The quality of the relationship between parents can have a strong influence on the mental and emotional well-being of children, and the incidence of anxiety and depression. Of course, putting aside relationship issues, especially after an acrimonious split, to co-parent agreeably is sometimes easier said than done.
However, the ability to effectively co-parent assists your children to feel safe, secure and loved. Whilst it can be challenging to work with a former partner or spouse it is important to keep in mind what is best for your children just as the Family Law Act does.
The key to successful co-parenting is to separate the personal relationship with your former partner from the co-parenting relationship. It may be helpful to start thinking of your relationship with your former partner as a completely new one, one that is entirely about the well-being of your children, and not about either of you.
Some things you can do to create a healthy co-parenting environment for your children are:
- Develop a simple, clear and efficient communication style. Communication may be one of the hardest things to do but one of the most valuable in making the co-parenting relationship work. Agree to discuss all issues that arise with the children openly. Make time for communication and make it a top priority. Never do it in front of the children.
- Be consistent with everything. Work out a plan so that rules stay the same in both houses. Children thrive on consistency and need to know when one parent imposes rules that the other does too.
- Always put your child’s best interests first and think about the effect of your own behaviour, before taking action or saying something.
- Agree that both of you will not speak negatively about the other. Respect in a co-parenting relationship is essential for your children.
A Positive Approach to Co-parenting will ensure your children:
- Feel secure. When confident of the love of both parents, children adjust more quickly and easily to a divorce and new living situations, and have better self-esteem.
- Benefit from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what’s expected of them.
- Better understand problem solving. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.
- Have a healthy example to follow. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future to build and maintain stronger relationships in their own lives.
- Are mentally and emotionally healthier. Children exposed to conflict between co-parents are more likely to develop issues such as depression, anxiety, or ADHD.
Below are some behaviours you do not want to do in a co-parenting relationship:
- Don’t sabotage your child’s relationship with the other parent. Not only is it not fair to your child, often the child will end up resenting you for it rather than your former spouse. It is critically important to encourage a healthy relationship between the child and the other parent.
- Do not make your child choose sides or burden them with talk that denigrates the other parent. They love both their parents and they see themselves as a combination of you both. Therefore when you put down your former partner, your child feels as though you are putting them down as well.
- Don’t use your child to manipulate your former partner or spouse. Using your child as a bargaining chip is one of the worst things you can do in a co-parenting situation. Remember, your children are people with feelings and choices of their own, not objects.
- Don’t fight. Good communication is what is best for the children, and they can sense conflict and negative feelings even when you don’t talk about it.
- Never transfer your hurt and angry feelings towards your former partner onto your children. Your children are already dealing with the loss of the family unit and this new way of life. They need your support, love, and trust.
There is no doubt that co-parenting is sometimes hard, but it is healthier for your children to spend time with both parents and receive the benefit of both parent’s input on major life decisions unless there is risk of harm to the children in doing so.