Common co-parenting mistakes and how to avoid them

Like all forms of parenting, co-parenting really throws you in at the deep end. There’s no manual, no rule book, and so it’s impossible to co-parent absolutely perfectly.

It’s a situation that’s fraught with challenges, and it’s highly unlikely that you’ll make the right decisions all of the time. But having said that, there are some key steps that you can take to ensure that you are co-parenting in the most healthy, happy and effective way possible.

Below, we’ve provided a round-up of some of the most common, easily made co-parenting mistakes, alongside some advice detailing how you can best avoid making these errors yourself.

Don’t think that our intention is to take a pessimistic stance here – by stating the potential co-parenting errors outright, our aim is to help you know exactly what to avoid (it’s a little blunt, but why sugar coat it?). That way, you’ll be putting yourself in a strong situation, well-equipped to navigate the challenging minefield that is co-parenting.

Misjudged communication

Effective communication is an absolutely imperative part of successful co-parenting, and so this is why it’s the top of the list – it’s a very easy step to get wrong.

The problems that can come by not communicating your current position, your feelings, or any decisions that you make that concern your child with your ex can lead to all sorts of divisions. This lack of communication causes frustration, irritation, anger and increasing tensions that put further barriers between you both.

What you can do to avoid it:

It is key that you try to remain flexible, while keeping the co-parenting communication regular, positive, neutral and respectful – actively try to consider their perspective, and listen to what each other has to say.

Don’t avoid communication, just because it has to take place with your ex. If you are finding it difficult to communicate about day-to-day matters concerning your child, keeping your tone neutral and business-like can be of a great help. You could even try using different co-parenting apps or message boards. These will help you to establish regular, effective communication, without forcing you both to resort to texting or calling before you are comfortable to do so.

In addition, with anyone it’s easy to miscommunicate your meaning by messaging over email or text. Things can easily be misread, so it’s important that you consider a text carefully before you send it, and make sure that you articulate yourself in the correct way.

Us VS Them

Putting your child in the middle and making them choose between you both is all too easy to do, without even necessarily realising that you’re doing it.

Even if you aren’t necessarily saying out loud that the other parent is rubbish, or asking your child who their favourite is (which you should, obviously, never do), there are other more subtle forms that this Us VS Them mentality can take.

It could be that you’re using your child as a go between, and using them as a middle ground through which to communicate with your ex, rather than having to go about it directly. For example, you ask your child to ask their other parent to pick them up from swimming. It seems, on the surface, pretty normal. However, this behaviour reinforces the idea in your child’s mind that they feel split between you both, and can make them feel unstable in both of their relationships with you. What’s more, this is the kind of behaviour that can easily escalate over time.

Your child did not choose to be in this position, and they should never feel like they have to pick favourites between you both. This type of conflict and tension will cause a huge amount of stress and discomfort for your child.

What you can do to avoid it:

Luckily, there’s quite a simple solution to this.

Keep it in your mind: never ask your child to be a messenger, and communicate a message to your ex on your behalf.

In addition, although in some instances it is a positive thing to let an older child feel as though they are in control of their living situation or, for example, the way that they spend their holidays. But, particularly for younger children, never put them in a position where they feel like this decision is being made based on ‘how much they love’ each of their parents, and so like they would be hurting someone’s feelings, no matter their decision.

You should work with your child’s other parent to arrange a living situation that is mutually agreeable, and well-suited to all of your daily routines.

Explain your plans to your child, and show them that you are both happy with the plan that you have created. Also, regularly reinforce to your child the fact that both of their parents love them, and that they can always reach out to either of you, at any time.

Big battles in front of your child

You and your ex are bound to argue on occasion and, while that shouldn’t stop you from co-parenting, it’s vital that you both prevent your child from witnessing this. If you and your ex can get on completely amicably, that’s fantastic. However, if you are struggling to get on, try to keep these disagreements as mature and civilised as possible, and always make sure that your child is completely spared any knowledge of these rows.

Even in the heat of rage, the way that you control your behaviour is entirely in your control, so do your best to keep a lid on your temper and put your own anger to the back of your mind, in order to put your child’s wellbeing at the top of your priority list.

What you can do to avoid it:

Ultimately, a lot of this advice all boils down to being mature, respectful and considering your child’s welfare above your need to start an argument.

Although it’s never easy to admit to your mistakes, admitting when you’re in the wrong, and apologising to your ex in these instances goes a long way, and is the right thing to do. You can be proud of your behaviour, and you are acting as a positive role model for your child. Hopefully, this will also enable the relationship between you and your ex to begin to strengthen into one that is less hostile.

Actively listen to your ex’s point of view (and properly listen, don’t just wait for them to stop talking so that you can start) – try to turn the argument into a conversation, with the pair of you looking to resolve the matter at hand.

If you do feel like you need help quelling your anger, get in touch with a therapist, or even outlet your frustrations to your close friends and family.

Involving your child in adult decisions

Sharing inappropriate details about your separation with your child (this includes any legal, financial or technical information) is simply not fair. It makes them feel like they have to pick sides and decide which parent is more morally right. What’s more, they are not in a position where they have any control at all over these proceedings, so it will make them feel frightened and unstable.

What you can do to avoid it:

Be careful what details you share with your child. Remember, your job is to shield your child from all of the gory details of your divorce. They should be able to continue to have a happy, healthy and normal childhood, and a key part of this is being able to continue their relationship with both parents.

In the face of all of the uncertainty that your child is facing, as they witness their normal routine undergo constant disruption, ensure that you are a consistent, loving and supportive presence. Continue to remind them how much you love them, that none of this is their fault and that both you and their other parent will always be there for them, no matter what.

Remember, it’s not the divorce – or even the mistakes, we all make them! – that is the problem. The way that you go about the divorce, and resolving any problems when they do crop up is the most important thing.

The more you put in, the more you get back – and never has this been more true than with co-parenting. Yes, sharing these roles, responsibilities and duties with your ex is not an easy path to take, but the opportunity to provide your child with the strong network of love, support and positive influence that comes with a solid relationship with both of their parents is, in my opinion, well worth this extra effort.

Article Created By Josephine Walbank

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