Co-parenting after a break-up: The do’s and don’ts

Man and woman arguing
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Co-parenting is not always easy, but it is something that needs to be done properly to ensure the well-being of your children.

According to South Africa’s Children’s Act 38 of 2005,  “the parental responsibilities and rights that a person may have in respect of a child, include the responsibility and the right-

a) to care for the child;
b) to maintain contact with the child;
c) to act as guardian of the child; and
d) to contribute to the maintenance of the child.”

So whether the end of you relationship was amicable or hostile, you should always put your children’s best interest at heart when making decisions.

Here are a few tips to help you on your co-parenting journey.

Don’t turn your children against your ex

Break-ups can be hard, but your kids shouldn’t have to suffer the consequences of a failed relationship. Some women and men use their children as a weapon to hurt their ex. They say and do things to portray their former spouse in a bad light. But bashing your ex in front of your kids will impact them emotionally for years. Describing their father as a “loser” or their mother as a “crazy woman” will leave them feeling confused, and afraid to speak up about their real feelings. It is also unfair to make your children feel like they need to choose between being loyal to their mother or father.

Don’t try to be the “good guy” 

In order to win favour with their children, some parents allow their children to do whatever they want, especially if their former spouse is against it. You will only be teaching your children how to manipulate others when they don’t get their own way.

Do improve your communication

Don’t let your issues with your former partner get in the way of a good co-parenting relationship. Put your anger and bitterness aside when communicating with your former spouse about your children. Conflict-free communication is not only good for your children’s well being, but your sanity as well. If you are still too angry to talk to your ex face-to-face, send an email or pick up the phone. Take a deep breath before you do, and plan what you want to say so that you don’t let your emotions get the better of you.

Do discuss the important issues as soon as possible

To ensure the success of your co-parenting arrangement, make sure you come to an agreement about issues like how your children will be disciplined in the separate homes, and what schedule they will follow. This will ensure consistency for your kids, and make co-parenting as effortless as possible. Issues like the household budget, education, and medical decisions should also be discussed at the start of your co-parenting relationship.

Don’t make your child a messenger or a spy

When your children return from your ex’s house don’t expect them to report back on what their mother/father has been up to, who they are dating, and what goes on in their home. You should also not make your children carry messages to their father/mother when you do not want to speak to him/her. This type of behaviour will put your children in a difficult situation, and they will not like it one bit.

Do seek help if need be

If your co-parenting relationship is not working, then consider seeking professional help. Ask family members to help mediate between you and your spouse or consider speaking to a psychologist if you cannot get over your hatred towards your ex. If the relationship is too volatile, then it might be best to get a lawyer to handle all your communications, but this could end up being costly. A parenting plan can also be drawn up for a smoother co-parenting relationship.