Co-parenting with confidence part 1: Separating well

In the first of our two-part series on co-parenting with confidence, family coaches Jo Batts and Bridget Gundy share advice around the importance of holding kids close as you journey through a marriage or relationship separation.

You’ve made the tough call to end your current relationship and now face the sobering reality of working the decision through with the kids. You both desperately love these little people you’ve created and together you want to do all you can to smooth the way for them. You don’t want the breakdown of your relationship to get in the way of raising happy, secure and confident kids. There are a few sizeable challenges ahead as you navigate the decisions about possessions, houses, pick-ups and drop-offs, custody arrangements, finances and futures. It’s time to master the challenge of co-parenting.

Every parent wants to give their kids the best possible support for their future. In the scramble of co-parenting, it’s not easy to know where and how to start. Many parents make their way to Family Coaching in search of some tips to help them work things out with the kids as harmoniously as possible. Of course every family is different, but finding a few tools that are specific to your family can help you achieve balance within your new family life. Here are some tools to consider, and if you find yourself wanting more personalised support, there are resources at the bottom of this article or you are welcome to get in touch with one of our Family Coaches.

First things first, make a parenting plan

Your kids are going to benefit from you keeping things as consistent as possible between the old and new routines. Children will especially benefit from knowing what to expect day to day, as this will help them feel an increased sense of security. In fact, the whole family benefits from predictability and routine so a parenting plan allows everyone to get on the same page from the beginning. This is the time to park what you can’t agree on, and instead focus on what you can agree on, and then work out a practical road map between you going forward.

Teaming up together and nutting out the really specific details around such things as school pick-ups and drop-offs, after school activities, school interviews, doctor’s appointments, birthdays and special occasions, who pays for what and moving between houses in advance helps the brain and relieves tension and stress. It might take the involvement of a trusted third person (a friend, a mediator or even a lawyer), but agreeing on the nuts and bolts of how things are going to work day to day, and doing so upfront and early, takes the guesswork out of the new normal for everyone. This will reduce the stress, anxiety and uncertainty going forward.

If you want to make a start on a parenting plan, click here for a free resource from Ministry of Justice.

“It’s not your fault” 

Your goal as parents right now is to send your child the very clear message that they are loved and cherished by you both. Your child needs to know emphatically that the breakdown of your couple relationship is not their fault or anything that they could have changed. This message should not be left to chance but clearly articulated to your child, and probably more than once: ‘You know that it is not your fault that Dad and I have separated, I know it’s tough on you while we work things out but I really want you to know that it is not your fault that we are no longer together’. A helpful strategy to keep in mind is ‘share and show up’. As well as reminders that the end of your relationship is not their fault, your child will take great comfort from having you show up in their world. So share (with your ex-partner) the opportunities to lean in, as much as you can. Where possible, it helps if both of you can be present at parent teacher interviews, sports games, Saturday practice, rehearsals etc. Just quietly show up. By physically being there you are reminding yourself to be emotionally present too.

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Keep cool and communicate

Experts agree that an atmosphere of conflict is incredibly toxic for kids, so do everything you can to reset the communication between you and your ex-partner to ‘light and polite’. Kids especially need to see that although their parents have chosen not to be together any longer, they can still have a healthy respect for one another and can work together as a team.

It’s time to draw a solid line underneath what has happened in the relationship and to let go of all the things that you can’t change about your ex. Instead, now is the time to focus on setting them up to succeed as a parent to your kids. If you struggle with communication then it helps to think of your ex as a colleague at work or someone you don’t necessarily need to like all that much, but with whom you can still work together to pull off a project. Your kids are watching, so if you can’t keep it friendly, then keep it professional. Whatever you do, avoid putting your kids in the middle as a conduit for the communication between you. If you can’t work things out then involve another adult and protect your kids from taking on the responsibility for your relationship.

Don’t use your child as a counsellor

I know, it sounds blatantly obvious but how easy is it to leak out a little frustration about your ex to your kids? It’s vital that despite your decision to live apart, your kids still get to see you both as capable and competent guardians of them. This will help them feel safe, supported and secure. As tempting as it may be to use your kids as a sounding board or a counsellor, we put our kids in harm’s way when we do this. It’s not our child’s role to be a counsellor or a mediator and they should never be put in the position where agreeing with one parent means criticising their other parent. For our kids, it’s an impossible task to choose between parents and they should never feel like they need to.

In part 2 of our series on co-parenting with confidence, Jo and Bridget offer advice for creating a haven-like home, at two separate addresses.

Other helpful resources:


Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family? 

Our family coaches are still available during the lockdown and can meet with you online. We’ve also introduced a shorter 30-minute appointment type, to make things easier while you navigate family life with everyone at home.

Learn more

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About Author

Jo Batts

For Jo, relationships are at the heart of whānau. Jo is our Family, Relationships and Marriage coach at Parenting Place working with family, sibling and relational dynamics. She’s a counsellor, a strengths coach, a parent, a partner, and the leader of our relationships and marriage programme. Jo's down-to-earth approach helps people to develop the practical tools to build healthy relationships for everyday life.

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