How to Parent When You've Split Up
It’s something many celebs know about – but how can you manage it in the real world?
21 January 2019
Image credit: PA
From Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin to Cheryl and Liam Payne, via Kate Hudson and Matt Bellamy, there are no end of celebrities who have to juggle co-parenting because they’ve split.
But managing the stresses of parenthood – schedules, diaries, routine, holidays – is a juggling act for anyone, famous or not.
Just because they’re rich and famous, we imagine Orlando Bloom and Miranda Kerr still have to decide the best way to handle Christmas, Easter or who last went to parents’ evening.
But it is possible, say the experts, as long as you plan and try to keep on the same page as your ex-other half.
Think about the motivation for your decision making
Dee Holmes is counsellor and senior practice consultant at Relate in the UK. She says: “The main thing about co-parenting after separation is thinking about what’s best for your children, not necessarily for you. That doesn’t mean the child has all the control about what happens.
“But stepping back and thinking, ‘Am I saying yes or no to this because I want to get back at my ex-partner? Or because I actually think it’s best for the child?’ The reality of post separation is neither of you are with your child all the time any more, and that’s the reality you have to accept and then work with.”
Start with a conversation – and write down your plan
Pip Wilson is CEO of divorce app Amicable, which aims to help people have a more amicable divorce. She says: “There can be a time where both of you – especially when you’ve not been through a big legal fight – are in a better position to talk about how you’re going to parent the kids. And that’s a really important time to start the communication. We would suggest you write a parenting plan: A plan you agree between the two of you.
“There’s a whole lot of things you can include in that, but it should start with the principles of how you’d like the relationship to be – if you can both agree that you will, for example, support each other on key decisions and not criticise each other in front of the kids. If you’ve both sat down and committed to that, it makes it easier to stick to it and try to bite your tongue even if you might not like the other person at a particular time.”
Think practical as well as emotional
Wilson says: “You can agree the principles, and you have to agree the practicalities.” That is, where the the kid(s) are going to live and how long they’ll spend with the other person.
“And that might change over time, but if you’ve got how you’re going to do it to start, then at least you’ve learned to communicate a bit on these things.”
Work out the communication strategy
Agree up front how you’re going to communicate with each other, says Wilson. “Are you going to do it primarily by text? By email? Are you going to have a conversation when you do a handover? Sometimes that’s harder because it’s in front of the kids. There’s nothing that starts arguments more than one parent has forgotten to tell the other about something important that’s happened, that the kids are then upset about.”
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So, agreeing who is responsible for what communication, and how that communication will happen, can prevent arguments in advance. Try and avoid communicating via the kids – Wilson recommends using an app or writing things down.
Focus on friendship
A lot of people do split up because they’re not in love, but they then don’t fight – and that can be a great place to move on from. Holmes adds: “Separation and divorce isn’t the worse thing that can happen. In an ideal world, everyone is all in love, but in reality, if that isn’t working for whatever reason, then an amicable separation is often a better thing than staying together.
“If you’re not happy, then that will show in your parenting as well. Either you might over-indulge your children as a substitute for love lacking in your relationship, or because you’re angry and bitter and that anger comes across.”
Make sure the kids are aware of the routine
“It’s the clarity that makes the big difference,” says Wilson. They don’t often mind going between two houses, but they don’t cope very well with uncertainty. The routine needs to be stuck to when at all possible.”
That’s very important at times like Christmas and school holidays. “Agree key dates well in advance, tell the kids what the plan is, and don’t moan about the plan even if you’re not very happy about it.” You can always have things ‘your way’ next year.
Remember the bigger parenting picture
“You can’t control everything. It’s about trying not to worry about the small stuff and focus on the big stuff,” advises Wilson. “When there’s some ‘big’ parenting to be done, you need to be able to communicate and present a united front. That’s much easier to do when you’re not constantly nagging.”