Co-parenting or joint parenting is when two parents work together raising their child even though they are separated, divorced or no longer living together. It is something that I have had to do for many years, and I can honestly say that at times it has been very difficult. Sharing parental duties with an ex-partner can at times be hugely stressful. One parent may not like how the other 'parents'. And what one parent finds worrying and upsetting may be brushed off by the other side, causing frustration. Both sides have very strong views and opinions on what is acceptable and what is not. Obviously this tension might lead to disagreements, arguments, fallouts, stress and anxiety.
Finding that happy balance can take months if not years to find, and sometimes for some families, they may never agree on anything. That's when things start to get very difficult and mediation has to be introduced or the court gets involved. Once the court gets involved you will work toward making a legal document that outlines how parents will raise their children, and it clearly explains the rights and responsibilities of each parent.
I have always wanted to try and work things out between myself and my children’s dads, but its not always been that simple. Over the years I have had tried my best to keep things as amicable as I can. Sadly, that's not always been possible, and I have ended up doing mediation and going to court. This has become very costly to myself and caused a lot of upset.
Anyone going through a break up who is trying to co-parent will no doubt be struggling to adjust. I have had a few messy break-ups in the past that have caused me huge anxiety that led to depression. A break-up is tough for any family to go through, and I think it is important for me to be honest about my experiences.
Trying to find balance in your life while having to share responsibilities with someone you don’t get on with any more can be tedious, to put it mildly. I always felt like I was wasting so much energy that could have been channelled in more positive ways. Co-parenting requires so much patience and good communication for it to be a success. Leaving behind any insecurities and ego is a must for it to work, and the most important thing to always remember is what is best for the child.
Making co-parenting work
I would hate to think that my children thought that they weren’t my main priority. Seeing me argue with their father is something I’ve tried to steer way clear of. What good will that do for them in the long run? The main focus should be on the children, their wellbeing and happiness. This can only make them feel safe and secure seeing both parents meeting in the middle and trying to make things work as best as they can. Children are very intuitive and they sense any problems or rifts between you. This makes it hard for them to discuss their feelings out of fear of upsetting either side. I have always told my children that they can come to me and talk to me about anything and they do. I couldn’t imagine what it would feel like for them not to share their thoughts and fears with me.
It is also important to remember that our children struggle with break-ups just as much as we do. Giving them confidence through consistency will help them settle more quickly.
Keeping an open line of communication between yourself and your ex is crucial. Whether it be via face to face chats, texts, emails or letters. I have found that the more we can sync our diaries the easier things are. Organisation is key. Preempt important dates and holidays, and work out how they should be split. It's just easier in the long run to respect each other's lives, and give consideration of things they have coming up and vice versa.
I have found face-to-face talking better for me. Text and emails can get lost in translation, but that's just me... if you and your ex struggle to communicate and face to face meetings descend into arguments or a fight, then finding an alternative way to communicate is key. Just dealing with each other over text or email eliminates that contact. Meeting up every few months to keep on the same page is a good way of diffusing tension, if you are at that point. You have a bond that will keep you having to work together as parents until your child is old enough to make their own decisions. The day I decided to move forward and leave the past in the past was the day I felt an inner peace.
I do not always have the answers to my child’s need and/or problems. Don’t be afraid to ask your ex for help. This can be tough in the early days and months of a split, but you need to be mature about things. If one of my children brings something up that didn’t happen when they were in my care, I need to know so I can help tackle the situation.
I am a huge champion of Councelling. I never thought it could ever work for me. I cried when I had reached my last session because they were so therapeutic (after research, I opted for an intensive course of CBT - Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).
Leaving the past in the past will help move the relationship forward. I've read and heard about ex-partners begrudging the other parent the chance to see their child or they'll misinform them so that they miss out on a school play or parent's evening. In the long run this behaviour only affects the child. If you're full of anger or still feeling hurt by an ex, find another way to deal with it. Being spiteful and using the child/children as a means to get back at the ex is low and more importantly damaging for the child. Find another way to deal with your baggage.
That being said, you may always harbour negative feelings or resentment towards an ex, but believe me, putting the child or children in the middle will only create more problems. Always remember these are your issues, not your child’s.
Finances can cause massive issues. One parent who is wiling to meet half way may not always get the same back. My thoughts have always been if an ex does not want to meet me half way in supporting their child, then I am not going to ask for it. We all know being a parent costs money and as a parent it's a given that you have financial obligations to provide for your child. To try and contest this, in my eyes is disgraceful.
Not everyone thinks like that. If you are having issues with an ex around finances that can’t be dealt with between the two of you then there is the Child Maintenance Service on www.gov.uk that will help with this.
Always remember you both have equal rights as parents. There will always be a lot of compromise when co-parenting. Leaving tough relationships is a massive step and breaking old habits can take time. Always remember you have a voice, and if it is hard for it to be heard by the other side, mediation is always available (see this link on www.gov.uk).
If you would like more information on co-parenting then have a look at www.helpguide.org. They have some downloadable PDF’s that may help.