parent. You and your ex-partner are the only parents involved. If someone else doesn’t respect that, show them how strongly you feel about the matter.
9. Never air your grievances on Facebook
Unlike a private conversation, aired grievances on the internet remain there forever. Something you write in haste or after a few wines might seem harmless at the time, but it can haunt you for years to come. Keep the relationship between you, your ex-partner and a few close confidants. If you need to vent, see a professional. No good will come from a vent on Facebook. We promise you that.
10. Make the most of your free time
When the kids are going to your ex-partner, make a plan! Sitting around and moping will only highlight the negative aspects of the situation, leading to hurt feelings. Plan to catch up with friends, go watch a movie, do the housework or go to the gym – any activity that will keep you busy and gives you some all important “me” time.
Think forward with Journey Family Lawyers
Lynne’s biggest piece of advice? Foster positive transitions for yourself, your ex-partner and your kids by engaging with Journey Family Lawyers Brisbane. You’ll receive specialist care so that you can work together harmoniously while keeping costs down.