By Emily Foy
Ending a relationship is tough, especially when children are involved, but there are ways you can make it easier, not only for your children, but also for yourself and for your ex-partner. These are somethings that you might want to consider:
1. It’s a new dawn
Try not to dwell on the past. You and your former partner now have a new relationship as co-parents rather than ex partners or spouses. Whilst you may (with good reason!) feel bitter or resentful towards the other parent, they are of equal importance in your children’s lives and this means treating them with respect for the sake of the children.
2. Communication, communication, communication
An open dialogue is an integral element of co-parenting. Keep it amicable, polite and respectful. Try and approach your co-parenting relationship like a business relationship. You may not like some of your co-workers but you would not enter into a slanging match with them in the street. Listen to the other person, respond calmly and appropriately and remain civil. It is always much better to walkaway and take a few minutes to collect your thoughts and calm down than to say something you might regret. Try and imagine that a judge or a person who is of importance to you is reading your texts/emails/WhatsApps over your shoulder or eavesdropping on your conversation; what would they say?
3. Set boundaries
Agree how and when and why you are going to interact and stick to it. Decide together what platform(s) you are going to use to communicate and what level of frequency is appropriate. If direct communication is difficult then consider using an App such as Our Family Wizard, 2Houses or Cozi which can channel all the correspondence, important details and information in relation to the children (medical appointments, extra-curricular clubs and the like)into one place.
4. Accept the imperfections
It is entirely reasonable, understandable and normal that you will have different parenting styles and different qualities as parents. Try to embrace these. Whilst your ex may be your ex they are also your co-parent. You are separated for a reason and if the leopard didn’t change its spots in the relationship then it is not going to do so now. Whilst it is important that you agree on at least a skeleton of rules that will be consistent across two households to ensure that there is stability for the children, also try to let go and not to sweat the small stuff. Issues such as the introduction of new partners, screen time, curfews or time out unsupervised are often key areas of dispute and should be agreed between you. Issues such as whether you should be allowed a MacDonalds on a Saturday afternoon or are allowed to stay up 30 minutes later to watch the end of a film are not. Try and take a step back.
5. Listen to the children
The children will often have strong views about their lives and what is happening to them and they should be allowed to speak freely, openly and without fear, regardless of which parent they are talking to. Although a younger child’s wishes and feelings, whilst important and influential, should not be determinative, once they become teenagers children’s views should increasingly be taken into account, if safe to do so.
Before they arise, try and agree on a forum within which you will resolve any disputes. Try to find a mutually convenient time and place which is on neutral ground and will not be stressful for either of you. Think about how you will manage disputes and consider the use of mediation or family therapy as a forum for exploring differences of opinions. Sometimes just having a neutral third party present (whether a formal mediator or an agreed mutual friend) can be all you need.
7. Put it in writing
A parenting plan is a document setting out the details of how you intend to co-parent. It can be an incredibly helpful document to refer back to in the future if there are any disagreements. It can cover not only child arrangements but also general principles for how you want to parent, rules and regulations, how you might choose a school, what you want to do about issues like the introduction of a mobile phone or holidays and medical treatment for the children. There are some really helpful resources online or you can speak to a solicitor who can help you to draw up a document.
8. Remember the good times and share the good times
You have a mutual interest in the wellbeing, welfare and happiness of your children. Your goal is to raise content and well-adjusted children and create independent adults and this is something of pivotal importance that you both share. When the children are celebrating a special or important moment, getting exam results, starring in a school play, or enjoying a holiday that the other parent is missing then try to take a picture and share it with them. Make sure the children are aware that you are telling the co-parent about this so that they know that they are an important part of their lives and that you are both very proud of them. At best, it will be reciprocated. At worst, you are being the bigger person and your children will thank you for it.
9. Stay flexible
If a child gets an invitation to go to a special event with your co-parent (a football game, a wedding, or a birthday party) then think about whether you can accommodate this and change your schedule. Will the children enjoy it? If so, then let them go. It is important that they are allowed this freedom and, hopefully, the same will be reciprocated by your co-parent.
10. It takes a village
It is an age-old adage that it takes a village to raise a child. This can be particularly important when you are separated parents. Spending significant periods of time on your own with or without the children is extremely hard. Try to create your own network or “village” of supportive family and friends around you for when the going gets tough. You may also want to consider professional support such as therapists, counsellors, mediators or even family lawyers to have in your back pocket just in case you need them. It is helpful to have your infrastructure set up in advance and before you need it so that if you hit any pitfalls then you know who to turn to. Also remember that you cannot adequately look after the children if you do not first look after yourself. Take advantage of the days that the children are with their co-parent to read books, bake, get a massage or sleep in. Rather than agonising about what the children are doing and whether they are safe and well, simply use the opportunity to recharge your batteries.
The consequences of a divorce can be huge and affect all areas of a person’s life: physical, emotional, social, psychological and financial. It is therefore almost inevitable that the immense burden and strain of a separation will have a demonstrable effect on an employee’s wellbeing and, accordingly, their performance at work.