Your relationship with your partner might have ended, but despite separation, you’re both still parents to your children. In most cases, it is in your children’s best interests for you to figure out how you can both continue to be involved in their lives.
It’s not easy to create new parenting arrangements when a relationship breaks down, but whatever your situation, you and your ex-partner need to make firm decisions about how you will parent your children now. You might be able to sort this out together. If you can’t, you can contact one of several support agencies for help.
Here are some tips for setting up your new arrangements immediately following separation:
1. Develop a co-parenting plan - you and your ex-partner need to discuss your rights and responsibilities with regard to your kids, and set up a way to work out disputes. A co-parenting plan should address the following:
• A custody or visitation schedule
• Children’s medical needs or concerns
• Discipline and household rules
• Holidays and special events
• Decision-making guidelines
2. Have a contingency plan - Ensure that you have an agreement in place regarding what happens if one of you needs to change plans or has a change in circumstances.
3. Aim to be flexible – it benefits everyone to be flexible with plans and arrangements. Remember, if you get upset about a change your ex-partner makes, it may make things more difficult next time you need to change your plans.
4. Keep your ex-partner up to date – Children benefit when their other parent knows about their interests and keeps in touch. Even if other parents live far away, kids still benefit from regular email, phone and letter contact, particularly if it goes both ways.
5. Give your ex-partner some time to learn the ropes – in some cases, one parent may have done the majority of the caring for the children. In this case, some ex-partners may take a little time to get the hang of it.
6. Dealing with special celebrations – birthdays, holidays, and other celebrations can be the hardest time to work out parenting plans. Being alone on a significant day, without your child, can be difficult for many separated parents.
Some parents choose to split special days in half, while others alternate parenting on special days each year. Parents often make arrangements such as holding celebrations before or after the special day. If possible, try to keep some traditions that you previously shared, such as opening presents in bed in the morning.
It can also be beneficial to communicate with your ex-partner around gifts, to avoid doubling up.
7. Be prepared for some negative feelings – When your children are with their other parent, you might feel a sense of loss, loneliness, anger and disappointment. Planning ahead can help you cope when your children are away. In addition, it can be a good idea to agree in advance on the kind of contact you will have with your children during these periods. Try to put on a happy face for your children – this will help them with the transition.
8. When your ex-partner can’t be involved – there are some situations in which keeping your kids in contact with your ex-partner is not possible, for example if your relationship involved violence or abuse, your ex-partner is deceased or far away, or if your ex-partner does not wish to have contact with the children. In cases like these, your relationships with other trusted adults can help. They can offer care and support and be role models for your children.
Every family is different, but communication between parents is key to making a co-parenting arrangement work. If you can’t talk yourselves, seek professional help. Your children too may benefit from seeing a child and adolescent psychologist during this period of transition.
With all decisions, try to step into your children’s shoes and figure out what will work best for them. Children respond best to predictability, routine, and a sense of control. Telling them of plans and arrangements in advance can assist them to cope with transitions and inevitable changes.
Of course, it is extremely important to look after yourself, as well as your children, through a separation and the resulting adjustments and changes. This means looking after your own physical, and emotional wellbeing. Your own wellbeing will have a direct impact on your children’s wellbeing. Ensure that you have a supportive network of friends and family, that you continue your own activities wherever possible, and that you seek professional help if needed.
If you are seeking further help and information in regards to communicating with your ex-partner, setting up co-parenting arrangements, or acquiring professional support for yourself or your children, theses two sources of assistance may help you, Releationships Australia and Parentline.
Reference for this article: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/coparenting.html
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