There are many ways to co-parent your children. Every family’s circumstances are different. However, there are principles that can be helpful in all situations. Here are our 6 top tips for co-parenting effectively.
Children first, always.
Separation is a time of immense change. When one significant chapter closes and another begins, life has a tendency to become chaotic. There will be times when you feel a sense of loss, pain, sadness or perhaps betrayal. Whatever the circumstances, it is important to remember the default position: your children are the priority.
Rather than retaliating to your ex’s bad behaviour, remain above the fray and focus on your children so that you can provide them with the support and stability that they need. The Family Court deems a child’s best interests to be its paramount consideration in parenting matters, and you should too.
If you and your ex are both putting your children first, your priorities are aligned – the first and most crucial step toward effective co-parenting.
Don’t expose your children to conflict
Disagreements should remain between you and your ex. Your children should not be mediators or be put in a position where they need to make an uncomfortable decision to resolve a dispute. On a basic level, some issues are simply too painful or mature for little minds.
Never use your children as pawns in a power play or as a resource to gain information about matters in your ex’s household. Exposing children to conflict can leave them feeling insecure within their family unit and cause them to question whether they are at fault.
Work out which medium of communication works best for you both. It might be via email, text message or face-to-face conversation at handover. It might even be through an online tool like Our Family Wizard, a website designed to help parents manage shared parenting schedules and co-parenting information.
Once you have worked out which method/s of communication you’re both comfortable with – speak and speak often. It might be challenging at first, maybe even painful. But it is crucial for separated parents to have an open and frequent dialogue with one another. You need to be able to discuss the major decisions in your child’s life as well as the trivial day-to-day ones.
If you have the urge to re-hash old conflict or place blame on your ex – resist. Open communication is precious and very easy to destroy, so it is important to be mindful and communicate in a constructive, respectful and productive fashion. This goes for communication with the family members or the support network of your ex too.
Avoid criticism of your ex
Consider the age-old phrase: “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. This should be your general approach to parenting. Take the mature approach and avoid criticising your ex – not just in front of your children, but generally. You might be surprised how quickly snide insults, that you think are made in private, can get back to your children.
Maintaining a healthy relationship with both parents is imperative for children after separation. Commit to positive conversations about your ex where you can. Verbalise their valuable strengths as a parent such as their patience, kindness, cooking skills or bear hugs.
Sometimes silence and the inference of banishing their name from your household completely can be just as palpable as an insult. Sabotaging your children’s relationships with your ex will ultimately cause them and, by default, you, great heartache.
You and your ex should agree on rules, boundaries and behavioural guidelines for your children. Perhaps they are the same as those that existed before separation, perhaps not. Regardless, have the discussion so that you can ensure there is consistency across both households.
Children need routine and structure to feel secure. A unified parenting approach is a powerful head start on navigating life after separation. This approach will create much needed predictability, both for your children and for you as co-parents.
It’s ok to be boring
If you think back to before separation, it’s likely your children frequently had down time to do ordinary things. These are things like homework, accompanying you to the bank or washing up after dinner.
Although tempting, don’t try to be the “cool” or “fun” parent. Cramming your scheduled time with fast paced and exciting activities can lead to resentment, hostility and defiance at your ex’s household. Not to mention, your children will be exhausted! The mundane activities are just as important as the fun ones.
At the end of the day, competition does not equal good co-parenting.