Some thoughts on post-separation parenting written by a separated parent.
Communication – 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 gives 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 or sending texts when angry or upset – that doesn't help anyone. Writing or 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 a choice whether to answer, read or even take note of it. 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 hand-over. 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 which 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 that when arranging personal appointments or 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 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 of 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 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.
Practical Issues – clothes and shoes are usually a source of 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 parent with care, 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 they are old enough) know. The same should apply to toys, games, etc.
Medicine – its always a good idea to keep Calpol and other medicines in stock just in case they are needed. If the children require regular medication, make sure you have your own “stock” – this saves it getting lost in transit or the other parent forgetting.
Schools - schools want both parents involved, not just one, and are therefore happy to send out two sets of information (though sometimes SAEs 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.
Respect – 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 on Wiki,or 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 it's 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 or control the other parent’s relationship with the children, you can only take responsibility for your own, and focus on that.
New Partners – 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 can't be included, they should be, and it's healthy for children to know that their parents have other special people in their lives – 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 is a wide range of free fun activities to do (check local papers and websites for details). Keep some board-games or cards in the house, art stuff, baking ingredients, etc – these are good for when money is tight and/or it's wet and cold outside. A good parent isn’t about spending money, its about time spent with the children.
Special Days – birthdays, Christmas, 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. Don't 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 period with their other parent. It's 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 or her a large tub of rat poison, they will want to get him the-all singing, all-dancing Homer Simpson mug.....