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Calm co-parenting

calm co-parenting coparenting
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Calm co-parenting

calm co-parenting coparenting
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Parenting with your partner is hard. When it’s your ex-partner you’re working with to raise your children things get a whole new level of complicated. I have a whole set of ex-partners that I’m co-parenting with; well 3 to be precise. I’m the first to admit I don’t get it right every time, far from it in fact. However, we do strive for calm co-parenting.

There are reasons these people are my ex-partners, but that’s not what’s important here. I have children that I’m parenting with these people; so, I have to shift my focus from how I feel about them as partners, and as people, so that the emphasis is on how to work with them as parents. It’s far from easy and there are always big emotions involved on both sides, but we have found ways to make things easier. Here are my top tips:

1. This isn’t about you

Break ups are often complicated and messy; there’s a ton of emotional stuff to work through and practical things to be done. If you were married or had a mortgage together the legal aspect can drag on and get expensive too. But aside from that, both of you need to be there to guide your children through this shift. Whether you’re the parent that they live with, the one they visit, or if you manage to work it 50/50 this is a massive change for all of you.

It’s really easy to get caught up in playing the blame game and throw accusations around. But what are you achieving here? Really? Depending on how old your children are, your co-parenting relationship could last for the next 10, 15 years or more. So, like it or not, you need to find a way to make it work.

The first step is to recognising that this isn’t about you, or your ex. You need to put your children’s needs first and work together. Vent your frustrations to a friend or relative, or in a facebook group. You could write them down in a diary; in short, do whatever you need to do to relieve your emotions, so you don’t direct them at your ex. This will really help to keep things calmer. Whenever possible, keep your own feelings separate; it’s not easy to hold your tongue, but it does make a difference when you manage it.

setting boundaries

2. Calm co-parenting requires clear boundaries 

Yes, setting boundaries works for ex-partners as well as small folk! Ok, joking aside, what I’m really talking about here is having a plan. If you can calmly set out what you expect from each other in your co-parenting relationship early on it makes a big difference. Agree who will do what, when and make it clear what parenting practices you really can’t get on board with.

Whatever your contact arrangements, make a plan. Be as clear as you can; stick to set days and times each week to make things more predictable for everyone; parents and children. If times or days need to change, how are you going to manage that? If you do shift work, or work changeable hours, it can help to make arrangements a month in advance. This avoids last minute confusion. What will you do in the school holidays? What happens if your little one is off school poorly? Thrashing this out early on will help everyone to adapt to the new way things work.

Parenting choices can be really tricky, especially if you didn’t see eye to eye on them when you were together. It can be really useful to identify your hard limits. For example, one of you may feel strongly about a particular issue. This could be avoiding the use of a naughty step, or vetoing certain TV programs. If you can agree to work together on the area that are fundamental to each of you, that’s a great foundation for calm co-parenting. Equally, where possible, try to let the smaller issues go; that way you won’t end up in constant battles. In time, children will get used to the different ‘rules’ and boundaries at each parent’s house.

calm co-parenting communication

3. Calm co-parenting requires communication

This doesn’t have to be a big thing, but keeping each other updated with what’s going on is really important for calm co-parenting. If you are the parent with only one day a week, or alternate weekends, you miss lots of day to day stuff. How you do this is up to you, it could be that you take a few minutes at each handover to say, this child has a reading book from school they need to read tonight, that child has a bit of a cold so isn’t sleeping great  this child fell out with their friend and is feeling a little sad at the moment or whatever. 

If that’s impractical, perhaps a quick call once a month to communicate important stuff could work. Or you could agree to ad-hoc conversations when significant things happen. Whatever you choose, clear communication means this information isn’t a surprise. Also, your child will see you both communicating and putting their needs first.

writing calm co-parenting coparenting

4. Write it down

If communication is really strained then try to keep verbal contact to a minimum. Although it’s helpful for your children to witness calm communication; if verbal communication is likely to lead to arguments, then communicate in whatever way works best. You may choose to email or text, rather than phone, when you need to pass on information or arrange contact. Calm co-parenting, like all parenting, is about finding what works for your unique family set up.

A contact book can also be a useful tool if you are struggling to talk to each other. This is just a note book that you write down things that you have done with your child while they’ve been with you. Add anything your co-parent needs to dot, such as homework, or clubs or parties. Also note down if your child has any worries or concerns at the moment, or if they’ve been poorly, that kind of thing. Pass the notebook to the other parent when the children go to them. This isn’t only for really strained relationships either. It can be useful for parents who struggle to remember things on the spot, and for very young children who can’t tell you what they’ve been doing. It can be nice to see a little narrative on the time they’ve been away.

parent listen child

5. Listen to your small folk

Once your children understand that their parents live separately, and you’ve explained the new arrangement, it’s likely that they will have lots of questions and worries. Expect their behaviour to show lots of big emotions for a while until things settle. You will need to offer lots of reassurance, and have frank and open conversation to guide them through this.

Your children can have very strong opinions on what happens. This may not be convenient or easy for either parent, respecting their views is really important. It can be difficult to manage your child’s reluctance to stay with their other parent. However, these concerns are really common, especially when staying with a parent who has moved out of the family home. 

Try to identify what is worrying them. There may be an easy fix, if, for example, like they don’t like the colour of their bedroom; or where they sit for tea. Advocate for them. Discuss with your ex how they can change things; this is another great opportunity for them to see your calm co-parenting in action. If it’s not so simple, maybe they could not go this week? Or maybe for a shorter visit? Respecting their choices when you can will help them to feel more confident next time.

6. Flexibility and change

As your children get older they may want to change things, to spend more or less time with one parent or even change the parent they live with most of the time. As they move into their teenage years, this is common, chances are they want to have some control over their choices and test out what happens if they choose to live with the other parent. If they have lived with you for a number of years, this can feel really awful. You don’t have to agree; however, let them know that you respect their views and will talk things through with them. 

All of this stuff is really hard, as a grown up and as a parent, I find it hard not to let how I feel about the other parents get in the way. We have cross words from time to time, they really piss me off at times and I’m sure that they feel the same about me. We’re all human, we all get it wrong and we both have our own emotions to deal with. But, mostly when it comes to parenting together we manage pretty well, like a lot of things, the key really is communication. In whatever way you can, keep talking, you’ve got this!


To find out more about calmer relationships, and parenting visit the parenting section of our knowledge hub.


Jeni Atkinson- Director of CalmFamily and Little Possums Preloved

Jeni Atkinson

Jeni is a wonderful, compassionate and inspiring woman. She says “Just because our parenting is gentle doesn’t mean it doesn’t make a difference. The way we raise our children will impact how they feel about themselves & the choices they make as they grow up. I want to see things change in their lifetime, I want to fight back against the childist views of our patriarchal society.

I want to see a world where children are allowed their own autonomy; a world that lets them learn for themselves & make their own mistakes. I want a society where diversity in all its forms is celebrated; where neurodiversity, mental health, sex & sexuality, gender, politics & all these subjects that are shied away from, are talked about openly. I want a society where parents are inspired & supported to make the choices that work for them & their families. Oh, & to save the planet at the same time!”  

Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in Being a parent, Calmer relationships, Coparenting, Parents & families, Single parents
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