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A Calgary Psychologist’s top 10 Co-Parenting Tips

A Calgary Psychologist’s top 10 Co-Parenting Tips

Divorcing or separating is difficult at the best of times, but when children are involved, it can be one of the most heart-wrenching of decisions you’ll make. While you and your partner may not feel you can live together, it can feel wrong to not see your children as often as you’d like. You may have significant worries and fears about the effects the separation will have on them, particularly whilst they are young. If separation or divorce is the injury, then the quality of the children’s lives afterward the split determines whether or not that original injury becomes infected. Due to the influence of: a growing awareness of the emotional consequences for children of divorce; parents desire to be involved in their children’s lives as much as possible; and many people witnessing the terrible effects of contentious broken families that followed the more traditional path of dividing lives; more and more families are choosing to co-parent following a separation or divorce.

Co-parenting refers to continuing to share and overlap with some of the parental duties for the children following the split of the couple. This approach avoids fully separating parental duties into two parallel, non-overlapping experiences for the children.

If you are in a situation in which co-parenting may be the right choice for your family, you are likely left in the difficult position of figuring out how to make it work. This can be particularly tricky, given that you are no longer with your ex-partner and likely have a lot of grief, anger, and hurt.

As a therapist, psychologist, and co-parenting father myself, I have listed 10 suggestions for co- parenting that I have found helpful to navigate this at times, complicated journey. I hope some of these ideas can be helpful to you on your co-parenting journey.

Co-parenting Tips:

  1. Never put your children in the middle. If you have questions or issues directly approach your co parent. Do not ask your children to be the go-between of your relationship with their other parent, and be aware that they may think you want them to adopt this role. Let them be kids and not take on that burden by addressing your co-parent directly and if about sensitive matters, only when out of the children’s hearing.
  2. Work together for a united front. Back each other’s rules and suggestions up. While there will be differences, try to make similar experiences overall in your homes for your children to create more of a sense of structure for them. This includes meetings regularly to discuss and adjust your plans for parenting the children as they age.
  3. Be the other co-parents cheerleader and encourage your child’s connection with them. Just because you are divorce does not mean your child needs their parent any less. This includes thinking well of both their parents. Your children should hear you talk well, not badly, about their other parent. Talking badly about the other parents hurts the children who love and are frequently genetically half made-up from the other parent. Let your children hear you sing that person’s praises and share positive memories of them. Keep pictures of the other coparent with the children in your home. If they miss the other parent make sure they feel they can contact them or even invite them over if they ask, within reason. This helps communicate that they don’t need to hide their love and relationship about their other parent from you to protect you and that you understand their need to feel they can access both parents.
  4. Do your own therapy. The loss of the relationship will need to be grieved privately, on your own. As grief can often show up as anger and become hurtful if unattended to. Do your own therapeutic work to avoid the risk that the children take on your own pain, worrying about your feelings over their own. This allows them a safe space to trust you can handle their feelings as their parent.
  5. Find the right balance of co-parenting and of your own life. Depending on the children’s age and needs, as well as your ability to manage, balance individual time to build your new life, while also setting a schedule of shared family time. It’s important you look after both sides of this coin to avoid becoming stuck emotionally. Building a healthy, new life and becoming a healthy single person is an important way you can take care of your children. As the children grow this balance will evolve and need to be revisited every year or two.
  6. Remember that the children’s possessions are theirs, not yours. It depends on their age but a good rule of thumb is that the children’s possessions are theirs, not yours. While it can be difficult to share, it’s a good idea for your children to feel that their special things (teddy bears, clothes, etc) are their own and can go between houses. This helps establish a sense of continuity of their lives rather than such starch separateness.
  7. Learn to accept that you no longer have as much control of your children’s worlds and not sweat the small stuff. One of the scariest parts of separating is the lost time and control over the most special thing in the world to you, your children. While you will at times need to voice concerns, give thought ahead of time to if a specific issue is necessary or if you can accept minor differences in parenting styles and choices. A peaceful relationship with your ex will positively impact the children.
  8. Develop a forum to discuss issues in a healthy manner. If you are upset, take time to self-regulate and seek advice before addressing your concerns. Remember you are working together for the best interest of your children, so approach each other respectfully and fairly. It can be a jarring change to go from a partnership where the other person has some responsibility to your feelings, to separated where you are responsible for managing your feelings without their help. Taking time and having a healthy forum for issues will ensure you don’t fall into old or unhelpful communication patterns.
  9. Develop a co-parenting agreement and schedule to provide structure and set expectations for the children. Whilst the children should get influence over some aspects of the home, for example; what colour they would like to paint their new room, they also need their parents to provide the security of strong boundaries as they learn this new life. This includes adhering to their schedule and rules of the home as best possible. It is natural for children to test rules and express feelings about the changes in their lives, particularly at first. When in doubt follow the Circle of Security’s guideline of being the Bigger, Stronger, Wiser, Kinder other for your child.
  10. When making decisions, prioritize your children’s well-being and ask yourself what is best for them. I have found this to be a valuable tool when at a crossroads, to help make the right choice. For example if someone is 10 minutes late for drop off because they were having fun and lost track of time, consider if it’s better for the children to be rushed or have that experience on occasion. Or, if tardiness becomes a common issue, consider whether addressing it privately or in front of the children is better for them. Another common situation is introducing new partners to the children. Using this lens should encourage you to do so in a manner and timeline that respects the children’s complicated feelings around this.
Whilst almost all parents agree that they want what’s best for their children even during divorce, it can be difficult to uphold those values at times. My hope is the above 10 tips to co-parent can help guide you towards what is best for your children and what’s ultimately best for you, which is a safe, cohesive family unit even if it exists in two different homes.
Daniel McMillan

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Based out of Calgary, Alberta Daniel McMillan is a psychologist and therapist offering individual and couples counselling. He focused on the areas of attachment, trauma, and relationships in his counselling in Calgary, Alberta. Dan is also the author of Badger and Turtle Face the Storm, a children’s book on managing a difficult relationship pattern that affects most families.

To find out more about our online and Calgary counselling services please see here.