The one step in relating with the other parent
In running One Together workshops this has been the most challenging topic to discuss. It raises tensions because of the variety of opinions. How to relate with the other parent? For most single parents it is a source of pain, for many a source of conflict and for some there is the spectrum of the absent parent.
There is one step to relate with the other parent in all these situations: Put the children first.
When relating with a parenting partner the golden rule is the children should be paramount in all considerations, with their welfare being of the utmost importance.
For my ex-husband and myself, putting the children first involved everything. It included custody, access, property settlement and most importantly, how we spoke to and about each other in front of the children.
Let’s explore what that looks like:
- Being parenting partners
- Absent parents
Both parents are important in the life and development of children and their involvement is an integral part of a healthy outcome for children of broken relationships. So while you are no longer together, you will remain parenting partners.
Professor of psychology, Dr Archibald Hart, describes in Helping Children Survive Divorce1 how each child, at the end of a marriage, has a right to see and love both parents. He claims it is the parent’s responsibility to facilitate this. An exception is where the child would be put at risk. Seek professional advice if this is the case.
The Australian Courts view on parenting arrangements is: ‘Contact with family members is considered to be the right of a child (not the right of a parent). 2
Research shows that if managed well parental separation is not harmful to children in the long term, but ongoing parental conflict is 3. Typically conflict can be seen in anger, verbal abuse, distrust, avoidance, control, criticism and problems communicating to the other parent. Conflict is not healthy for you either.
If the other parent is still involved in the children’s lives you will need to find a safe way to communicate with them. Putting children first in communication means:
- Showing respect to your former partner – to their face and behind their back
- Don’t use the children as spies
- Don’t interrogate the children about the other parent
- Don’t use the children as messengers
I found my children were good at eavesdropping so be careful how you speak even when you think the children can’t hear!
To help with communication consider using a communication folder where parents write notes to outline important events and put in relevant school notices, birthday party invitations and so on. If the child has an illness, a duplicate action plan or notes on managing it can be included as a reminder.
Both parents can sign up with the school for copies of the school newsletter and the child’s reports. I have friends who use public places like fast food outlets for handing over children for access visits. Some agencies offer a safe house so that neither parent has to see the other. There can also be supervised visits arranged (see resources). For the sake of the children find a safe solution that is workable for you.
Children invariably put parents on a pedestal which will crash down during their teen years. Even the absent parent will be idolized.
Walk the fine line between not bad mouthing the absent parent and giving enough information to satisfy the child that it is not their fault. Reassure them of your love. Read this article – ‘Absent Parent’ for more information.
As a parent, you owe it to your children to be the best parent you can be, healing and growing and pursuing your purpose in life. Dr Hart paints a picture of children at the end of a relationship being supported by two loving and growing parents, even if they are heading in different directions.
Putting legs on it
Can you improve how you put your children first in communication or being a parenting partner?
For children’s books to support children in shared care arrangements (Christian content) ‘Caught in the Middle’ and ‘My two houses’ click here
Download the booklet Children and Separation http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Documents/Childrenandseparationbooklet.pdf
Download the booklet Supervised visits and change overs: http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Documents/supervised-visits-and-changeovers.pdf
Family Lives, Absent parents:
HelpGuide: Co-parenting tips for divorced parents: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/family-divorce/co-parenting-tips-for-divorced-parents.htm
 Hart, A. (1996) Helping Children Survive Divorce. Word Publishing, U.S.A.
2 Family Relationships Online (2016), Children and Separation, Australian Government http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Pages/ChildrenAndSeparationBooklet.aspx
3 Family Relationships Online (2016), Children and Separation, Australian Government http://www.familyrelationships.gov.au/BrochuresandPublications/Pages/ChildrenAndSeparationBooklet.aspx
Photo credit Bonnie Kittle www.unsplash.com