Once de facto relationship break up entitlements are agreed separating couples are often left to navigate how best to co-parent their children alone. Co-parenting or shared parenting, is the experience of raising children as a single parent after a de facto relationship breakdown occurs. Co-parenting can be a difficult process as the outcome will be influenced by the interactions you have with your ex partner and in turn your children. It can difficult as you, may be parenting effectively but your ex partner may not be, leaving your children at risk for developmental problems.
Co-parenting requires open dialogue, trust, dedication and patience to be truly successful. This is not an easy thing to achieve given couples have generally gone through a de facto separation and property settlement and all of the emotional baggage that entails. Couples who are able to co-parent effectively usually find a way to make their children their sole focus and in doing so put to one side the issues they have with each other. We are not suggesting it is an easy state to achieve but the results are worth it.
Problem Solving Methods:
Here are two problem solving methods contributing Child Psychologist, Julie Dixon believes all co-parents need to be well versed in when co-parenting:
Strategic problem-solving looks just at the core issue that is causing the problem. Let’s use the example of one partner dropping a child off late after each access visit. Using this example the behavioral aspects of the problem are highlighted as are the co-parenting issues. Do not address the emotional reasons why this problem is happening consistently.
As co-parents you must identify the problem and negotiate choices and solutions as objectively as possible. Strategic problem solving directs each parent to resolve conflict through a careful approach of
- Clearly establish needs and priorities and communicate them
“It is really important and it is set out in our separation agreement that James is at home by 4.30pm each day as he has athletics training which he can’t be late for”
“I know James’s athletics is important to you. If he isn’t at home by 4.30pm I cant get him to training on time and the Coach penalizes James for this”
- Recognise shared concerns & build on them
“Athletics has really helped James deal with our break up & provide him with consistency”
“Athletics gives James a chance to participate in something he is good at & really loves”
- Search for solutions
“Would it be easier for you to meet me at James’s athletics group & do drop off there?”
“Providing you have him there by 4.30pm this will work for both of us”
“You can then stay & watch James take part in the athletics group”
This must be done without getting into a discussion with your ex partner about de facto relationship break up entitlements or who is right or wrong.
Every de facto relationship breakdown presents with its own set of challenges. The second problem solving method suggested by contributing Child Psychologist, Julie Dixon is:
Social-psychological problem solving, which is a more emotional way of resolving co-parenting issues. Using this method you are encouraged to look at why you feel the way you do & the emotional reasons for your co-parenting decisions. This method of problem solving focuses on the psychological elements of an issue that instigate conflict. Using this model can be difficult especially if your de facto relationship breakdown is fairly recent & there are unresolved feelings. If you use this method, don’t be accusatory or critical when communicating with your ex partner. Instead try & engage your ex partner & encourage them to see your side with empathy, compassion and authentic concern for the children.
Using the example above let’s apply this method:
- Clearly establish how the behavior makes you feel
“It is really important that we stick to our separation agreement & parenting plan. When you drop James off late it panics me & makes me worry about him”
“I love James just like you do. Keeping him in a routine helps him cope. When you drop him off late he is out of routine and really upset”
- Recognize the impact of the behavior on the child
“James like consistency & routine. He hates it when we fight over him. It isn’t good for him.”
“James was so worried that he was late home from his visit with you that he was panicking.”
- Clearly set out the resolution & how you feel about it
“I want you to drop James of by 4.30pm each visit. It would be good if you came into the house and did handover as this will help James settle.”
“If you are going to be later than 4.30pm can I come to you & pick James up? Would that be easier for you? This way I wont worry so much.”
Here are some do’s & donts’ for communicating effectively:
Commit to an open dialogue:
When you prepare your separation agreement or parenting plan with your ex partner agree how you will communicate i.e. email, texting, voicemail, letters or face to face. You can also agree to keep the emotion out of it & make your child or children the focus of this ongoing communication.
Agree on household rules for both homes:
At the time you complete your de facto separation & property settlement try & agree how each of you will parent the children. Discuss routine and structure and include things like meal times, bed time, and completing homework. All of these things should be consistent irrespective of who’s house the children are at.
Now that your separation agreement & parenting plan are complete. Take a minute to think about what really matters. Your children. Don’t speak negatively about your ex partner to your children & ask you ex partner to abide by the same rule.
Set the boundaries:
Consistency matters to children. It helps them develop a sense of security & belonging. Agree the boundaries with your ex partner & work together to co-parent the children.
Negotiate and agree on the role extended family members will play and the access they’ll be granted while your child is in each other’s charge.
Recognise the challenge:
Be aware of just how challenging this will be. You thought negotiating your de facto relationship break up entitlements was tough? Try co-parenting for the next 18 years. Acknowledge the challenge with your ex partner. By doing this you may be bale to create a sense of teamwork & commitment to a common goal raising healthy & happy children.
Be fun & boring:
Children need time to do ordinary things with their less-seen parent, not just fun things. Be both the fun & boring parent.
Although your de facto relationship breakdown may be emotionally painful, make sure that you and your ex partner keep each other informed about all changes in your lives. It is important that your child is never the primary source of information.
Build the other parent up:
Your de facto separation & property settlement may be done. You may be ready to move forward. Try to remember why you fell in love in the first place. Each of you has parenting skills the other may lack. Remember to recognize these traits you and your ex partner have and reinforce this to the children.
There are some things you should just never do. Here are a few of them:
De facto relationship breakdown is a difficult thing to experience, especially when children are involved. Try to separate emotional issue with your ex partner & keep them out of your parenting practices. Don’t use your children to gain information about your ex partner and most importantly don’t expose your children to conflict between you & your ex partner. Research shows that putting children in the middle of your adult issues promotes feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing children to question their own strengths and abilities.
Don’t hate your ex partner:
When you hear things from your children that upset you, take a breath and relax. Deal directly with your ex partner if it is an issue of importance. Don’t engage with your children about it or speak negatively about your ex partner.
Don’t be unbalanced:
Resist being the fun dad or the cool mum when your children are with you. Remember that children develop best with a united front. Co-parenting with a healthy dose of fun, structure and predictability is a win-win for everyone.
Be aware of guilt:
De facto relationship breakdown is a painful experience, and one engenders many emotions. Not being in your child’s life on a full time basis can cause you to convert your guilt into overindulgence. Understand the psychology of parental guilt and how to recognize that granting wishes without limits is never good.
Don’t punish your ex partner:
Loosening the reigns because you just want to be a thorn in your ex partners side is a big no-no. “I know Mum likes you to eat your veggies first, but you don’t have to.” “Don’t tell Dad I gave you the extra money to buy the bike been working towards.” If you need to get your negative emotions out, find another way. Work before play is a golden rule and one that will help your child grow. Be consistent and help your child transition back and forth from your ex partner and you.
Never accuse. Discuss:
Never remain quiet if something about your ex partners co-parenting is bothering you. If you don’t have a good personal relationship with your ex partner, create a working business arrangement. Communication about co-parenting is extremely vital for your child’s healthy development. The best approach when communicating is to make your child the focal point: “I see the kids doing this-and-that after they return home from their visit. Any ideas of what we can do?” Notice there’s not one “you” word in there. No accusatory tone or finger-pointing either.
Remember, the information contained on the site does not constitute legal advice. If you think you need legal advice you should contact an Accredited Family Law Specialist.
We have a suite of resources on the site that can help you build your knowledge about de facto relationship break up entitlements & de facto separation & property settlement. Scroll through the resources below or click through to the resources tab and filter based on your areas of interest. If you want to access our resources you can join the site as a member or simply purchase the individual resources you require.