Sorting out co parenting
Sorting out co parenting arrangements when parents have separated can be challenging. This website is all about helping separated parents do right by their children, put together by someone who has listened to many, many separated parents struggling with this stuff.
It assumes you want to do your best, that you want your kids to be proud of you when they are old enough to judge you. It assumes you are willing to ask yourself some challenging questions, and figure out what you can change to make things better for both you and your children.
Mostly it is questions I have seen parents find useful. There is nothing wordy. There are links to more information if that is what you are looking for.
Parents who separate come in all sizes, shapes, ages….and genders. English, sadly, not so much. Anyone who takes offense at the “male/female” emphasis of the questions, please feel free to contact me (William Hursthouse, family mediator) with improvements ASAP via txt 0274 989 312. Thanks.
Everything should load very fast on a smart phone. I hope you find something useful. Let me know.
There are also lots of cartoons
So where are you up to on this separation timeline?
If you and the other parent just split up, texting can be a bad idea
Text, phone, email, messenger, whatsapp, skype, viber, grandparents……how do you communicate with the other parent?
What rules have you set up (if any) about how you communicate about the kids?
How well does whatever you do work?
How often does the other parent read something into your Communication that you never put there?
How successful are you at keeping the co parenting communications just about the kids?
About that other parent: What do you do if they don’t or wont reply and you really need an answer?
How do you deal with that frustration?
Or if they wont stop texting when you just can’t reply?
If they don’t let you know they are running late, or not coming at all?
This is a link to a good solution - however it is not free (and no, I don’t get any commission). https://www.ourfamilywizard.co.nz
If you can’t afford this, could you come up with something similar between the two of you?
Does you child have a smart phone, or access to one to contact you when they are with the other parent?
If you came here because you are trying to figure out if / when it would be ok for your child to sleep overnight at the house (s)he doesn’t usually stay at….you’ve come to the right place.
If you Google overnights for children and look hard enough, you can probably find research to support pretty much whatever view you already hold if your child is a bit older. For babies and toddlers, not so much. The younger the child, the more research you are going to find suggesting the youngster should stay nights with the parent they have a really strong bond with, at least until they get a bit older. So this page assumes your baby / toddler does have just that – a strong bond with one parent, and a less strong bond with the other parent. Or at least that’s what the parent who has the kid most of the time believes.
A very common situation I see in family mediations with a baby or toddler is the father wanting overnights and the mother being reluctant. Usually Dad keeps pushing for this as he feels his relationship with their child is in danger of weakening, or even worse is already slipping away like a ship leaving port without him. He wants that strong bond more than anything, and sees the mother as preventing it happening!
If so, Dad please think about these questions for you:
First up, do you think it is possible that you, her and your child all see the same thing quite differently? Maybe a bit like this:
What are your strongest memories of your relationship with each of your parents?
How old are you in your first / oldest memory of you and a parent?
What do you think your child needs to make great memories of you?
or are they??
When will be that first lasting memory of you formed in your child’s mind?
Luckily he probably wont remember something like this…
(s)he might remember something like this..
What do you think the mother’s biggest concerns are, with your child staying overnight with you?
Do you think she doesn’t even trust you not to do stupid shit like this?
Or does she think/fear you might take risks like this?
Do you reckon she imagines you might do something like this? Is she right?
What can you do to help her feel her child will be safe and happy when in your care?
How readily does your child look to you now for comfort when upset?
How quickly does your child calm down with you, if Mum is not there?
How can you demonstrate to the mother the place where your child would sleep is safe and secure?
What can you do to keep the environment safe? (Flatmates, drugs, smoke, loud music etc)
How is your child when with s(he) is with you at the moment? (how often irritable / clingy / crying / aggressive/ unsettled?)
How well do you understand what your child is feeling, moment by moment?
How much value do you give your child’s relationship with his/her mother? If you do value this, have you told Mum?
When in your care, does your child become your number one priority for the whole time? What can you do to give Mum some confidence? What is the first step you can take to start rebuilding trust?
So probably not this: (Is that a new partner as well? Has your child’s mother even met this woman? No? Then what might that be like for her, just imagine sending your kid - the one you grew inside you for nine months - off to be in the care of someone you have never even met??)
Questions for Mum:
What concerns do you have about your child staying overnight at Dad’s place?
Is this sort of stuff a real possibility?
What can you do to help him understand each and every one of those concerns?
Which of your concerns are more about your child? (e.g. (s)he and him just are not close enough yet, the kid is too young / not ready/ still too reliant on me/needs me through the night/it’s just too soon)
Which of your concerns are more about him? (e.g. I don’t trust him, he doesn’t know enough, he doesn’t really hold our child at the centre of his world like I do, he doesn’t respect me / listen to me etc)
Could he do this?
That would be bad, right? But maybe this next one is just his problem, so long as he doesn’t take it out of the kid?
On the plus side, at least there aren’t any playgrounds like this anymore..
Which of your concerns are about the environment at his place? e.g. I haven’t seen it, don’t know anything about it, how do I know it is safe, maybe there could be drugs / dangerous flatmates/friends/relatives, new partner /smoke / noise / junk food etc?
And which of your concerns are more about you? (I know I this is not right for my child, I can’t stand the thought, I just know this is a bad idea, the very idea is driving me crazy etc)
Is this the sort of thing you are worried about?
Or do you suspect or believe his place is a dump / unsafe / filled with dangerous shit or people?
Or do you believe he takes way too many risks?
Questions both parents could explore together:
Are any of these concerns “deal breakers”?
To what extent do you each trust the other’s parents?
Which concerns could possibly be addressed?
Exactly what would need to change?
For example, hopefully both parents agree this is not a baby carriage….
How would you both know things had changed enough?
What is your backup plan/what are you going to do if you feel you are being pressured into doing/agreeing to something you don’t think is in your child’s best interests?
Changeovers usually happen either
o at/outside one of your houses, or
o at a neutral place e.g. petrol station, MacDonalds, library etc; or
o at a place where you don’t even see the other parent, e.g. before or after school/kindy/daycare
If the changeover is going to be at one of your houses, who makes it happen? Does the parent who has them drive them to the other house, or does that parent come and get them?
To decide this, parents can discuss questions like: Who has the safest car/best carseat? (Hopefully this is just a joke?
Who has the time? Who can most afford the petrol? Or they can argue over which is “fair”.
Another way to look at it is to ask:
Which one is going to make the changeover as stress free as possible for the kids?
How much time do your kids need to prepare to move to the other parent’s house?
How much stuff do they need to take / what can they leave with you?
How important is predictability and routine to each child?
How do you let your children know that you trust the other parent to keep them safe? (If you don’t, what can do you about that?)
Could this happen, no matter whose care he was in? Is that PERMANENT marker??
If/when your children see you are sad when they are getting ready to leave, what do you say/how do to explain that?
On the way:
If the other parent is going to come and pick them up from your place, how do you prepare? Apart from packing stuff for them, what else? What do you say if they don’t want to go? If they wont stop playing that game to get ready? If the other parent doesn’t come? If they don’t even text?
If you drive them to the changeover, what do you talk about in the car? What do you reckon the kids pick up about how you feel about what’s happening? How much does that matter? If you are going to be late and the child knows this, what effect will this have on them? How do you deal with that?
At the changeover:
Do your children see you and the other parent arguing or negotiating parenting arrangements during the changeovers? What would you like them to see?
Imagining yourself at your very best, how do you want to behave during these exchanges? What do you want your children to see, and remember?
Because, it’s frustrating but true - they really are like sponges for some things:
and they are really, really absorbent
So what behaviours or habits might you want to work on?
Some links to other pages on changeovers
Certainty or flexibility?
Which is more important to you: certainty, or flexibility?
Over the years I have noticed that pretty much every pair of separated parents I have sat with turns out to value these things differently. In the most challenging situations, one parent needs more certainty than the other is comfortable with committing to, and the other parent needs more flexibility than the planner can bear. This may have even been a reason for the separation.
When it comes to agreeing on how much time the children have with each parent, how the changeovers take place and even what will happen at Christmas; if each parent really wants their need for certainty or flexibility met, it can be quite a challenge to work through.
Even the most flexible person is likely to agree we all need some certainty:
So it becomes a matter of degree. Those who value flexibility be like:
Flexibility is cool! Chill out, we can make it work!
Those who value certainty maybe more like:
Or if they are really pissed off with the flexible One
For those who value certainty Quietly:
How much notice do you need of changes to the current changeover arrangements?
For example, to when the children are returned? To when they are picked up/dropped off? To when the other parent contacts the children?
How about changes to agreements for holidays, Christmas, birthdays, parent teacher interviews, sports games, trips away etc?
How much certainty do you need about what the children get up to / are exposed
to when in the other parent’s care?
For example, other adults/new partners, junk food, environments you consider unsuitable etc
How could you find out, given you know it is not good to ask the children?
What do you think is realistic to get a “flexible” ex to commit to?
How will you figure this out? What questions will you ask?
Exactly what are you planning to do yourself, to get a realistic / reliable commitment?
Are you hoping/ planning/ determined to get this commitment in writing? What will it be worth?
How flexible are you?
What is driving your need for certainty? What is underneath it?
What might enable you to be more flexible?
What would be a deal breaker? What could /couldn’t you live with?
What is your contingency plan if they don’t stick to whatever commitment they have given?
For those who value flexibility:
So you can let it go. Cool. How much does this influence what you think other people should do?
Might they be feeling as much pressure to be flexible as you are feeling pressured to commit?
What can you trace your need to keep things open back to?
What is the worst that could happen if you did provide a bit more certainty?
What can you do now that could prevent that “worst” outcome?
What might be underneath, what might be driving the other parent’s need for certainty?
Have you asked? If not, what open questions might you ask to check your assumptions?
When you do agree to some arrangement, how much flexibility do you need?
What might enable you to be more comfortable with less flexibility?
Questions for both
When the other parent’s expectations are not met, how do you deal with their reaction?
How far can you go, to accommodate the other parent’s need? (for certainty or flexibility)
What can you do, to make it easier / less stressful for the other parent?
I am often told by one parent that (s)he has heard the other parent has a new partner…….and they heard about this first from their child.
Questions for the parent finding out about the new partner from their child:
What do you think is it like for your child, to be asked questions about what is going on in the other house?
Questions for the parent with a new partner:
If your new partner is in the house / seen by your child while (s)he is in your care, what information do you give your child?
What sense is your child going to make of the information – both what you say and what they observe? How differently do children think from adults?
Which one is more you: ask them not to tell, let them know they can tell, or give them no idea of what you want them to do with this information which they know the other parent will be interested in?
What would it be like for your child to deal with any of those options when with the other parent?
Questions for both:
What is it like for your child to be carrying that message about a new partner between homes?
How keen do you think your child is, to tell each parent what (s)he thinks each want to hear?
If you think they might have that desire, what could be behind that?
How do you find out/ what questions could you ask to open up a conversation?
What can (each of) you do to take your child right out of the “messenger” role?
What do (each of) you say to reassure your children both their parents love them?
What do you think of this idea?:
Sorry, just tricking. There is nothing here about your rights.
Seriously, when it comes to co parenting, aren’t your rights trumped by your child’s rights?
And what rights does your child have?
The next questions about your child’s voice might help, but first….
Which set up in these pictures fits better with your feeling about what is fair:
Treating each of them equally, or providing what each one needs?
Your child’s Voice
If you are in, or even just on the edge of the “Family Dispute Resolution” world, you will have heard people talking about your “child’s voice”.
What do you think “the Child’s Voice” means in your situation?
How much do you know about your child’s silent voice - what (s)he secretly wishes for?
What tools or skills do you have to empower your child to talk to you openly about how they are feeling? (You probably already know questions seldom work)
What can you find out about his/her views- the sense (s)he is making of all the information about your situation streaming into his/her brain?
How clear are you about the difference between your child’s wishes and their views?
What is the difference? What do you need before you can have a view?
What information do you give your child about the current situation between you and the other parent?
How much of this information is agreed with the other parent before it is given to the child?
How much do you know about the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child? New Zealand has signed up to it…..although some of us think our laws only pay lip service to one of the most important principles it contains (Hint: Article 12 is about a child’s views, as distinct from their wishes.)
You can read about it here: https://tinyurl.com/y9vur6h3
Does your child see you struggling to deal with the other parent?
How long does your struggle last, & how frequently does your child witness it?
Does your child see you “come out the other side” (recover) each time the struggle happens? If that does happen, how long does it take?
What is it like to be your child at the moment?
What do you hope or believe you are doing well to help them through this time?
What would you like to do differently for them? / What might make things easier for them?
Do your children ever get caught up in your conflict?
If so, who helps them with the confusion and sadness that all children feel at that time?
What do you think your children’s worst memory be of this time in their lives?
What will their best memory be of how you handled your differences with the other parent?
A couple of interesting articles:
What children think about how much time their parents spend on the cell phone:
and this one:
“One of the things that children consistently tell me is, ‘Mum is always on Facebook’ or ‘Dad is always on his phone checking emails’.”
Getting kids to listen
I like the cartoons and tools in this book very much. It is written by a couple of mothers, speaking from experience. Learn how to
Break a pattern of arguments
Cope with your child’s negative feelings
Engage your child’s co-operation
Set clear limits and still maintain goodwill
Express your anger without being hurtful
Resolve family conflicts peacefully
If you can afford NZ $19.14 you can get it delivered for free :-) Here is the link to the book at at Book Depository
Hard versus Harm
If you ask yourself what the difference is between “hard” and “harm” for your child, what examples do you come up with?
If you are on Facebook / if it loads on your phone and you have enough data, check out Kathryn Berkett here: https://tinyurl.com/yanekzy5
She reckons kids need some stress in order to learn how to deal with it.
If you agree, how do you calm your child after they get mildly stressed?
What about when they totally lose it?
At what point (if ever) do you think a toddler’s tantrum becomes a problem?
For you and your loved ones, when do you think some stress become more than just hard, when does it crossover into becoming what you fear might be actual harm?
“Resilience” has become a popular word, what does it mean to you?
If it means something good to you, how do you think kids get it and make it stronger?
(If you hate that word, no worries, move on, nothing to see here, lots of us hate certain expressions…..personally, I find “space” pretty irritating just at the moment)
(And if you have had enough of these endless questions and just want to be distracted, here is a link to a fun page of the 10 most disliked words & phrases: https://tinyurl.com/ya2tuzfj)
Or well meaning friends who want you to feel better but have no clue:
What do you do with your feelings after the children have left your care?
Where can you find support?
Do these people understand the difference between listening, asking and telling?
How distressing is it for you to see the other parent, or to be in their presence?
How judgmental are you, of your own parenting and of the other parent’s?
What can you do about that?
What do you have faith in?
How aware are your children of how you feel about the other parent?
What more can you do to help them reconcile loving two parents who don’t like each other?
The best page I have found on dealing with grief
If you came here looking for something and didn’t find it, please me let know. If a question helped you, please let me know. If you want to contact me…William Hursthouse, family mediator Text is good 0274 989 312
or email william at bc.org.nz
0274 989 312