Going through a divorce is stressful, even if you and your spouse are on relatively good terms. Although your relationship has ended, you both remain parents and must learn to put your personal views of each other to one side in order to co-parent effectively. It is easy for separating parents to get caught up in their own emotions and lose sight of what they should be doing to minimise the anxiety and distress the children may be feeling and make the process easier for everyone. These tips may help:
- Remember, your children have a right to maintain a relationship with both parents. Their relationship with the other parent is separate and different to your relationship with them. Try not to let your feelings about the relationship breakdown affect the children’s time with the other parent.
- Be positive about the time the children spend with the other parent. If the children live with you, prepare the children emotionally by expressing positive views and encouraging the children to participate fully and wholeheartedly.
- Have the children ready on time and with the appropriate clothing and items for the length of their stay. If you are collecting the children, be punctual and keep to the contact arrangements. While a degree of flexibility is necessary to accommodate unforeseen events, you should adhere to arrangements as far as possible. Short notice changes may result in frictions and difficulties which cause anxiety to the children.
- Make the time you spend with the children enjoyable and interesting. Give them your time and attention and do things that interest them. If you are the non-resident parent, do not leave the children with family members or another person; use the time to build and maintain your relationship with the children.
- As well as having fun with the children, do your share of responsible parenting by ensuring homework and projects get completed in time, attend parents evenings, supervise music practice, take the children to their extracurricular activities and support them by regularly watching their matches/school plays/performances.
- Do not undermine the primary carer’s authority. Support them when disciplining the children; it is not in the children’s best interest to play one parent against the other. Children need a united front. If you have concerns about the other parent’s approach, discuss this with them rather than doing something different during your time with the children.
- Find a way to communicate with your spouse about the children. If your relationship is amicable, then take 5-10 minutes at the beginning or end of contact time to discuss anything relevant. If this is not realistic or possible then you may find it easier to communicate by text message or emails. Some parents keep a contact book which travels with the children and parents note anything the other parent should be aware of. Keep written communications factual and constructive; avoid critical comments to the other parent in communications about the children.
- While it is important to keep channels of communication open and for the children to know they will be listened to during this time, the children should not be involved in or aware of the details of the divorce or financial arrangements. They do not need to know the contents of the petition or financial disclosure or the ins and outs of every issue and argument. It is not helpful if one parent is constantly criticising or belittling the other. You risk causing stress and anxiety and damaging your relationship with the children.
- Avoid interrogating the children after time spent with the other parent as this involves the children in the parent’s problems unnecessarily. However strong your negative feelings towards your former partner are, do not use the children as “pawns” by using them to punish the other parent. This can lead to difficult relationships as the children grow up and form a view on how their parents dealt with contact.
- `If you do not live with the children day to day, think of ways you can let your children know that you are still thinking of them and care for them outside the normal telephone contact regime. Children love receiving post addressed to them out of the blue or maybe send them emails with articles that would interest them or a funny joke. A monthly subscription to a magazine or comic that they enjoy is another way of reminding the children that you are thinking of them and care for them.
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