The pandemic and associated events of the past year and a half have placed unprecedented pressures on all families. Children and young people have had to cope with huge changes to their lives – socially, educationally, physically, mentally and emotionally. And parents have juggled supporting them through it alongside their own pressures at work and home.
Separated families and co-parents have faced the additional logistical and emotional challenges of providing security and consistency for children moving between households, or – in some cases – being unable to move between households.
As we start the Summer holidays, the pressure will mount again. With children at home, many parents will still be managing work commitments and may have no work holidays left after covering lockdown and “burst bubbles” from school earlier in the year. All while negotiations over children arrangements and holiday cover have been taking place.
As a co-parent myself, I thought it would be helpful to speak with others who co-parent or are separated and have children of different ages in different family scenarios, and share the insights. From these conversations, I’ve (anonymously) compiled what I believe to be some helpful perspectives and suggestions on successfully co-parenting through these challenging times.
1. Putting the needs of children first
In the early days after separation, emotions and tensions can run very high. But these often ease over time, and efforts put in early on to reduce conflict around children mean everyone will benefit in the long run.
I’m lucky to have good communication and a positive co-parenting relationship with my three-year old daughter’s dad. Of course, challenges arise and it isn’t always easy. But by focusing on what is best for our daughter, even if it means putting our own needs and emotions aside, we’ve always managed to work through them successfully.
However, for some, this just isn’t possible. Many other factors may be at play, and with the pressure parents have been under during the last year it’s no wonder that there have been impacts on mental health. Recent research from Oxford University showed single parent families were among those hardest hit, reporting higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety.
The pandemic has exacerbated existing flashpoints. Putting ourselves in the shoes of the other co-parent and considering other things they may be going through may help with empathy and communication. But sometimes putting the needs of children first means seeking professional help – from a health and wellbeing or a legal perspective.
Solicitor Carly Hope shared this advice for parents last year: Separation & Coronavirus: looking after your family’s mental health during lockdown.
If you have any concerns about your child’s health, safety or welfare, acting quickly is advised. See below quick links for immediate help and support:
- Injunctions and emergency relief
- Children issues and support
- How to secure legal advice and representation when your spouse controls the family income
2. Managing difficult communications with an ex partner
Among the many different approaches to communicating and handling difficult conversations with ex partners, these were reported to have been helpful in maintaining positive communications:
- Using a lower, calmer tone, sticking to the facts and having a slower conversation helps both of us have better conversations.
- When things are thrown at you, just ignore them. Always move the conversation back to the kids.
- Use ‘transactional analysis’ (a psychological approach, which brings awareness to the role of the communicator’s ego in communications) to refocus conversations so they are “adult to adult” and do not get drawn into criticisms.
- I try to remove all the emotion and focus the conversation on the children and being honest with them.
- Set things up at the start by explaining why you want to have the conversation. “I’m having this conversation because I care about X. I’m only saying this because Y”.
- It’s about not taking things to heart. I’ve been called allsorts but I never rise to it, in person or in messages. I also want to be able to turn around to my kids and show them the conversation if they ever challenge me about something.
- Not responding in the moment if I feel angry or upset. Waiting until later to respond.
- Keep to black and white for difficult conversations and use email more.
- I’m conscious I am physically much bigger, so in face to face conversations I put myself in lower down ideally in the sitting position, trying to not show or exert power.
- Be open about feelings and impacts, but remove heightened emotions from the conversation itself by sticking to the facts.
- Stick to the facts, but take time to answer questions thoroughly so everyone goes away clear on expectations and outcomes.
3. When you disagree about parenting style
Even parents who are together in happy relationships can disagree over parenting styles. So it is no wonder that different parenting styles was one of the most commonly reported topics that co-parents argue over – particularly around devices and screen time, discipline and routines like bedtime, which can affect how a child then settles with the other parent.
In the early days, I wanted to standardise everything across all settings as I thought different approaches and expectations would confuse and put our daughter at a disadvantage. Over time I’ve accepted that this isn’t always possible nor is it necessary. My daughter’s dad and I regularly communicate and coordinate as much as possible. But from my experience, children are very resilient and learn to adapt to different expectations in different settings. My personal view now is that exposure to different settings (when these settings are all safe and healthy, albeit different) may give children an early opportunity to learn to be socially adept and develop flexibility in their language and communications skills. Like any parenting unit, each parent will bring different things to the table and add value in different ways.
Where there are concerns about the other parent’s parenting style, these were some suggestions on broaching conversations with them about it:
- Pre-empt the conversation and ask to sit down together so you can both discuss it, ie “When I drop him back, have you got 10 mins for a conversation with you?”
- Avoid being condescending! Frame everything around the kids.
- Don’t assign blame by saying things like “you should be doing this” or “it’s gone wrong because you did this”. Instead say “what about if we tried this” (always “we”, not “you”)
- One technique is finding something impartial – eg a really good BBC podcast on the topic, and sharing something like that. “I was listening to this the other night and thinking about [child’s name] – it might be worth having a listen”.
Again, if you have any concerns about your child’s welfare or safety, acting quickly is advised. If there is an immediate danger to your child, call 999. For legal advice and support you can call the numbers listed at the bottom of this blog post.
4. Talking about money with an ex partner
The pandemic has changed the economic landscape and affected jobs, incomes and businesses. Where there are existing financial agreements in place – either informally or through a court order – these may need to be reviewed.
Here are some of the ways co-parents have suggested approaching conversations about money:
- She has asked for more money as she has been looking after them more, but business turnover is down 15% over the pandemic so I can’t give her any more. It’s important to be open and transparent about money so everyone knows where they are with it.
- Being honest about money and meeting or fulfilling your promises after a breakup is important as it builds trust, which makes everything else easier.
- In situations where one parent is paying maintenance to another, it helps to be open and upfront about the financial picture. I send an annual (or quarterly if it changes) update so my ex knows what the financial picture is. When I’ve earned more I give more, but when I earned less it’s lower. Being upfront makes these conversations easier and removes any surprises.
- Keep money conversations very black and white, and use email where possible so you have a written record of what has been agreed.
If you find yourself struggling to meet existing financial commitments, this blog post may help: Struggling to pay spousal maintenance – here’s what to do.
5. Sharing information or images about children on social media
Views around what is acceptable to share may vary widely between family members. Coming up with mutually agreeable ground rules is a good idea for all families – including parents and grandparents (or whoever spends time with and may take photos or videos of the children).
Solicitor Katie Machin has written some useful blog posts on the topic of social media sharing:
- The perils of sharenting: how to manage risks and privacy when sharing family updates online
- Don’t boast on Facebook – advice for divorced parents
I hope these tips have been useful for guiding positive communication, managing relationships and avoiding conflict during the Summer holidays.
Where conflict does arise, getting early advice from a specialist family lawyer may help save you a lot of time, money and future conflict in the long run.
Where a child’s safety or happiness is at stake, expert advice as soon as possible is vital.
Some other articles you may find useful:
- Resolving child education disputes between separated families
- Parental alienation – lockdown bringing new challenges to an old problem
- How the family court deals with coercive and controlling behaviour in children cases
Silk Family Law solicitors deal only in family law and cover all aspects of family law including children and financial arrangements arising from separation and divorce. As Resolution accredited family lawyers, they will aim to avoid conflict where possible.
However, should you need to go to court, they can support you throughout your case and have experience dealing in the most complex and challenging types of children cases.
For legal advice, click here to contact your nearest Silk Family Law office or call:
- Silk Family Law Newcastle 0191 500 0777
- Silk Family Law North Yorkshire 01748 900 888
- Silk Family Law Leeds 0113 819 7370
Photo credits: Hannah Brooke Photography (top). Father with son (middle) by Nathan Dumlaohoto and mother with children (bottom) by Alexander Dummer (both on Unsplash).
Disclaimer: The ideas and suggestions expressed in this blog are a collection of different personal views shared by co-parents. They do not necessarily represent the views of Silk Family Law nor are they intended to replace professional legal advice from a qualified family law solicitor.