Why can a couple co-parent for years without major differences of opinion but when they separate, they struggle to agree on the most basic of things?
What was easily left as one parent's area of responsibility before becomes contentious as a parent fears being marginalised during separation of divorce.
Family lawyers are happy to help and have many ways and methods of doing so but it is easier (and less expensive) if you help yourself too.
So what helps prevent or deal with a dispute over parenting styles or issues?
Communication and reassurance are key to avoiding problems. Here are tips which might help:
- Acknowledge to each other that the children benefit from retaining good relationships with both parents and commit to working toward this- it will be a 'work in progress'
- recognise that two people may have differing views and different households can have different outlooks - sometimes it is just about operating differently rather than 'right' or 'wrong'
- compromise so that you can nudge along to a different kind of working relationship- a co-parenting relationship for the future
- tell the other parent that you appreciate it is important they are part of the children's lives- despite there being plenty of times you feel differently
- prepare to work hard at establishing and maintaining the peace - it is difficult but worthwhile. If you are inclined to be too quick to speak, think about it overnight. Work out a communication strategy with your ex-partner - they can't work with you if they don't know there is a problem
- be sensitive in the language you use- 'our child' or his or her name is better than 'my child' and it is always easier to hear a calm speaker than an angry one
- accept you and your ex-partner may have different views on things and different households can have different rules or ways of doing things. Children are usually accepting of this. It causes them a lot less angst than pretending the same rules are applied in both homes. They may at times try to play you off against each other but that happens even when everyone lives together.
- keep a sense of perspective and respect each other's boundaries
- avoid criticising your co-parent within earshot or sight of the children (and that very much includes on social media), be aware of your body language, gestures such as rolling of eyes and tone of voice which we all too easily do unconsciously. Avoid doing things to spite or wind up each other as the children end up upset and uncomfortable. Avoid texting in terms that are too brief as this can be interpreted as hostile
- model better behaviour and be your better self- no one is perfect but sometimes we have to practice and go through the motions even though it is the last thing you feel like doing
- should you be on the receiving end of behaviour that upsets, offends or worse try not to be drawn into replying in similar ways. There are strategies to use if it is a persistent problem but sometimes it becomes a habit and if so remind yourself to take a more positive approach.
Separating parents often find they move from a personal relationship to a more business-like co-parenting relationship over time and that can work well for the children who need to know their parents are still there for them. Children undertake collaborative working at school and even in early primary school work with partners or in groups assigning different roles such as the author, editor, interpreter, reviewer etc. so perhaps parents can learn from their offspring, realise that trying to do all roles all the time is hard going and work out a different way.