Updated: Mar 12, 2019
By Claire Penfold & Claudia Abelheim
The most important thing to remember in co-parenting is that your children’s best interests should always be your priority. Whilst lifestyle changes are inevitable, good co-parenting will reduce the amount of stress that a child will experience when going through a divorce process. Parents need to respect each other and accept that they don’t have the same parenting styles and they do things differently. Co-parents also need to understand they cannot control everything that happens in each other’s homes.
The purpose of a good parenting plan is to ensure consistency for the child, which is essential when their lives are changing. You will be required by law to have a parenting plan in place so make sure that you consider all the relevant information for your children and both parents when creating your plan. A good parenting plans puts boundaries and systems in place to cover all areas of parenting. This provides a framework for parents when difficult or challenging situations arise. A parenting plan is an important tool to eliminate confusion and conflict, which in turn eliminates confusion for the children.
Co-parents often have different styles of parenting, which becomes more apparent in a separation for divorce matter. This can lead to feelings of resentment and anger towards the other parent, usually when one parent has primary residency and the other has slightly less contact with their children. Furthermore, single parenting can be more emotionally taxing because there is increased pressure on each parent, and they may not have as much support as they did when they were together or married. We always recommend attending support groups, parenting skills training and counselling which can help to release tension and anxiety. It also helps to have an open and flexible relationship with your co-parent where issues can be discussed as they arise, this will help alleviate negative or distressing reactions.
Areas of potential distress for co-parents include events where both parents are required to attend, these can often be very difficult for parents to negotiate. The parents are moving from being partners or spouses to co-parents and this can often bring challenges in social settings. Again, counselling can help you deal with your own issues that may arise when having to make these shifts and the feelings that may accompany it.
Parental alienation syndrome (PAS) is a disorder that mostly arises from high conflict primary
residency or contact battles. The main cause for this is the child’s disparaging of the alienated parent which often has no justification. This occurs when one parent tries to deliberately or unconsciously undermine and alienate the targeted parent, and the child then internalises these feelings. The child then begins an active campaign of condemnation and hatred towards the targeted parent, with very little or weak reasoning behind it. This is manifested with foul language and oppositional behaviour towards the alienated parent. They believe strongly that the decision to alienate the parent is their own, and often lack guilt around these actions. This alienation can also be carried through to the extended family of the targeted parent. The child will also unconditionally support the favoured parent.
The best way to avoid this is to work hard at having a good co-parenting relationship right from the very beginning of the separation or divorce process. Participating in mediation and counselling will assist parents in learning how to co-parent without conflict and the resultant resentment. Both parties have to be open and committed to having an amicable relationship with one another. Letting your child attend some counselling can also help with avoiding PAS, to help the child deal with his own feelings of anger and disappointment. Added to that, as these influences are often unconscious, the counsellor may be able to pick up on symptoms early on and intervene.
As a co-parent, it can help to remember that while you may not be with your partner or spouse any longer, they will always be the co-parent of your child which is a life-long commitment. Your mindset should be driven by your child’s best interests, part of this priority is that your child has a healthy relationship with both of their parents. This means that your own feelings need to be put aside in order to give the best to your child. Remember, the child that you love so dearly is made up of half of you and half of your co-parent!