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Co-parenting after a messy break-up

We’re one of those that believe the pain of divorce is worse than physical death. We’ve lived through both. And to a child, divorce isn’t only like a death with no funeral, but it also fundamentally changes their entire worldview and sets them on a path no one can predict. That path is highly influenced by how the parents behave after deciding to walk their separate ways.

Although most of the times the break-ups are a result of immaturity, to properly manage the aftermath of the break-up demands a lot of maturity. Children are usually the biggest casualties from this point onwards. One parent tends to run away from their responsibilities, or the other abuses their custody of the children by, among other things, manipulating the situation and the children against the other parent.

However, according to the Children’s Act, “The parental responsibilities and rights that a person may have in respect of a child, include the responsibility and the right:
a. to care for the child;
b. to maintain contact with the child;
c. to act as guardian of the child; and
d. to contribute to the maintenance of the child.”

That is law in our country. So whether the end of your relationship was cordial or nightmare, law requires that you always put your children’s best interest at heart when making decisions. And to help deal with the situation better, we suggest the following ideas:

Don’t turn your children against your ex
Some parents use their children as a weapon to hurt their ex. They say and do things to portray their ex in a bad light. Your children shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of your failed relationship. Bashing your ex in front of your kids will impact them emotionally for years. Describing their father as a “loser of a dog” or their mother as a “crazy lunatic” will leave them feeling confused, and afraid to speak up about their real feelings. It is also unfair to make your children feel like they need to choose between being loyal to their mother or father.

Improve your communication
Don’t let your issues with the ex get in the way of your co-parenting responsibilities. Put your anger and bitterness aside when communicating about your children. Conflict-free communication is not only good for your children’s well-being, but your sanity as well. If you are still too angry to speak face-to-face, send an email or pick up the phone. Plan what you want to say so that you don’t let your emotions get the better of you.

Don’t burden the children
Emotionally charged issues about your ex should never be part of your parenting. Never sabotage your child’s relationship with your ex by trash-talking. Never use your child to gain information about things going on or to sway your ex about an issue. Putting children in the middle of your adult issues promotes feelings of helplessness and insecurity.

Discuss the important stuff immediately
To ensure the success of your co-parenting arrangement, make sure you come to an agreement about issues like how your children will be disciplined in the separate homes, and what schedule they will follow. This will ensure consistency, and make co-parenting as effortless as possible. Children will frequently test boundaries and rules, especially if there’s a chance to get something they may not ordinarily be able to obtain with the other parent.
This is why we always advise a united front in co-parenting. Issues like household budget, education, and medical decisions should also be discussed at the start of your co-parenting relationship. Leaving these till long after the break-up when the other parent has long settled into a pattern of lifestyle will be to the detriment of the children.

Don’t jump to conclusions
When you hear things from your children that make you bristle, probe calmly, then take a breath and remain quiet. Remember that any negative comments your children make are often best taken with a grain of salt. It’s always good to remain neutral when things like this happen. Confront the issue with your ex calmly and outside your children.

Encourage respect for your ex
Your ex is still a biological parent to your children. Children may be tempted to demonstrate that they are loyal to you when they are in your company by speaking disrespectfully of your ex. Be matured enough not to fall for it. Make it a rule to rebuke them when they do so, even though it may all be music to your ears. After all, how do you know they’re not speaking ill of you when they are with your ex? Importantly, protecting your ex from your children will increase security in them in the long run.

Don’t give into guilt
Divorce conjures up many negative emotions. Not being in your child’s life on a full-time basis can cause you to convert your guilt into overindulgence. Guilt-driven parenting will either cause you to become strict and controlling, or become too lenient. Understand the psychology of parental guilt, and how to recognize that neither granting wishes without limits, nor being overly controlling is never good for either of you. Resist being the “fun guy” or the “cool mom” when your children are with you. Children develop best with a united front. Co-parenting with a healthy dose of fun, structure and predictability is a win-win for everyone.

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