As a mediator, I never fail to be amazed by separated parents, who tell me that they have managed to work out a plan which accommodates their children’s needs above all else, after their relationship ends. Simultaneously I never fail to be dismayed, when I listen to separated parents who refuse to grasp the seriousness of the ongoing arguments with each other, and how this may impact forever on their children’s lives.
I am not sure that there is an art to co-parenting, but I am committed to offering access to mediation to ensure that parents can try and negotiate. And am committed to the need to work out arrangements that provide for the ongoing involvement of both parents in their children’s lives (unless there is a contra indication to the positive benefits of this or any detrimental effect on a child). This is something that all mediators are trained to support parents with, in mediation, and is something we spend a lot of time on (during sessions) with parents to try and generate options and develop solutions that will facilitate co -parenting. Communication is key to finding agreement, so time is spent with parents working on how they can develop a new communication approach to enable them both to navigate the future challenges whilst parenting apart.
When people come into mediation, it is often to try and work out how children can continue to see both parents and spread themselves between two homes. This is no easy feat, as school life and social life and hobby life, usually dictate where children need to be on certain days of the week and require someone to assist them with all their activities. Attending everything from one home creates a solid routine that each child lives by, but this can easily unravel when they need to operate out of two homes. The need for new levels of organisation can create huge stress on parents, as they may have to deal with their own work or commitments and simply can’t phone home to see if the other parent can cover them. However, the stress on children in these scenarios is 10-fold more, where they hear and see and feel that their parents are not able to sort things out without a row or an accusation or worse still a refusal to help. Consistency is key.
It always struck me, when children from separated families commonly desire, that their parents to be back together, for their old routine to return and for their old “norm” to be reinstated. Given that it is unlikely, in most cases, that the children’s wishes for parents to reunite will happen, we really need to think long and hard about the damage that parents can do when they do not prioritise a co-parenting plan. Stress, hurt, anger, loneliness, confusion, upset, sadness are all sentiments felt by children when their family world falls apart, it is important that the child’s voice is heard. It really is a parent’s responsibility and a parent’s challenge, but parents must find solutions that can be trialed in the new “norm”, when they can’t reinstate old “norms”. Parents also need to try to support and ensure that new routines work and try where possible to minimise the emotional damage and pressure on children. This requires a commitment to co-parenting, a commitment to designing new routines and a commitment to supporting their children through separation.
In my view there is no art to co-parenting – simply it is the right thing to do to try and reduce the potential negative impact on children and to show them that they still come first and are equally loved by both parents in both homes. If parents can help their children come through separation, they will be gifting them the resilience to cope with many other changes in life and to tackle their own problems that may lie ahead.
FMNI is waiting and ready to support parents to design a tailor-made co-parenting plan to work for your families individual needs. We don’t get out the palette or the paintbrush for this, but we are on hand to facilitate you to draw up agreements (which can come in all sorts of colours) that will make a tangible difference to the future well-being of your children, your life and the lives of extended family.