In part 1 of our series on co-parenting with confidence, family coaches Jo Batts and Bridget Gundy offered advice for keeping kids close while you separate well. Here they share five tips for continuing to foster a nurturing environment when one home has become two.
Create a place of belonging
There is the inevitable change of living arrangements that comes with co-parenting and now your child’s time is divided between two homes. This is often an exciting time for one parent and a real time for grief for the other parent, so dig deep here. Kids like certainty and choice. So, as a parent, take the lead on the big decisions like where to live and who to live with, and let your child lead with smaller decisions like colour, style and decor. Involving your kids with the little decisions will increase the communication between you and create the space to chat about the change. It will also help them feel a sense of control in their own lives. This is a good thing. Let slow and steady be your guide here, don’t expect them to be delighted about the change – it will take time for them to adjust. Ideally you want to set up and personalise a special space in each home where your child feels like they belong. Somewhere they can relax and feel warm, welcome and accepted. Give your child the creative licence to personalise their space, for example they might like to choose their bedding, some wall art of some photos for a frame.
Be generous with contact
Absence makes the heart grow fonder so you can almost guarantee that your child will want to make contact with the parent whose house they are not staying at, especially as they settle into a new rhythm. Best-case scenario is that your child’s yearning for contact with one parent is not seen as a threat or an insult by the other. It’s their way of keeping you both close, in light of the fact that you can’t be all together. Whether it’s a quick chat before bed, a text after school or a video conference to help with homework, allowing your child open access to each of you is comfort and reassurance for your child and will remind them that although you are not together, you are still easily accessible and attentive to their needs. For younger kids, they might need something like a photo, a t-shirt or a rugby ball to remind them of Dad while they are staying with Mum, and vice versa. Over time it will become easier to navigate homesickness and communication between two homes.
Aim for consistency
No two homes are the same so although it’s noble to aim for consistency of routines, parenting approaches, homework schedules and chore charts across both homes, it is extremely unlikely that this will happen. What is more likely is that you and your ex will have quite different approaches to most of these things. The good news is that most of the time the kids are clever enough to navigate between two sets of house rules and make the adjustment. More important than uniformity across routines and logistics, are the values and principles that you agree on. Ideally, if both parents subscribe to similar values (ie, respect, honestly, integrity, kindness, curfews etc), this creates a pretty clear road map for your child, especially when navigating their teenage years.
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As tempting as it is to shower your child with new purchases and gifts, mind that you are not actually spoiling them to make yourself feel better or to compete with your ex. It’s been said that kids spell love like this, T-I-M-E, and this is especially true as you co-parent. More stuff does not necessarily help your child with a deeper sense of love and belonging, so be careful that you don’t fall into the trap of buying your way back into their hearts. Instead of competing with your ex, just take it slow – be patient and accept that it might take some time for your child to adjust to their new reality. It won’t happen immediately, and it might even feel like your child is playing you off against each for a while, but hold steady while your child rebuilds their understanding that you each bring incredibly different parenting strengths to their world.
Make space for emotions
Naturally, the beginning stages of co-parenting can be an unsettling time for everyone in the family. You might even find that some of kids regress a bit at home or at school and they might seem emotionally all over the place. This is very much to be expected during a time of upheaval. The best cure for emotions is the freedom to express them, and for all feelings to be welcome and accepted, even if they are uncomfortable and difficult. So, reality is the kids might be grumpy, irritable, tired, sad, angry, upset or irrational. Make the space and time to let these emotions exist, talk about them, and soon enough they will settle again. Remember to support your child, you need support yourself, so if you become particularly concerned about your child, make a booking for a coaching session and we can talk it through.
A final word of encouragement
In the soup of emotions, we know that co-parenting is especially challenging to begin with, but take heart that over time, it does get easier – especially when the communication is clear and respectful. When kids feel welcome, safe, secure and accepted they continue to thrive in all aspects of their life.
And also a word of warning – most strategies discussed here assume that both parents are fully committed to doing their best for their kids as they co-parent together. If you have been in a relationship with the presence of physical or emotional abuse, or if your safety or your child’s safety is in any way at risk, then we encourage you to seek more specific guidance about co-parenting in a way that protects and prioritises everyone’s safety. More information can be found here.
Other helpful resources:
- Parenting through separation courses
- Resolving parenting disagreements
- FairWay family dispute resolution mediation service
- Family Works resolution service
- FDR Centre conflict and dispute resolutions services
- Keeping children safe
Looking for more personalised strategies and solutions for your family?
Our Family Coaches bring their extensive training and experience to help uncover new insights, ideas and practical solutions to parenting and relationship challenges. Through one-on-one support (in person, via Skype or email), you’ll be provided with take-home strategies to bring about the positive changes you desire for your whānau.