One child, two wildly different approaches to parenting: Co-parenting after separation or divorce

By ParentTV on 27 Aug 2020
Categories: Coparenting

In our last blog, we shared the wisdom of our PTV expert crew on how to co-parent with a partner who has a different parenting style or approach to you. They shared some helpful strategies for how to get both parents on the same page, including:

So, these all seem workable when you and your parenting partner are in a solid relationship, but what happens when you’re no longer partnered and still have to bring up the same kids? What happens when you’re in the throes of a messy, painful divorce, or you’ve finally separated after years of acrimony, or there’s so much pain, sadness, hurt, anger and bitterness between you that you can barely be in the same room, let alone the same house?

What then?

Well, according to our experts, the answer is…Same as before but with some extra bridge-building, individual healing and mutual repairing of your fractured relationship first. Sigh.

Essentially, you have to try and rebuild a working relationship with your former partner again to co-parent your children effectively into the future and make the experience easier on them, says ParentTV expert and Psychologist, Dr Vanessa Lapointe.

After a separation or divorce, the number one focus needs to be on healing the relationship between you and the other parent of your children, because your children will express what is between you.

Dr Vanessa Lapointe

In other words, how you speak about your former partner and behave with them creates a certain energy and your child lives with that energy. If there is toxicity between you and the other parent, your children will feel it and respond to it. To minimise the negative impacts on the kids, you’ve got to find a way to play nice with your former partner. This means not speaking badly of them and not trying to influence your child’s relationship with their other parent. ‘If you speak badly of your former partner in front of your child or put them in the middle, it will take them longer to heal from your divorce,’ says ParentTV expert and Psychologist, Dr Charlotte Reznick. ‘Your child doesn’t need to know your issues with your former partner. They just need to know they’re loved.’

WATCH: Co-parenting after separation and divorce, with Dr Vanessa Lapointe and David Loyst

WATCH: After the separation, with Maggie Dent

If you and the other parent can agree to act in the best interests of your kids above all else, it will help to align your priorities and guide your decision-making, says Dr Reznick. ‘When you’re divorcing, try and make as many decisions as you can with your child as your priority, thinking about what’s best for them.’ While you may not always agree, it helps shift the focus away from your own relationship breakdown onto minimising the stress for them. This approach is also recommended by another ParentTV expert and all-around parenting guru, Maggie Dent. ‘We’re the grown-ups. When we can be loving parents in different houses, that’s best for them, and they’re the ones we need to be thinking about.’ It might take a while to get to a place where this is possible, Maggie concedes, but it’s important to remember that it is possible.

Even if you and your partner have separated, it is possible to attend to the task of parenting together, says Maggie.

The important thing was that the father of my children and I stayed committed to parenting our children equally. We wanted to share in the responsibility for the growth and development of our children, and make sure they knew that nothing was their fault and that they weren’t going to lose the love of either of us. We were still a unit, just in different locations.

Maggie Dent

In fact, when you have children with someone, regardless of where your relationship ends up, they are never really your ‘ex’ at all, Dr Lapointe says. ‘Even with separation and divorce, you’re still a family. Just because the marriage has ended, it doesn’t mean the family has ended.’ The kids you’ve made mean you’re forever bonded, and your family just exists in a different form, now. 

WATCH: When your ‘ex’ isn’t your ‘ex’ at all, with Dr Vanessa Lapointe

WATCH: How to minimise the negative impacts of divorce on your children, with Dr Charlotte Reznick

Okay, so what happens if you’re working really hard on healing the relationship with your former partner but they’re just not coming to the table? Well, say Dr Lapointe and her partner David Loyst, you can’t actually control that. You can only work on yourself and how you behave. ‘It only takes one person to heal a relationship,’ says Loyst.

Whatever happens with them, you can still do your own inner work and learn to accept all of the emotions that come with that relationship breakdown.

David Loyst

When you do that, you can make better decisions about what’s best for your kids. ‘Ironically, good co-parenting has nothing to do with the other parent of your kids and everything to do with yourself,’ Dr Lapointe agrees. To help you keep your interactions with your former partner respectful, choose to view and treat them as though they’re a valued business client, says Dr Justin Coulson, another ParentTV expert and Psychologist. ‘Keep to the same standards you would for that relationship and remain civil and polite,’ he suggests. This will also help you remember and acknowledge their essential humanity, no matter how hard it might be to see, sometimes. ‘No matter how awful the conversation between you and your partner has been, it’s important to try and remember that they are a living, breathing human being with a beating heart and a soul,’ Dr Lapointe confirms.

Regardless of how well you manage the situation, divorce and separation are going to mean stress for your kids, says Dr Coulson, but there are things you can do to mitigate it and help them adjust to their different circumstances. ‘Separation and divorce lead to monumental change in our children’s lives, so it’s best to try and minimise other change when possible to give them a feeling of stability and predictability,’ says Dr Coulson. In other words, now’s not the time to introduce new things or remove anything from their world that you don’t have to. If they can stay at the same school, keep doing the same activities and still participate in the same traditions as they used to, it can give them an anchor in seas that might be feeling a bit stormy otherwise. It’s also important to validate them when they’re with you but missing their other parent, Dr Reznick says.

They need you to acknowledge that they still have love for the other parent and they might want to be with them, even if you don’t.

Dr Charlotte Reznick

A ritual to perform at these times can be a good way of soothing them, says Dr Reznick, as can a quick daily FaceTime call to connect and check in with the other parent. 

Then, there’s the matter of welcoming your former partner’s new partner into your family with grace so your children can form relationships with them without fear of upsetting you. That’s a whole big topic that probably deserves a post of its own, but for now, we’ll leave you with some final sage advice from Dr Lapointe, who says, ‘if you’re struggling with your ex introducing a new partner, you really just need to grow yourself up, come alongside the new person and welcome them. This is what will give your children a cohesive family system rather than one that’s become fractured. When separation or divorce happens, it can be an opportunity to grow our families. The welcoming of new partners into that system can be wonderful and positive for our children, and it doesn’t have to be the negative that people fret it will be.’