We live in the modern world and a considerable percentage of us are not with the mother/father of our child. This is the case with me, but I have 2 ex’s and 3 children. My eldest two from my first marriage, and my youngest from a relationship after that. Having to deal with ex partners/husbands/ wives can be a nightmare, especially at the beginning, but what I have learnt along the way and what I am still learning is that having a “bad” relationship is unhealthy and destructive to your child, but also for your own well being.
When I was going through my divorce I never thought my ex husband and I would ever be friendly again, we couldn’t talk to each other and used (very expensive) lawyers as go between, by the end of the divorce and child residency I alone wracked up a bill of £30,000. It is such a ludicrous amount of money, but when I look back at it now do I regret that cost? no I don’t, because through it all, through all the courses and meetings, mediation and solicitors letter, I learnt a great deal and I am proud of my relationships that I have with my daughters fathers. I learnt from my first break up how to deal with the second and a lot of it is quite simple.
There was a stage where, during our court process, the only words that were passed between my daughters’ father and I were via a ‘communications book’, now thinking of it it seems awful but actually it was a very sensible way to ensure that no bad words were ever passed in front of the children, also this communication book could be called into court at any time so it made us be think before we wrote (this was a valuable lesson). It is something that both the court and CAFCASS would recommend if needed. In fact the suggestion of a communication book came about because we were both sent on a Separated Parents Information Programme (SPIP) course by the judge. You go separately but I wasn’t sure about it but knew I had to, and I am so pleased I did. We were shown a heartbreaking film which demonstrated the impact that poor communication between separated parents has on children. As a group and with the teachers we discussed the film, one point that was reiterated and is very common in the modern age were messages sent via texts and other apps, due to not having to face the person, nor hear the voice it is easy to let the situation become angry and words can get typed that you wouldn’t say to someone’s face (obviously this is the most common way to communicate, but while things are fraught its most likely the worst approach). If an argument happens in this way, the parent who has the child in their care will be affected by it and that will impact the child, it made me realise how destructive it was. Sometimes now, when I am in a conversation with either Dad and I can feel it veering towards bad vibes the conversation stops for another day. 9 times out of 10 nothing more needs to get talked about, it was all in that moment and could have easily escalated.
Whether it’s in the early stages, or further along (when new partners are involved, or house moves happen), it is sometimes very hard to come to an understanding of what is going to happen with decisions to do the children, it is easy to always find fault in the other parent’s suggestions due to anger you may feel. What was reiterated by SPIPs was the fact you cannot control the other parent (whether straight after the separation or 5 years down the line) and you can only be responsible for yourself. What I also found very true was that up until recently you had been in a relationship with this person, you had loved them at one point (most probably) and you had chosen to have a child with them. So to then change your tune after breaking up and conclude that the other parent is incapable or has faults will not only seem insincere but also will be projected onto your child/children as perhaps a feeling they did not come from a loving relationship. Your job as a parent is to be the adult, and the best thing for your child is to support the other parent.
After our course we came up with a child residency order which was agreed on but then was altered a few years later. During the second round of the court process we were sent to CAFCASS and we had meetings with a team who spoke with great insight into co parenting and the benefits for children. We covered many topics and made ‘contracts’ about the upbringing of the girls, they helped us open up communications and taught us that it was imperative for our kids to make decisions together. I am not saying it was all easy, but due to the fact we were not in the midst of our own break up, it allowed us to be productive rather than blaming each other. Some relationships, even years later constantly blame and have a power struggle, but I will talk about that next). The point that was very evident was that we were not in a relationship anymore and so though we could make it hard for the other person and throw words at each other, the only person it will ever hurt is the child.
When my next break up happened, things could have been very difficult and I think that our relationship and break up could have ended in a high conflict situation, but I am really proud at the decision from both of us to to have a unity for our daughter. We knew she was and is the only thing that matters and once you come to terms with the fact you are not together there is no need for anything other that parental duties.
High conflict parents will be the first to tell you that it’s not their fault, I have met many people like this, and it is not a criticism (I absolutely understand how it feels, its where i was many moons ago), but it is hindering themselves and their children. They will always blame the other parent and I can clearly remember a judge in court one day telling me that once you get in to a situation where you are constantly arguing it is only with mediation that you will have some calm. To quote The Happy Family Lawyer “They will be so far involved in their own conflict that they won’t be able to see the ‘wood for the trees’. Only with specialised professional assistance can these parents improve their parenting techniques.”. It is also key to remember that it doesn’t matter who started or didn’t start an argument, you are not in control of anyone else but yourself, it takes two to tango and I am sure when these explosions occur between two ex’s the starting discussion is a distant memory.
So to conclude on my journey, most of the time I have a calm and steady “friendship” with the Dads of my daughters, I have learnt that they will ALWAYS be in my life, so why would I waste my energy feeling any anger for them (not that I do), but when something annoys me, I don’t rise to it, as long as my children are safe and well that’s all that matters. I also always try to be respectful, so always including them in decisions about the girls, for example which school they go to or whether to have certain immunisations. No matter who the children reside with the majority of the time, it doesn’t give you the right to be sole decision maker. (That being said it is not the resident parents job to inform the other of when events are happening or school choices are being made, both sign up to school emails and both keep upto date with the milestones of your children).
I have summarised a few important factors that I learnt so far on my journey and I am always interested in hearing feedback from my blogs, or just any other information anyone has about successful co parenting.
I will attach links to a few websites that I found very helpful, especially the programme booklet for the SPIP course I went on.
- Respect that your children may have different feelings to your own
- Do not use your child as a messenger
- DON’T make it a power struggle
- Think about what you can do, not what your ex partner should/ shouldn’t be doing
- Make small steps towards the end goal
- Look after yourself and be the best you can for your children
- Have faith in the other parent, no matter how they treat you don’t fight fire with fire.
THE HAPPY LAWYER