When couples decide to go their separate ways, making arrangements for the children is often the hardest part of the process.
It is not uncommon for an emotionally charged partner to walk through our doors demanding aggressive letters be sent to the ex-partner. It is often the case that these parents are focused on short term goals, rather than long term goals.
Our team at Kennedy Spanner Lawyers is focused on the long term goals. Both parents will essentially be tied together forever through their children. Separated couples need to work together until their children are 18 years old. However, once their children become adults they will still need to attend graduations, weddings, events for grandchildren and many other events life has to offer.
Whilst aggressiveness may make the other parent “sit up and take notice”, it does not help create a cooperative co-parenting relationship. No one expects parents to be best friends after separation. What children expect, however, is that their parents continue to be parents and provide them with a loving and safe space to be children.
Here are 5 tips on how to work towards a cooperative co-parenting relationship with your ex:
1. Treat the other parent with respect.
No matter how much a parent may dislike the other parent, that parent is still the child’s father or mother. Children typically idolise their parents, whether they admit it or not. A parent is often the first person a child looks to for guidance.
Insulting or being disrespectful to the other parent in front of or within the hearing of a child can be very damaging. It can often undermine the child’s relationship with one or both parents. The child can begin to question their own perceptions of their mother or father and become very confused between the parent they know and experience versus the parent they are told of by the other parent.
In years to come, the parent who was disrespectful or insulting to the other parent can face isolation from the child, by becoming aware themselves of who the other parent really is.
Whilst it may feel good in the moment to insult the other parent, it is only a fleeting moment. Frustration with the other parent should be addressed privately away from the children with friends or professionals. Your children will thank you one day for this.
2. Don’t involve the children in parenting disputes.
Sadly I am too frequently told of children sometimes as young as 2 years of age being involved in parenting disputes. It can be something subtle like “You’re mummy won’t let me see you anymore” or “You can’t play soccer because you have to go to your Dad’s on the weekend and he won’t take you like I would.” It can even be more obvious such as “Your Dad wants to take you away from me.”
A parent’s role is to let children be children. Their lives are already filled with enough questions about life, particularly after separation. Adding adult issues or seeking support or reassurance from children can be harmful to children, such that they can be forced to grow up too early and be burdened by issues that even adults have difficulty facing.
Children are meant to look to their parents for guidance, not provide guidance to their parents. Let their issues remain as simple as how they can master that scooter trick or what games they can play after school.
Let professionals help you and your ex partner resolve parenting disputes.
3. Don’t let your ego get in the way
In most cases, where children are not at risk of harm, children benefit from having both parents involved in their lives. Sometimes the other parent will deliberately do or say something to get a reaction from the other parent.
Sometimes parents withhold children because the other parent was 5 minutes late to changeover, or the other parent has re-partnered. In these instances though, sometimes it’s the ego of the parent getting in the way, to teach the other parent a lesson. Children are not pawns. They are however, little people who have feelings and can often not understand why they cannot suddenly see their other parent.
For small issues, “let it go.” Let professionals help you and your ex partner resolve parenting disputes.
For big issues where there are real safety concerns for a child, we would not recommend that you simply let it go. Rather, parents in these situations should obtain legal advice as soon as possible.
4. Remember you are both still parents
Most children, as they get older, work out how to get their parents to give in to them. Whether it be a cute little smile with some blinking or telling the other parent that Mum or Dad said they could have or do whatever it is they are asking for. When parents are in a relationship they are often more attuned to when their children are playing them, and can readily discuss it with the other parent.
After separation however, mistrust of the other parent is often evident. Rather than listening to their instincts, mistrust takes over and the other parent is accused of giving in to the child. If this happens, stop. Take a step back and look closely at what is happening, is the child simply doing what some children do, playing one parent off against the other, or is this a dispute between the parents?
Sometimes a simple phone call or text in a non accusatory way to the other parent is the best way to work out. Usually in situations like this, a discussion around this issue can help both parents in their respective homes to ensure that they are on the same page with day to day issues.
5. Have some “me” time
When children are with the other parent, it is important to have some ME time. Don’t just do all the tasks you have been putting off whilst the children are with you. Take some time just for you. Whether that be finishing that book or project, catching up with friends or simply savouring a hot coffee in peace, do it.
Having time to yourself helps you recharge your batteries for when the children come home, or for when you have to have discussions about bigger issues with your ex-partner. Taking some time out can also bring some clarity to issues that can’t be seen when dealing with the usual day-to-day stressors of being a parent.
Whilst the Kennedy Spanner Family Law Team can help you achieve a cooperative co-parenting situation, we recognise that in some families, co-parenting is not achievable. In these instances, our Family Law Team can help you work out arrangements to help it appear to the children that everything is under control and they are still safe and supported.