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Managing parenting styles after separation

When parents separate and emotions are running high, it can be hard to find common ground, but the parenting relationship continues long after the couple relationships ends. You and your ex-partner will have to find a way to make it work, even if you have different parenting styles.

Parenting styles  

Parenting styles are not set in stone, but you might recognise bits of yourself or your ex in one of these:

Authoritarian. Authoritarian parenting is a very strict style, with rules that aren’t to be questioned by children. It can be effective in the short term but may be damaging to children’s confidence and self-esteem [1].

Permissive. Permissive parenting has very few rules and parents tend to take on more of a friendship role. Children raised without clear boundaries sometimes struggle to cope with stress when they get older [2].

Authoritative. Authoritative parenting is more balanced. Rules and guidelines are explained to children, and balanced with warmth and caring. Children with this type of background tend to be more confident and socially responsible, and better at making decisions for themselves [1].

Parents whose styles differ can find it hard to reach agreements, even when they are together. If you’ve separated from your child’s other parent, it may seem impossible. But, if you work together, you’ll find you can reach compromises and ensure that your child’s best interests are prioritised [3].

Parenting after separation

When parents split up, one of the biggest risks to children’s wellbeing comes from the increased conflict they witness. Having a positive relationship with your ex can minimise this risk [3], so it’s important to try and share parenting in a collaborative way. There are bound to be some disagreements but you can protect your children by making sure you don’t argue in front of them or put them in the middle of your conflict. 

  • Don’t ask your children to spy on your ex.
  • Don’t make them responsible for sharing information about living arrangements or money.
  • Don’t use time spent with one parent or the other as a punishment or reward.
  • Don’t lean on your children for emotional support when you are sad or angry about your separation.
  • Don’t try to convince your children that you are right and your ex is wrong. 

Work things out with your ex. Talk about what each of you feels is best for the children – not for yourselves – and agree to make compromises.

Find common parenting ground

There are some specific communication skills that can help you get on better with your ex-partner and get through the conversations that you need to have. The course Getting it Right for Children, can help you with these skills:

  • Staying calm.
  • Active listening.
  • Seeing things from different perspectives.
  • Speaking for yourself.
  • Sticking to the rules.
  • Negotiating solutions.
  • Working things out, and trying the solutions you have agreed.

The course is free and may help you to and your ex find solutions that make life easier for your children as they adjust to their new circumstances. Parents who have taken this course showed improvements in the following areas:

  • Talking to their ex-partners about childcare.
  • Keeping conflict away from children.
  • Staying out of court.
  • Keeping calm with ex-partners.
  • Seeing things from each other’s points of view.
  • Agreeing on childcare solutions [4].

These tools can help you get through the initial transition or a difficult period later on. Your parenting styles and your children’s needs will naturally develop over the course of time, so it’s always useful to be able to communicate well and reach compromises. 

When disagreements arise, keep talking. When your styles clash again, look for common ground. Keep practising and remember: no matter how you and your ex-partner might feel about each other, the best solutions are the ones that work for your children.


[1] Baumrind, D. (1991). The Influence of Parenting Style on Adolescent Competence and Substance Use. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 11(1), 56–95.

[2] Benson, M. J., Buehler, C., & Gerard, J. M. (2008). Interparental Hostility and Early Adolescent Problem Behavior: Spillover via Maternal Acceptance, Harshness, Inconsistency, and Intrusiveness. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 28(3), 428–454.

[3] Chen, M. and Johnston, C. (2012). Interparent Childrearing Disagreement, but not Dissimilarity, Predicts Child Problems after Controlling for Parenting Effectiveness. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 41 (2), 189-201.

[4] Getting it Right for Children:

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