One of the hardest parts of separating when you have children is communicating productively with your ex. When a relationship ends, it takes time for everyone involved to come to terms with the change and learn how to communicate without animosity and conflict. Co-parenting is a team effort and your children deserve parents who are able to discuss issues relating to their welfare without losing their cool, badmouthing one another, or making things even more difficult.
So how do you foster positive communication with your ex when you’re finding it hard to talk to them at all? Here are five top tips from the experienced family lawyers at Frances Lindsay & Co on reducing stress and developing an effective relationship with your co-parent:
#1: Take it slow
Getting over a break-up can be a long process, and you may both work through the transition at a different rate. Give each other space and don’t expect your new co-parenting plans to fall into place overnight. If you can’t discuss things face to face or on the phone, try text or email. And if calm discussion is impossible, try making your arrangements through your solicitor or mediator. If your ex insults you or tries to start an argument, try not to engage or let the argument escalate – make it clear that you are willing to discuss things calmly and sensibly when they’re ready, and find a way to communicate that minimises conflict. And remember, things may be tough right now but in time it will become easier to be objective and put the difficulties of your relationship behind you.
#2: Be flexible and open to change
Be prepared to keep adjusting and amending your co-parenting plans and routines every step of the way. Sometimes things don’t go as expected – one of you may have to work late, or a special occasion may require some adjustments, or your children may decide they want to spend more or less time with one of you. Forcing everyone to adhere to a strict timetable will only end in disappointment. Be as accommodating and flexible as you can (so long as your arrangements are fair), and remember that as your children grow and develop, their needs will change, too. Revisit your children’s arrangements at regular intervals and, if necessary, make official amendments via your family lawyer.
#3: Treat it like a business relationship
If you can’t find a way to be friends again, it may help to view each other as colleagues – it’s your job to raise your kids in the best way possible, and you need to work together to do so. Focus your discussions on practicalities and logistics, keep a written record of all your conversations for future reference, and be professional and polite with each other. It might also be useful to have your solicitor or mediator draw up a co-parenting plan that sets out the ‘terms’ of your co-parenting agreement, for example assigning tasks and responsibilities and agreeing to treat one another with respect and civility.
#4: Focus on the children
Your children’s wellbeing should come first and foremost when making arrangements with your ex. The aim is to make sure your kids have a fair opportunity to spend quality time with both their parents within reason, not to one-up each other or seek revenge by making things difficult. Try to find the positives wherever you can: keep each other updated on your children’s successes, hobbies and needs, and acknowledge the importance of your ex’s role in their lives. You may not be a couple any more but you need to work as a team so that you can move forward as co-parents.
#5: Don’t put your kids in the middle
Your children have already been through a big upheaval and the best way to help them adapt to their new situation is by working together with your ex to make sure they feel safe and secure. Your children do not need to hear you badmouth or complain about your ex. By all means include your children in making decisions about arrangements that affect them, but don’t put extra weight on their shoulders by expecting them to pick a side. Your kids need to know that they’re loved regardless of the difficulties between you and their other parent. Use this opportunity to show them that even though not all relationships work out, you can still be respectful to your ex and rise above any conflict to support your children.
For more advice and guidance on co-parenting, speak to the family law solicitors at Frances & Lindsay, or check out the resources below:
- Relate offers couples counselling and support for separating parents
- One Plus One is an online programme that helps parents communicate effectively and prioritise their children’s wellbeing.
- Gingerbread offers advice and support for single parents.
- Voices in the Middle allows children and young people to share their experiences of separation and is a great resource for parents, too.