Co-parenting through Conflict
Separation from a spouse or partner is one of the most stressful situations a person can go through. When you have children, you have the added pressure of functioning as a parent in the midst of your grief, loss or anger surrounding the breakdown of your relationship.
It is well-documented that prolonged exposure to family conflict has a negative impact upon a child’s well-being and development. They feel the same deep emotions during dramatic changes in their family dynamic and will be looking for stability, security and reassurance.
How can you achieve this seemingly impossible balance? Here are a few tips.
Choose respect at all times
The most important part of establishing and maintaining a co-parenting alliance is by choosing to communicate in a respectful way at all times. At no time is it helpful or appropriate to resort to aggressive or abusive behaviour, no matter how angry you might feel. If you feel tensions mounting, try writing your thoughts down before making the phone call or meeting up with the other parent.
You may benefit from seeking Counselling to work through any lingering negative emotions and to implement some coping strategies. Some Counsellors or Psychologists will also be able to provide parenting support and assist you with managing the transition and any challenging behaviours that come with that. Sometimes, family therapy involving the children may be an option, where they can feel heard and supported to express in a safe environment, what they need from their parents.
Coping strategies for yourself
It is crucial to look after yourself during this distressing time. This could be in the form of Counselling, practising self-care or setting time aside to do things which you enjoy to release stress. Do whatever you can to process the negative emotions so that they don’t build up. Eating well, exercising and resting regularly will also help to keep your mind and body healthy. If you don’t already do so, you might like to include a short daily meditation into your daily routine, which will give you structured “time out” from the stress involved during a family separation.
Remain child focused:
When interacting with the other parent, keep in mind what the children might be seeing, hearing and experiencing. If it is stressful and evokes an emotional response from you, it is likely that they are aware of that. Be motivated by the needs of the children to help you to create a calm and co-operative parenting relationship, as a way of managing your emotional responses. Establish a very structured family routine which works well, and stick to it.
Walk in the shoes of the children
Cast yourself back to when you were their age. Imagine that you are experiencing your parents separating and ask yourself:
- How am I feeling?
- What do I need to feel more secure?
- Who will look after me?
- When do I feel scared and confused?
- What can I do if I want to be by myself?
Now, plan how you would answer these questions for your children and, if possible, offer them the support which you think that they may need. If your children are adolescents or teens, you may be able to have a conversation with them about these things.
What are your co-parenting goals?
Every single relationship is different. Sometimes people set themselves up by expecting too much of themselves or the other person, or by comparing themselves to other separated couples. Think about the type of relationship that you want to have with the other parent and how you can achieve that. Keep your goals simple, practical and realistic.
Formalise your arrangements
If you have not established what the arrangements are regarding the care of your children, it leaves room for confusion, disagreement and ongoing conflict. By formalising the arrangement with a Parenting Plan or Consent Orders, each parent will know and understand their role and it also sets boundaries. The most important advantage is that the children will know exactly where they are going and who they will be with. When an agreed routine is in place and operating smoothly, this will provide them with stability and structure, and peace of mind for both parents. It is also important, from the beginning, to have an agreement with the other parent to allow for some flexibility with the children’s contact arrangements, which will avoid future conflict.
If you are at all unsure of your rights or responsibilities regarding separation and children’s issues, or would like assistance to negotiate a Parenting Plan or Consent Orders with the other party, the lawyers at Butlers are very experienced and willing to support you in achieving your co-parenting goals.