This article contains parenting tips and has been written after a number of years of learning how to cope with the daily challenges of shared parenting after a difficult divorce
If the relationship between you and the other parent isn’t great, rather than having a phone conversation which could become emotional, or erupt into ill-feeling, write what you want to say in an email or letter. This way you can think beforehand what you want to, how you want to word it, and the tone you want to set. This also give the other parent time to digest what you have written, sleep on it if necessary, and compose a reply with a clear head. It also means you can keep copies, should you need to refer back to something that you/they have said. Avoid making phone calls/sending texts when angry or upset – they don’t help anyone. Writing/emailing keeps things clear and concise and often the party will think before committing anything into writing because it can be referred to. This then protects both parties. With things in writing it becomes choice whether to answer, read or even take note of. If unpleasant it’s just words and can be ignored or deleted or reported
A useful tool is a “parent communication notebook.” In this notebook you will write down the highlights of your child’s emotions and behaviours during the time she’s with you. Fill out the notebook in great detail and pass it along to the other parent at the time of transition. Things to include in this notebook are your observations of your child’s health, feeding and sleeping patterns, language issues, your child’s mood, what soothes your child, what upsets your child, your daily routine, and any other detailed information about your child’s functions and needs. This notebook should stay with your child so both parents can use it as a forum for preserving thoughts about your child and her needs.
Create an online shared calendar where both parents can update with important event information, such as parents’ evenings, sports days, examinations, social event invites, etc. This keeps both parents fully updated, and means that it is easily accessible and means that when arranging personal appointments/social events, you can see at a glance if the children have something planned for that day, or if it is your “time” with the children, avoiding “double-booking”.
You may find making a Parenting Agreement useful. A Parenting Agreement is not a legal contract and it isn’t intended to be enforced by a court. In fact, it is intended to help separated parents stay out of court by encouraging them to make practical and workable arrangements for their children by themselves. it will give both parents a valuable opportunity to sit down and discuss how you both would like your children to be raised post-separation and give you both the chance to discuss your children and their upbringing, and covers all aspects to the children’s lives. A Parenting Agreement demonstrates a willingness to co-operate and agree between the parents
When there is conflict it is much better for the children if parents disengage from each another and allow the other parent to parent to the best of their ability in “their” time. Keep communication in written form, or civil conversations, keeping to the point in hand and child-centred. If you find the communication from the other parent upsetting or distressing, there are ways in which you can minimise this, but still leave the important communication channels open:
- Emails – Redirect any emails from them into a special folder in your email settings – you can look at these when you like, rather than having them clog up your inbox.
- Phone-calls/Texts – Buy a cheap pay as you go phone, give the other parent the number, and keep that phone purely for them to contact you on. You can shove it in a drawer and check it every few days. That stops the intrusion into your daily life via your mobile.
- Letters – you will recognise they are from they are from the other parent so file them in a box file, and look at them when you are ready. The other alternative to managing hostile communication with you is to request that any communication is sent to your solicitor.
Chose your battles wisely
Before engaging in another emotional battle, stop and think – “is this really such a big deal” (sleep on it and rethink again in the morning). Imagine if you were the one on the receiving end of being moaned/nagged at constantly, and what your reaction would be. If you still wish to raise a particular issue, do so with poise, calm and strength.
Clothes/shoes are usually a source or irritation. Either the child/ren don’t return with everything you’ve sent them with, or when you collect them, you find that they don’t have appropriate clothing. If you are the NRP, make sure that your children always have clothes at your house (to be kept there), plus a coat, wellies, etc. You don’t need to spend a lot, shops like Primark, George at Asda, Tescos, etc all have affordable clothing, and don’t forget to look in charity shops. By keeping clothes at your house, you can make sure that the children always have suitable clothing. Remember to sort clean clothes from any dirty washing – there is nothing more infuriating than having a suitcase full of clothes that you have to wash because you don’t know which is which! If you are the PWC, don’t get too het up if the children return minus a few items of clothing – they might be in the wash or shoved under the bed – if you want any particular items returned that weekend, just let the other parent (or child if if they are old enough) know. The same should apply to toys/games etc.
It’s always a good idea to keep Calpol and other medicine in stock just in case theya re needed. If the children require regular medication, make sure you have your own “stock” – saves it getting “lost in transit” or the other parent forgetting.
Schools want both parents involved not just one and are therefore happy to send out two sets of information (though sometimes sae’s are appreciated). They’re happy to arrange meetings for parents night etc at different times so even if parents don’t get on they have to have little involvement with each other.
As for plays, sports days etc the schools are plenty big enough for parents to sit far enough away from each other. And as for the other parent being there – you are there to support/cheer your child on and show you cared enough to be there.
As tempting as it is to belittle the other parent, don’t even go there! Children often feel divided loyalties – and remember they love both of you equally. Keep your thoughts to yourself until you can let off steam to an understanding friend when the children are asleep. You might have no respect left for the other parent, but the children will have, and its important to remember that whatever has happened between you and your ex, it is exactly that, and not between you and the children. If the other parent has upset the children, reassure them that you love them and are always there for them. You can’t change/control the other parent’s relationship with the children, you can only take responsibility for your own, and focus on that.
Remember to spend some time alone with your children, your new partner doesn’t need to be there all the time. The children will feel crowded and could end up resenting your new partner – “before you met xxxxx, we used to spend all our time with you, now we never get time with just you”. That doesn’t mean that your new partner cant be included, they should be, and its healthy for children to know that their parents have other special people in their life – just reinforce your own love for them and how important they are to you – and make some time for just you and the children.
Lack of money
Don’t feel that you have to spend a small fortune on your children every time – there are a wide range of free fun activities to do (check local papers and websites for details). Keep some boardgames/cards in the house, art stuff, baking ingredients, etc – these are good for when money is tight and/or its wet and cold outside. A good parent isn’t about spending money, its about time spent with the children.
Birthdays, Christmas,family or religious celebrations etc are always a bone of contention. Children quickly get used to the idea of two birthdays, two Christmases, etc – and often enjoy this more than we as adults would think. Dont get all worked up over the date on the calendar – you can still do all the usual traditional things, just be a few days earlier/later if the children are spending the Christmas/celebratory period with their other parent. Its about the day you all have together, not the date you have it on. Be gracious, and make sure the children have presents to give to the other parent, and get them involved in choosing and wrapping it. You might want to buy him/her a large tub of rat poison, they will want to get him the all singing, all dancing Homer Simpson mug.