Going through a separation or divorce is without a doubt one of the most emotional and stressful experiences one can go through in life. Many separated couples describe feeling a variety of mixed emotions, such as confusion, regret, anger, guilt, relief, resentment, and distrust, to name a few. These emotions can also be felt by close friends and family members, but are likely to be felt most critically by the children of the relationship.
One way to minimise the impact on children is to establish and maintain a positive co-parenting relationship with the other parent – something that may be easier said than done at times, but one that will have a positive impact on the entire family – including yourself.
First and foremost, parents must agree, and be able to, put their differences aside and put the children’s needs first.
Mum is still mum and dad is still dad
One of the most common pitfall parents make that can jeopardise their ability to successfully co-parent, is to change the tone in which they speak about the other parent in front of the children or their tone of voice when they speak to the other parent – a tone which you yourself might think is not distinguishable, but to your children, often is.
Sometimes this can be as simple as a subtle change in language, such as referring to the other parent as “your mother” or “your father” where the terms used to be mum/mummy and dad/daddy. Children are highly perceptive to this change of tone and the negativity that this name change entails. Parents need to maintain respectful communication, not only with their language, but with their tone, if they want to maintain a positive co-parenting relationship.
Compartamentalise your emotions
Another mistake parents can make is to express any negative thoughts or anger felt towards your ex-partner, to the children.
Children are growing and maturing and if you use them as a sounding board or a means to express your emotions it will inevitably have a negative impact on them. Instead, you should rely on external sources such as friends, other family members or counsellors to channel any feelings of anger, resentment or frustration.
Do not use social media to express your emotions
In this digital age, there are countless platforms in which people can express their emotions, opinions and update people about their lives in a matter of seconds. However, platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are not places to express the emotions you are feeling about or toward your ex-partner, particularly if you want to maintain a positive co-parenting relationship. These updates, messages and statuses have the potential to be seen by ex-partners, mutual friends of ex-partners and/or the children and can negatively impact separated couples ability to co-parent.
Control your response
If your former partner drops you a negative message do not visibly react, do not share messages with your children, do not paraphrase your own interpretation of the message and do not visibly and emotionally react with words on the lines of “you won’t believe what your father has just said/done” in front of or to the children. This indirectly involves the children in the dispute and can cause them to feel responsible to intervene or play mediator – a position that children should never be faced with.
Do not use your children to snoop
Chances are that at some stage both you and your former partner may move on to a new relationship or a new chapter in your lives and inevitably you might feel curious about what is going on in their private lives.
While being curious is normal, acting on that curiosity by using the children to snoop into your former partner’s life or constantly asking the children questions about what they are doing or observing in the other parents household is not ok, and puts children in an uncomfortable position.
Children just want to be able to enjoy their (sometimes limited) time with each parent, and should not feel pressured to ‘report back’ to either parent about what is going on in the other parent’s private life.
Do not test loyalties
Your children – more likely than not – will have love towards both parents in equal and unconditional terms.
Do not test their loyalties, for example, by putting them in a position where they have to choose sides or make decisions about which parent they want to spend their time with. Understand that your children love and want to spend time with both of their parents – them wanting to spend time with the other parent does not mean that they love the other parent more and does not reflect anything negative about you as a parent.
Rather, allowing your children to have a positive relationship with the other parent will demonstrate to them that you are supportive of them and will not make them chose between two people that they love.
Do not compete with the other parent
Continue to live the as normal a life as possible when you have one on one parental time.
Of course, you will want to have fun times with your children, but there is no need to compete with the other parent by going large on gifts, extravagant days out or other means to try and make yourself appear the most fun and rewarding parent.
This will potentially lead to resentment from the other parent and/or behavioural issues from the children.
After your initial separation, it is ideal that both parents explain and reiterate to the children that the relationship did not break down because of them and that relationships do break down but that as parents you will continue to work collaboratively to ensure their happiness and ongoing success.
Long term, you should always aim to communicate and speak about your ex-partner in a positive manner, particularly in front of or in hearing of the children. Do not blame, name call or be rude to or about the other parent in front of the children. If you have nothing nice to say, it is best to say nothing at all.
Implementing the above strategies will allow you to not only to be a good role model for your children, but to ensure, as much as possible, that you are able to establish and maintain a positive co-parenting relationship with your ex-partner.