According to the Raising Children Network, 21 per cent of Aussie children have a parent living elsewhere and although a relationship breakdown brings emotional upheaval and changes to life as everyone knew it, it is possible to move forward together with a positive family dynamic.
Here we look at ways that parents can set aside their differences, focus on their child and co-parent successfully after separation.
How can separated couples work towards a positive co-parenting relationship?
According to co-parenting coach, Anna Giannone, there are 10 ways that former spouses can make the peace and successfully share the parenting.
To help create a solid foundation for your child, Ms Giannone recommends that separated parents:
- Avoid blaming, judging, disparaging and resenting the other parent
- Remain child-centred and let the 'spouse-partner relationship go'
- Work on creating 'a new high quality co-parenting relationship'
- Show mutual respect towards one another
- Set clear and healthy boundaries
- Focus on communicating well
- Try to solve problems diplomatically, not emotionally
- Involve both parents in decision-making
- Work together as a team
- Persevere, even when the going gets tough
What does this mean in practice?
Sometimes this kind of positive mindset might seem easier said than done, but the Raising Children Network offers several practical strategies for successfully sharing the parenting:
1. They recommend that parents develop a co-parenting plan
Whether you have 'consciously uncoupled' like Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, or are going through an acrimonious divorce, a co-parenting plan helps former spouses work together in the best interests of the child or children.
The plan should cover things like:
- A contact or visitation schedule
- Your child's education and needs
- How special events like holidays and birthdays will be handled
- Decision-making guidelines
- Back-up care arrangements
And it's important that you both agree on the 'terms' of the co-parenting plan.
2. It's also important to remain flexible
Circumstances change, children grow older and sometimes things don't go according to plan, so as well as forming an idea of how things will be, allow some room for movement and adaptability as well.
3. Try to accept your former partner's parenting style
Whether it's due to values, beliefs or new habits, you might have different ideas about the best way to raise your child. However, instead of clamping down on things your former partner does or allows, try think about whether your parenting approach is a preference or essential for your child’s health and safety. And sometimes it's best to let preferences slide. Even if that means TV marathons at Dad’s or lolly binges at Mum's.
4. Help your child stay connected with their other parent
Even if there is no love between you and your former spouse, it's important that you help them remain bonded with your child. Phone calls, photos of Dad and positivity about Mum are all ways that you can help your child and their other parent stay connected.
5. Remember to keep each other up-to-date
As well as keeping your ex in your child's mind, keep them in the loop too. Practically, this could mean sharing your child's online calendar or making sure their school sends correspondence to both parents.
6. Plan ahead
An online calendar is also a great way to plan activities, special events and tasks so that you can both take responsibility and get involved in your child's life, whether together or individually.
7. Allow for an adjustment period
If your former spouse is new to the world of pick-ups, drop-offs, meal preparation and other child-raising routines, it can be tempting to criticise them. However, try to focus on the positives and give them time to learn.
8. Prepare for some negative feelings
It's not uncommon to feel lonely or disappointed when your child spends time with their other parent but try to put a positive spin on it. After all, child-free time is a great opportunity to relax, socialise and try new things.
What if you can't agree on a co-parenting solution?
If you and your former partner are having trouble finding common ground, there are trained professionals who can help. You might want to see a family dispute resolution practitioner, relationship counsellor or mediator.
Separated parents can also get support from: