You have to set those differences aside.
It’s over. You’ve done your share of wallowing and are officially ready to move on. Many of us, when we split with a significant other, are happy to see the back of them and would gladly never have to breathe the same air as an ex again but for former partners who are also parents, that’s not an option. Post-split you not only have to still see each other on the regular, but keep things civil. You can’t just block their number and move on. Instead you need to keep your relationship together amicable enough to be able to raise your kids, but of course, where conflict and emotional scars exist that’s rarely easy.
There’s no doubt co-parenting is challenging, especially in the aftermath of a split says Aoife Lee, parent coach at Parent Support. “Many parents feel completely overwhelmed by the conflict. It’s an experience that impacts your confidence and how you communicate. You worry about the other parent’s parenting abilities, so trust or lack of becomes a factor too,” she explains.
“Financially things can become more strained for all involved so parents often worry about supporting themselves and the children on the simple day to day necessities and for the future. If you are in a joint custody agreement, having to make shared decisions together, discussing the logistics of the children staying in two homes and trying to sort out the practical things can be really stressful and an experience you may feel will never change.”
Still, despite the extra pressure, it’s important you keep things amicable, especially in front of your little ones, warns Aoife. “If there is continual conflict between parents both away and in front of the children, this can lead to the children feeling insecure and anxious. They pick up on your stress and upset too, as much as we think they don’t and witnessing parents fight can be very unsettling for a child no matter what age they are,” she explains.
How can you and your ex put any grievances aside and co-parent well then? First up, it’s essential you keep your personal relationship and your parenting relationship separate, advises Aoife. “I know that’s easier said than done,” she explains, “but you want your children to know that no matter what happened between you as adults, they are the ones who are important now. When you adapt this approach your children will feel more secure and if, as parents, you can decide on similar rules and boundaries this creates consistency; they will know what to expect and when.”
As hard as it may be you’ll need to set all your anger and upset to one side too and resist the urge to lash out, Aoife affirms. “Avoid sharing with your child how upset the other parent has made you feel and be careful not to make the kids feel as if they have to choose between you. When both parents show emotional support for the children this allows them to adjust that little bit easier into their new living situations, boosting their self-esteem too.” You may no longer be a couple, but for the kids’ sake you will at least need to make it appear that you’re on the same team.
Next, you’re going to need to brush up your communication skills. “The more consistent and practical you are when communicating the more successful co-parenting will be,” says Aoife. “This may feel almost impossible particularly if there is a strain between you both or you are easily triggered by each other’s behaviour.” The key is take the emotion out of it, advises Aoife, and approach it in an almost business-like way.
“Keep calm, neutral and matter of fact. Use suggestive questions as opposed to making a statement, for example, ‘are you willing to try it this way?’ Make sure you actively listen to what they have to say as well. Sometimes we perceive listening as handing over control, but really it’s giving the other person time to talk and then acknowledging that you have heard what they want to say.”
Where new partners are concerned, you’re going to have to flex your adaptability muscle and amp those communication skills up a notch. “There’s no doubt the dynamics of introducing a new partner can be hard as you want to do what feels right.
“You want to get to know one another, set expectations and support decisions made for the child,” Aoife explains. Crucially, you’ll need to navigate this scenario with time, space and patience. You might perceive this new person as a threat, but ultimately it’s the relationship they have with your child that’s the important one, so you’ll need to put your feelings to one side.
Perhaps one of the most challenging times for kids is visits between parents, when they separate from one parent to spend time with the other. “It can be very unsettling and emotional no matter how many times they experience it,” Aoife explains. “A couple of things that may help you all is if you firstly prepare the children in advance so they know they are leaving, a day or two in advance is fine. Be positive, be on time, help pack their bag and if they are anxious at all, encourage them to bring something familiar that they can ‘mind’ for you to give back when they return.”
And when they do return? “Tune in to where they might be at and allow them space,” Aoife advises. “It can take a little while for them to adjust back. Offer them comfort or time to talk if they want it and avoid asking them lots of questions. If you have a little routine when they come back this can be a positive ritual that becomes a great way to mark the end of time with one parent and the beginning with the other.”
Finally, it’s all about respecting one another’s relationships with each of your children, Aoife surmises. “The more amicable and open you are the easier it is for the general day to day situations to fall into place. Show each other that you are willing to do what’s best for the children by deciding on similar expectations when they are with you, like following similar routines such as bed times, meal times and your approach to screen time. Obviously there will be differences in approach that may lead to conflict but if you choose to be polar opposites it will only confuse the children and undermine the other parent, encouraging a ‘good cop, bad cop’ situation.”
Co-parenting well may be tricky but when done right it gives your kids a healthy example to follow, boosts their self esteem and benefits their emotional health. Bottom line, keep your relationship with your ex kid-focused, be consistent and don’t let resentment get the better of you.