Juggling parenting, work and relationships is one of life's toughest challenges. It’s never easy if you and your partner decide to go your separate ways, but if there’s anything that you’ll both agree on, it’s that you want to make sure your child isn’t affected too much.
It is possible to co-parent successfully so long as you focus on your child without letting other issues colour your judgement. You can try things like setting up an online Parenting Plan to make the process work for you both.
If you and your partner have separated, there are several steps you can follow so you can continue to be supportive parents for your child.
How to co-parent after splitting up:
If you’re in the process of splitting up, make sure that the decision you’ve made is the right one. ‘It can be very destructive if you and your partner keep splitting up and getting back together, so be certain of your feelings before you bring your child into the decision,’ says Penny Mansfield director of The Parent Connection, a charity providing advice for parents who have split up.
1) Be clear about your decision
Make sure this outlet isn’t your toddler. ‘In times of high stress, it’s very easy for your own emotions to spill over into your everyday life and you may not even realise it, but you could be bringing your child into a conversation you should be having with an adult,’ says Penny. ‘Whether that’s a counsellor, family member or friend, make sure you vent to the right person so your toddler isn’t caught in the middle of the conflict.
2) Find an outlet for your feelings
No matter how angry or frustrated you are with your partner, it’s important that you don’t send messages via your little one. ‘Telling your little one “to tell Daddy this or that” will just mean your toddler will end up confused, as you’re asking her to judge him,’ says Penny. Even young children can be affected. ‘They have very strong emotional antennae so pick up on tension easily,’ adds Penny.
3) Don’t use your children as messengers
A simple way to co-parent more effectively is to have certain discussions in a private place, as far away from your little one as possible. Perhaps get a friend or family to look after them so you and your ex can chat in complete privacy. If your little one is present, ensure you never discuss them as if they are not in the room. No matter how young they are, they will still pick up on this and it can be distressing for them.
4) Try and be private
You’re never going to get everything your own way in a break-up and so it’s important that when you’re making co-parenting arrangements, you look at if from the other person’s point of view. ‘It essentially about being realistic about what you can do to help each other out, being adaptable and compromising,’ says Penny. For a peaceful negotiation period, meet in a neutral place that’s not in front of the children, stay calm and keep the focus on what’s best for your child.
5) Dig out your negotiation skills
If you constantly try to ensure your toddler or pre-schooler is happy despite what’s happening, they may end up feeling like they can’t express their true feelings. ‘Your child must learn that they can be open with her feelings and not mask them – it’s normal to feel sad, but being open and talking to your child will help them get through it,’ says Penny.
6) Allow your child to be sad
After a split there can be a lot of leftover tension and a sense of unfinished business. When communicating with your ex partner, try your best to remain calm. Getting angry rarely resolves anything and makes communication even harder. Shouting or getting heated increases the chances of your little one hearing this or picking up on the general tension and atmosphere.
7) Stay calm
As hard as this will be, staying calm and collected is the best way. Try breathing techniques or employing specific listening strategies so the pair of you discuss things in a structured way.
When you split up, you will probably have different ideas about how best to parent your child. However, it is good to try and stay consistent. Set similar rules and guidelines so your son or daughter doesn't go between two radically different environemnts. For examples rules on chores, bedtime, school work and what they can and can't do.
8) Be consistent
When rules are broken, try and discipline in a similar way. If one of you bans TV when they misbehave, then they need to know they can't just go to the other parent to avoid the ban. Conversley, when your little one does something good, make sure you praise and reward good behaviour in roughly the same way.
Ideally sit down to discuss these together so you follow a consistent approach. Using charts or stickers could be a helpful way to keep track so that your child knows what to expect when they do something right/wrong.
Even though you and your partner aren’t romantically linked, you’ll always be a parent to your child, so keep reminding yourself that that’s the priority now. ‘Think of him or her as your child’s parent – Sam’s Dad, Molly’s Mum – rather than “the ex”,’ says Penny. ‘Once you start looking at them in this way, it brings the focus back to your child and will ensure you’re acting in their best interests.’
9) Remember, you’re both still parents
Do you co-parent with your ex? How do you make it work? Let us know on Facebook or Twitter!
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