Australian divorce rates are the lowest they’ve been since the 1970s and the trend is continuing downwards. However, with 47 per cent of divorces involving children under 18 years of age, the concept of co-parenting with an ex-partner has become more widespread.
Although the process of divorce can be stressful and deeply upsetting, it’s not usually the divorce or separation itself that harms your children. They’re more likely to be upset by conflict between their parents. It’s therefore essential to understand what co-parenting means and how to do it right.
The most successful co-parenting relationships are ones where both people start thinking of their relationship with their ex-partner as a completely new relationship. Rather than being about the two of you, this new relationship concerns only the wellbeing of your children. Even though your relationship as a couple is over, your family is not. As parents, you must remain on the same team, continuing to work together to help your children.
Putting aside your differences can be difficult, especially if you have a contentious relationship with your ex-partner. While it is recommended to get a co-parenting agreement, you should additionally try to overcome the challenges that come with co-parenting and develop a cordial new relationship with your ex-partner.
We’ve put together five tips to create a positive co-parenting relationship.
1. Create a plan
Developing a comprehensive plan detailing all relevant information is worth all the time you put into it. The more clearly each of you agrees on and understands your roles and requirements moving forward, the easier it will be to execute. This can include information from your co-parenting agreement such as who gets the kids on what days, financial responsibilities, holiday entitlements and more. It should also include more logistical and tailored information such as punishment approaches, decision-making guidelines, and back–up arrangements.
Creating and sticking to a plan will take the guesswork out of the relationship, creating a consistent environment for the new family dynamic. This will not only reduce tensions between you and your ex-partner, but it will also create stability for your children, making it easier for them to adjust to the new structure.
2. Be open and flexible with schedules
Even in the best of times, plans change. Whether it’s due to a friend’s birthday, a medical emergency, or a last-minute business meeting, things come up that will require adjustments, and you need to accept this. Your best approach is to plan to be flexible with the routine.
Your kids can potentially feel a sense of rejection if you and your ex-partner are arguing about not being able to take the kids. While it’s acceptable to change the plan on a rare occasion due to something popping up, your kids need consistency, and this must take priority. However, if it’s your day with the kids, but your ex-partner wants to take them to watch their favorite soccer team live, perhaps you can let them, as long it’s for the children’s benefit. This flexibility will not only present a united front your children, but it will also demonstrate great compromise and negotiation qualities for them to emulate.
3. Present a united front
As much as your children may suggest otherwise, they need routine and structure. Although they may be living in two households, they need to have a consistent routine across both to create a sense of security and predictability. Regardless of where your child is, you should try to have the same rules in place for things like mealtimes, bedtime, chores, homework, etc.
Just as rules should be consistent and agreed upon at both households, communication should be too. Ensure that you communicate as a team and enforce the same principles. Avoid hiding bad behaviour or significant news from your ex-partner, as this will create a ‘us versus them’ mentality, rather than a united family unit. Demonstrating to your children that there is a clear and consistent line between you and your ex-partner will limit their ability to deceive or manipulate either of you, especially as they reach their teenage years.
4. Never badmouth your ex
Disagreements are undoubtably going to arise. It is crucial that, no matter how angry or upset you get over something your ex-partner has done, you don’t badmouth them in front of your children. Not only could this impact and potentially sabotage their relationship with your ex-partner, it could also lead to a sense of distrust or resentment towards you. Putting children in the middle of their parents’ issues can cause them to question their own strengths and abilities, as it promotes feelings of helplessness and insecurity. It can also lead to children questioning their own sense of self. In their eyes they are part of both of you and if they hear one parent being criticised frequently, there is a risk that they will start to think of themselves in the same light.
5. Get a co-parenting app
A lot of the frustration and arguments in a co-parenting relationship come from communication, or lack thereof. Luckily, in today’s digitalised world, there is an app for everything, including co-parenting.
Using a co-parenting app can alleviate the need for a lot of basic communication and prevents the “you never told me” argument. Co-parenting apps help streamline the logistical aspect of the partnership by synchronising and providing visibility into the responsibilities of each parent, avoiding confusion and overall conflict. Typical co-parenting apps let parents:
- use and share a single calendar
- document cost-sharing
- store important information such as helpful contacts or medical information
- provide systems for adjusting the typical schedule, coordinating extracurricular activities, sick days off, and other unplanned surprises
- share all the information with other people such as nannies, grandparents, coaches, and even the kids themselves.
Whether you are together, separated, divorced or even travelling, it is critical that the needs of your children are priority one. Children need consistency so, when the family structure changes, it is more important than ever that you and your ex-partner provide a united team, regardless of your feelings towards each other.