*This is a guest post
After separation or divorce, you face several steep learning curves. One of the most important and most urgent is to learn how to cope with the new realities of co-parenting your children now you are no longer a couple. After many years of gathering the best advice from the people that know most about it, parents and children, we have identified the golden rules.
But let’s be clear – this is going to be hard, and there will be times when you will not manage to be the ‘golden’ parent. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just try to keep in mind that these golden rules for making child contact work well after separation.
Keep your feelings to yourself
No matter how well deserved it is, try to ensure that you don’t talk about what a **** their other parent is, within their hearing. You will, of course, need to let off steam – but find ways to do this away from your children.
Think about the language you use about contact. Stay away from phrases like ‘my time’ or ‘your Dad’s turn’. Your children shouldn’t feel that time spent with them is ‘winning’ or ‘losing’.
Reduce the stress of ‘handovers’
‘Handovers’ are notoriously stressful for both children and parents alike. Make these as positive as you can, even if to start with you have to fake it a little.
Think about what both of you will be able to manage – don’t aim too high and risk either of you getting angry or bursting into tears in front of the kids. One mum I know found it just too hard to see her kids go off with her ex as couldn’t bear the feeling of being ‘left’. So, just to start with, they changed the handover around so that she dropped the children off with their Dad instead (and she made sure she had something nice to do straight afterwards).
Be reliable. If you are going to be late, as everyone is sometimes, text and let the other parent know. Give a reason so that the children don’t worry that they are not important to you. Ask your ex to do the same. If your ex isn’t being reliable, it’s tempting to be unreliable too – but don’t. Your children will need you to be all the more dependable.
If your kids are school age, they are likely to feel awkward about having had fun with their other parent. Reduce their concerns by asking their Dad what they’ve done while they were together in front of them and show great enthusiasm at his replies. Tell him the highlights of their time with you, and ask him to respond similarly. Very soon they will relax and be proudly bringing home stories, pictures, and ‘treasures’ they are excited about.
Agree routines and treats
Agree what the normal routine and rules are going to be, and when they’ll get treats, and make it roughly the same at both homes. Discuss what birthday and Christmas presents you will get them and resist the urge to outdo each other. It will be helpful when your kids try to play you off against each other (as they will at some point) and it avoids the fear that most of us feel at some point: ‘Do you prefer it over there?’
Be flexible and co-operative
Try to be as flexible and co-operative as possible; you will have to swap things around sometimes. You won’t generally know about things like their friends’ birthday parties a long way in advance. One lovely mum who didn’t have her children living with her told me that to start with she felt like seeing her should come above everything else – but then she realised it wasn’t fair to expect them to miss out. Some weeks she doesn’t see them as much as she’d like to, but there’s always next week. Other parents pick them up and drive them to the party or sleepover they want to go to, just so that they get some time together chatting in the car.
Start discussing arrangements for special times of year like Christmas, birthdays, and holidays as early as possible, to give yourself plenty of time to come to an arrangement, and so that the children know what to expect.
For loads more advice, see our free Survival guide to Sorting out arrangements for your children.
Advicenow is an independent, not-for-profit website best known for its user-friendly guides that provide practical help on how to manage and resolve life’s legal problems, including divorce and separation.
There are lots of in-depth resources on family issues, for example:
- how to make a Living Together Arrangement
- how to apply for a court order about the arrangements for your children without the help of a lawyer
- how to use family mediation after a break up
- a survival guide to sorting out your finances when you get divorced
Find them all here: http://www.advicenow.org.uk/help-deal-family-problems