When a couple makes the decision to separate, there are many things to consider and decisions to be made. While the intimate partnership has ended, when a couple has children, they will continue to be connected to one another through the children after separation. It can be an incredibly challenging time to learn how to manage the stress of letting go of one another as partners and to forge a new relationship as effective co-parents.
Adjusting to a two home family structure is not an easy task for parents or children, and a common source of conflict for parents is determining a workable co-parenting arrangement. This may involve deciding things such as parenting time, how to manage exchanges of the children, how to make important decisions about the children, and many others. It can be overwhelming for both parents and children to navigate their way through this change while sorting through complex emotions.
While parents may disagree about aspects of their parenting arrangement, they rarely disagree about wanting the best for their children. This can be an important lighthouse in stormy times for new (or seasoned) co-parents. The key to keep in mind is that parents can support their children’s feelings of security and belonging, as well as their overall health and wellbeing in a healthy two home family, by strengthening their own co-parenting skills.
Things to Keep in Mind
- The Best Interests of the Child
The best interests of the child can be defined as anything that protects the psychological, physical and emotional safety of the child. When deciding on parenting arrangements, it’s important to put the children’s needs at the forefront. It is also crucial that parents avoid putting the children in the middle of their own conflicts. This can be very confusing and hard on children.
- Practice Empathy and Flexibility
As much as possible, it is helpful to bring a flexible, empathic approach to both the planning and implementation of parenting arrangements. Try to view the other parent as your co-parent rather than your ex-spouse/partner. This can shift your mindset away from the past and hurts of a broken intimate partnership, to the future and your children’s needs for you both to have a functional, co-parenting relationship. Viewing the other as your co-parent rather than your ex-partner also helps to foster a feeling of security within your children.
- Be Specific
When deciding how you and your co-parent will divide time and resources devoted to raising your children, being thoughtful and specific in your plan can help to prevent future issues. Being specific, and thinking ahead about possible challenges that may arise as well as how to address those, can help prevent future sources of conflict.
If you and your co-parent are having difficulty with all or part of your parenting arrangement, accessing the support of an ADR specialist such as a mediator or parenting coordinator can help you to create a sustainable plan that will meet the needs of your family.
- ADRIA Directory – choose “Divorce and Separation Mediator” in the ADR Services dropdown menu for practitioners specializing in Separation and Divorce matters.
- If you meet program criteria, the Government of Alberta Family Mediation Program may also be an option to get the assistance of a family mediator. For program information, including criteria to qualify, visit the following link:
- For online, free courses to help with learning how to strengthen co-parenting skills that will benefit your children, the Government of Alberta offers the following programs: