Communicating with your child's other parent after a separation
Things may not always go smoothly following a separation. It helps to be clear about what your most important goals are for the future. Here are two that you might want to consider:
- to commit to supporting your child in having a free and uncomplicated relationship with the other parent; and/or
- to try to keep whatever feelings you have about each other separate from your co-parenting approach to meeting your child’s needs.
These principles can serve as foundations for everything you do as co-parents. You may want to personalise them and add your own details or use our free online Parenting Plan template as the basis of your agreement and something you can refer back to.
Parents’ communication after separation
Having periods of time when you do not see your child means both of you will miss out on some of the things your children are doing. It is important to remember that children notice if one parent is not aware of things that are important to them –like a school project, falling out with a friend, a lost toy or a fall from a bike. It is not realistic to expect to have a full report of everything that happens to your child when they are away from you, but you should try to aim for regular updates to keep each other involved. When you are committed to co-parenting, positive communication has to be a more deliberate and thoughtful process than it was before you separated.
It is important for both parents to provide that all important link between their child’s day-to-day life and their other parent. The more you pass on to each other, the easier the transition will be for your child going between their two homes. Parents who have been through it say it is important not to leave it all to your co-parent to keep you updated with your child’s news but to ask what they have been up to, how they are getting on and what’s coming up. This positive communication will help your child to feel more secure.
Do not leave it to your child to pass on their news and never ask your child to communicate with their other parent on your behalf.
You might find it very hard and even impossible to imagine talking easily with your child’s other parent about your child. Some parents fall into conversation quite easily about their child after separation but for others, it can take time for it to become easy. Getting into the habit of positive communication about your child’s life can really help your child get over the trauma of your separation and make that adjustment to what has happened to their life.
Tips for communicating with your child's other parent
As a separated parent, one of your biggest challenges will be to put aside your feelings about your child’s other parent so you can both focus on how to make things okay for your child.
This is not an easy thing to do. It can take time to adjust to the end of a relationship and to work out how to be with each other. Parents who have experienced it say that when you have children together you have to renegotiate the terms of your relationship. You may no longer be partners, but you are still your child’s parents.
Although your communication may be focused more on practicalities, it is still important to share the positives of being your child’s parents. Look for opportunities to talk about your child’s happy moments and successes. Try to appreciate what their other parent does for them. Staying positive can help you keep the communication open and is good for your child.
If your co-parent is making communication difficult, it is easy for negative feelings and behaviour to escalate. While you may not be able to cope with, let alone control the attitude and behaviour of your child’s other parent, you do have control over your own. It is so important for your child that you do not ‘mirror’ negative attitudes and behaviours. Our advice is to keep sticking to your goal of focusing on your child’s needs. You will both stand a better chance of getting through it.
The advice of parents who have been through this difficult time advise that you to agree to keep your communications about your child separate from other issues like the house or money. These are important issues, so you will need to make sure they are being dealt with separately and you don’t let them cast a shadow on your commitment to a co-parenting approach to meeting your child’s needs.
You will know that texts and messages can be misinterpreted and misunderstood, especially if it is a tricky subject. If you need to raise something difficult, let your co-parent know you would like to talk and then agree a mutually convenient time and place. Set an agenda so there are no surprises, and you can both be prepared. Agreeing to meet in a public place can help to keep things calm.
To keep your communication at its most effective, consider having regular short meetings to talk about:
- your child’s happy times and achievements;
- how your agreed arrangements are working for your child;
- any special events for your child;
- their health, education, and general welfare;
- discipline and boundaries; and
- your child’s activities.
Why all this is worth the effort
If you do not find a way of communicating positively with your child’s other parent that works for you both, it is going to be hard on everyone – and on your child most of all. Your child will miss out and you could end up dreading every conversation with your child’s other parent. This can create a vicious cycle that is bad for both of you and your child. It goes without saying that your child’s needs will change as they grow older, and your life will change too. It is important that you can sit down together and talk about how these changes will affect them and you.
You might find it helpful to complete a Parenting Plan together. Keeping the dialogue open and developing some goodwill makes the difficult conversations that much easier. Mediation could be helpful in developing a positive dialogue.
Tips on how to manage disagreements with your co-parent
Children tell us that when parents separate, their exposure to rows, disagreements, and ongoing conflict can cause them significant emotional harm in the short-term and the long-term. Developing a way of working out disagreements will protect your children from the worst effects of their parents’ separation and will reduce your own feelings of anxiety and stress.
Disagreements between parents are a part of being a parent!
All parents know that we often have different views and disagree about what is best for our child, even when we are together. When you have separated these disagreements can be amplified because they include unresolved feelings of hurt and anger about what has happened. One way to get things back into proportion is to ask yourself how important the disagreement is and the impact of the disagreement on your child. Often, the best way to deal with a disagreement is to look for a compromise, or even just to let it go (if that is possible!).
When dealing with the more important issues, arrange a time and place where you can talk calmly and where your child will not overhear. Emphasise your desire to work it out and do what is best for your child. This means both of you working to understand each other, in the interests of your child. Trying to win the argument rarely works, nor does making assumptions about the needs and motives of your child’s other parent.
Language and behaviour
If you are committed to positive communicating for the sake for your child (something you might want to include in your Parenting Plan) it is so important to be respectful of each other. Focusing on the future and what you can do to improve things for you and your child can help separate from the past – rather than carrying it with you. Keep reminding yourself that as a parent this is about getting it right for your child, and that the best thing you can do is keep working together to sort things out for them.
If you are struggling to communicate with your child’s other parent, you may find mediation helpful. Mediators are skilled at helping separated parents resolve disagreements. They may help you see things differently, so that you can reach an agreement.
You may find the information and resources on the National Family Mediation website helpful: National Family Mediation Service | We Help Families In Conflict (nfm.org.uk).