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Breaking down communication barriers

Most parents want to do everything they can to get the best for their child, but it’s not always easy working out how to parent together after separating.

After a difficult separation or divorce, it can be a challenge to co-operate and make compromises with your ex-partner. Try to keep in mind that you are jointly responsible for your child as you work out a new relationship with each other.

It may never be possible to have the same level of trust and respect for your ex-partner, but you should aim for an arrangement you can both agree on, based around your child’s needs. It may take time to negotiate and work out how best to manage this relationship.

The following tips may be helpful in getting you through the difficult early stages and making sure your child is shielded from the worst of the breakup.

Maintain mutual respect for the sake of your child
  • Try to respect each other’s parenting styles. Your ex-partner might have different approaches to mealtimes, bedtimes and entertainment. However, neither of you should try to interfere with the other’s parenting decisions unless you think they are detrimental or dangerous to your child.
  • Use positive or neutral language when talking about your ex-partner in front of your child. Encourage your family and friends to do the same.
  • If you want to know more about what goes on at your ex-partner’s home, ask them directly. However tempting it may be, you should never use your children to find out what your ex-partner is up to.
  • Discourage your child from complaining about their other parent. If your child has a problem, encourage them to talk to the other parent about it directly.
  • Try to keep your feelings about the other parent separate from your parenting decisions. Treat the other parent as you would like to be treated.
  • Keep in mind that however much you dislike or are frustrated by your ex-partner, your child still loves you both.
  • Be aware that all children of separated parents, whatever age, will struggle with loyalty issues.
Communication is vital
  • Make sure you share contact details. You and your ex-partner should each have each other’s addresses and phone numbers so you can contact each other when you need to. This should include all school-related information.
  • Both of you should be involved in all big life-changing decisions that may affect the child or each other. It may help to set up quite formal meetings to do this, in a neutral environment like a café.
  • If possible, communicate directly with the other parent to avoid misunderstandings. Don’t use your child to pass messages between parents, even when they are older.
  • Texting and emailing can be useful, but remember that both can be misinterpreted. Face-to-face contact or phone calls may be difficult, but could help you both to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Sharing information is good for your child and essential for you as parents. There should be no competition between parents as to who has the most information.
  • Difficult decisions should be made by both parents together.
A shared responsibility
  • Try to make both homes comfortable environments for your child, where they’ve got access to everything they need. The only things they should be carrying between homes are their own valued belongings – the special, unique things that make them feel secure.
  • Always stick to financial arrangements. If you’re struggling, let the other parent know about any issues that might affect them as soon as possible.
  • If there are difficult decisions to make, make them together. Your child needn’t be involved until you have reached an agreement.
  • Share routines, bedtime, schedules, school expectations and discipline issues. You may not always agree and, in some cases, you and your ex-partner will have different expectations. It’s important to discuss these, as younger children can become confused and older children may try to play one parent off against the other.
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