Are you worried about how your separation is impacting your children? Do you feel afraid that they are not getting a good model for how to make marriage work? Do you feel helpless about how your children are being parented in the other home?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you are not alone. Co-parenting children when you are married is challenging. Co-parenting after separation is even harder. There is hope though. There are things you can do to support your children to adjust to two homes and to thrive in this family structure. Here are 5 things you can do to move toward this goal.
Increase your conflict resolution skills.
We know that children who are exposed to parental conflict do not have as good outcomes as children who are not. You can take steps to increase your ability to navigate conflict and these newfound skills will impact not only your co-parenting relationship, they will impact all of your relationships. Dialogue and Resolution Services has a nine part series called Communicating Through Conflict. This would be a great place to start.
Many problems can be avoided if they are talked about when the issue is small. It is common for separated parents to avoid engaging with one another, only to find the issue that was small is now large. For example, a family that had an agreement to recalculate their child support every year did not do so for 6 years. When they did meet, one parent learned that the other had doubled their income 5 years earlier. This family tried to resolve this issue in mediation, but ended up in court with a judge making a ruling about retroactive child support.
Have a communication plan.
It is important to be intentional about how to engage with the other parent: It might be convenient to mention topics about your child when you bring them back to the other parent, but this exchange can be a time when conflict often escalates and this conflict frightens children. Instead, try to have a regular time and place set aside to meet about your child when your child is not around. If you save all communication for these meetings you can ensure your child will not be exposed to parental conflict. It is difficult to co-parent and emotions will likely escalate from time to time. Knowing this and planning for it can help you ensure your child is not around when it happens.
Separate marital issues from parenting issues:
If you still find that some of the issues from the marriage come up when you are co-parenting, counselling could help. At one point you loved your former partner and it makes sense that some of the old relationship issues still get evoked when co-parenting. This is especially true if there was a betrayal of trust, such as an affair. Working through the marital issues that still get stirred up and releasing that pain can improve your co-parenting effectiveness.
Increase your self-regulation skills:
Learn about how the brain works and what you can do to calm strong emotions when they erupt. It is inevitable that you will experience strong emotions when working together with the other parent, especially when you disagree. Being able to stay calm in conflict is a foundational conflict resolution skill. Mindfulness practices are known to increase self-awareness and the ability to respond intentionally rather that reactively. There are many options such as yoga, meditation, and mindful breathing exercises. You can find a lot of valuable apps or websites such as, the insight timer or do yoga with me.
Tammy Van Hinte is a Registered Clinical Counsellor who supports parents to bring their best selves into the mediation process. Starting in September, Tammy will be offering a course called Peaceful Co-Parenting at Dialogue and Resolution Services. There are sliding scale options available and attendees will be given a certificate of completion.