In most cases, it’s best for children when both their parents can stay positively involved in their lives. When parents work together, this is sometimes called co-parenting.
What does co-parenting involve?
Co-parents support each other as parents, and focus on the needs of their children. They accept that both parents have a role to play when it comes to raising their children, even though they don't live together any more.
Challenges to co-parenting
You might not think you can do it
There might be such bad feeling between you and your ex-partner that the idea of working together to raise your children seems impossible. Hopefully the guidance given here should help you to believe that it is possible to work together, despite what may have happened in the past.
You might not want to
"I want to start a new life and it will be easier without my ex around."
"after the way they've behaved they don't deserve to be a parent."
"I don't need their help, I can manage without them!"
If you've found yourself saying or thinking any of the above, try to remember that separation is not just about you and your ex. Putting your child first may mean dealing with some of these feelings.
For some separated parents, it's the fear of upsetting their children that stops them from playing a part in their lives:
"It's all such a mess. The kids will be better off with them/without me."
However, unless co-parenting involves a real risk of violence or abuse to you or your child, they really do need you both to be part of their lives.
Why it's worth it
- Your child will usually cope with a separation better
- They are more likely to stay out of trouble and have higher levels of self-esteem
- There could be fewer arguments, and less stress for you
- You won't need anyone else (for example the courts or a statutory child maintenance service) to be involved in your decisions
- You'll know you're trying to do the right thing, and your child will be able to recognise that too.
Still not convinced? Try and think of things from your child's perspective. To them, you and the other parent will always be mum and dad – and that will never change, even if you aren't in a relationship with each other any more.
Working with your ex-partner
If you're going to co-parent, you'll need to learn to work together. This is not about getting together, or back together, with your child's other parent. It's about supporting each other to raise them now.
And it doesn't matter if you don't like each other much. The fact is many people work together with people they don't like, for example with difficult colleagues. You might not get on with your child's teacher, but you probably work together with them.
How you can start to work together
The first thing you can do is make the decision to put the past behind you. Make up your mind to start from today.
Think about these three principles, which will be key to working well together:
1. Respect each other. Accept that they are the other parent of your child, and as such they will always have a part to play in your child's life. Try to remember that you're trying to establish a new co-parenting relationship, not settle old scores.
2. Think about each other's feelings. Try and see things from their point of view. Be polite and treat them like you want to be treated.
3. Talk to each other. Listen to what they are saying and be clear about what you mean when you're talking to them. Try not to use phrases that sound like an accusation, like 'you never…' or 'you always…' If you're struggling to talk face to face, try explaining yourself in an email or a letter. But resist texting if you can – it might seem like an easier option, but texts are very easy to misunderstand.
If the other parent won't co-operate
Even if your child's other parent doesn't want to co-parent, it doesn't mean you should give up. A lot of the time it's about your own actions, and you still have control over these.
For example, you can still share information about your child and help your child keep in contact with the other parent. You can also refuse to rise to the bait if they try and start an argument.
Co-parenting in practice
Working together with your child's other parent will raise lots of practical issues. We talk about a couple of these below. You'll find many more ideas on how to co-parent in our guide
Now that you're parenting apart, you'll need to take extra care to make sure you both know what's happening with your child.
The types of information you need to share might include:
- health issues
- what's happening at school
- unusual behaviour – especially reactions to the separation
- information about extended family members
- decisions that your child has made for themselves
- decisions you have made for your child
Lots of co-parents find it useful to make a 'parenting plan', or 'parenting agreement'. This sets out the 'who does what and when' of raising children together.
To download a step-by-step guide to parenting plans, visit National Family Mediation (external website).