One of the biggest challenges that comes from separating with kids is learning to co-parent.
Co-parenting is when two parents share their duties to raise their children after a marriage or partnership breaks down. It is a good alternative to a two-parent family arrangement, and a great way to role model what a healthy, low-conflict relationship can look like for our children.
Of course, co-parenting does not always run smoothly, especially at the beginning when emotions from the breakup run high and everyone is trying to adapt to the change. Differences of opinions are commonplace and hinder a peaceful way forward that is essential for successful co-parenting.
Whether you are about to begin your co-parenting journey or are hitting some roadblocks in need of resolution, this article can help.
We outline the common disagreements between co-parents and how to avoid them.
NOT HAVING A PLAN
Nearly everything in life benefits from having some kind of plan. And co-parenting is no different.
The plan will be different for every separated couple however the intention is the same: To create a clear guide as to how you intend to co-parent, now and in the future.
For some, this is as simple as a verbal arrangement. However, it is advisable to get something in writing which is signed by both parents as a more concrete record of your commitments.
Even better, are parenting consent orders. We will let FamilyCourt.gov.au explain what they are:
“A consent order is a written agreement that is approved by a court. A consent order can cover parenting arrangements for children as well as financial arrangements such as property and maintenance. Any person concerned with the care, welfare and development of a child can apply for parenting orders.
Consent orders have the same legal effect as if they had been made by a judicial officer after a court hearing. The Court must be satisfied that the orders you ask for are in the best interest of the child.”
Taking the time to make your co-parenting arrangements legally binding means that both parents are clear about their obligations and less likely to sway over the years.
Being on the same page as your ex-partner can eliminate a huge number of disagreements, making for a more harmonious co-parenting relationship where you can focus on your children’s well-being as opposed to arguing with one another.
Without good communication it is almost impossible to co-parent.
For communication to be effective it needs to be clear, concise and respectful. Of course, this is not always easy!
Our recommendation is to keep communication minimal and in writing, at least until you are both more comfortable with the situation and are able converse peacefully.
Find a method that works best for you and your ex-partner. For many this is email, text or a co-parenting app. This way you can take time to reread and reframe your messages, so they come across without emotions or negative intent. Phone calls and in-person chats can convey unsaid sentiments with tone of voice and body language.
Also, when discussing the logistics of co-parenting try to keep the conversation out of earshot of your children. They don’t need to need hear the inner workings of the co-parenting arrangements. They just need reassurance through action that this new way of parenting is working.
NOT WORKING AS A TEAM
There is a brilliant quote:
“Co-parenting is not a competition, it’s a collaboration.”
And nothing could be truer.
Parenting after separation is not about doing everything your own way, with little thought about what happens at the other parent’s house. Even though your child will live between two homes, co-parenting is about working as a team to ensure there is consistency around homelife, values and their upbringing in general.
Children of divorce can not only survive but thrive within a healthy co-parenting arrangement. However, they need to know that mum and dad are working together and not against one another.
This means constructively finding middle ground in which to parent together but separately, whilst communicating what matters to you and why. It also means showing respect and compassion towards the other parent. It goes without saying that speaking negatively about the other parent is a big no-no and will definitely not serve anyone in the family.
Working as a team and showing a united front is key to actually co-parenting, as opposed to parallel parenting.
NOT GETTING CHANGEOVER RIGHT
One of the key events of co-parenting is changeover (or handover) which is when children change care from one parent to the other. Depending on the co-parenting arrangements, this is usually done about once a week.
For many separated couples, changeover is the only time that they will actually “see” one another. For this reason, tensions and emotions can run high.
If doing changeover in person at one another’s home is too hard, there are alternatives. For example, many separated parents will get other family members involved i.e. have the children picked-up/dropped-off at their grandparents house. Or, by utilising their time at day care or school i.e. one parent drops them at the facility in the morning and the other collects them later in the day.
Usually, changeover gets easier, and can eventually be done in person at one another’s homes. Overall, this is better for children as it gives them a chance to see mum and dad communicating and having a civil conversation and even sharing a laugh.
Remember, getting changeover right, is key to the overall success of your co-parenting journey.
Co-parenting is inherently hard, especially at the beginning, but there is support out there.
Family and friends, especially other single parents, can be called upon for help while you are finding your way.
There are lots of online resources for separated parents in the form of articles. You can also chat to other single parents on Facebook groups and online forums. Finding out what has worked (or hasn’t worked) for other parents in a similar situation to yours is invaluable.
In addition, you can reach out for professional support through a family mediator, legal aid, family counsellors, schools or an online parenting course.
Most importantly, remember you are not alone. Many ex-couples are navigating co-parenting every day. Reach out for support when you need it and learn to tread a peaceful co-parenting path for you, your ex-partner and your children.