Being Parents Apart
You’re still mum and dad and you’ll need to work together
Whilst parents continue to have equal parenting responsibilities it can still mean that a child will spend more time with one of you than the other. If this happens it doesn’t mean one of you is less of a parent or is less important when making decisions about them. Parental Responsibility covers a parent’s rights and duties. Often, it’s better to consider your duties rather than your rights, e.g. your duty to care for them is more important than your right to decide for them; thinking about your duties is more positive and supportive than demanding your rights. Obviously, a child’s needs are always more important than your rights. Finally, Parental Responsibility is not an excuse to meddle or disrupt the other parent whilst the child is in their care. It is their responsibility to be the best parent they can be even if you don’t agree with their parenting style.
You’re still mum and dad and you’re always going to be. Regardless of your separation, this is still your role. You might have to redefine your relationship in your mind and make it something more manageable. To make things easier you’ll hear people talking about being ‘business-like’. This means you’re courteous, polite, thoughtful and professional; it’s not raising your voice, avoiding eye contact, using hostile body language, criticising each other or moaning.
Always be respectful in front of the children; even if you need put on an Oscar-winning performance. Don’t talk about your arrangements in front of them e.g. at handover or on the phone when they’re listening (the older ones will always be listening out for what’s going on even if they’re watching TV). In fact, take care about any conversations you’re having when there’s any chance the children listening; that’s when you’re talking to other parents at the school, your own family, friends, teachers or anyone.
Manage the reality of the situation and not what you would want it to be. You may still have a lot of feelings for your ex, either positive or negative, but you can only be responsible for your actions in front of the children. Don’t try to control or manipulate your ex or denigrate their relationship with their children. Parenting is an equal responsibility however difficult that may sound.
Again, being business-like means giving your former partner plenty of notice when things need to change and be prepared to be flexible yourself. Be prepared to swap weekends rather than take an extra weekend, maybe one day you’ll need your ex to pick up the kids from school or take them swimming; if you’re flexible then they’re more likely to be too.
Remember that by separating, your roles as parents have changed. It needn’t be exactly what it was before and sometimes the parent who perhaps worked all day, and didn’t have much contact with children, can now be far more involved and enjoy their parenting. Similarly, the stay at home parent might find that getting a job and changing their role gives them more opportunities too. Whilst a period of stability is good for the children there’s nothing stopping you from redefining the parent you want to be.
If you’re angry, it’s usually best not to speak, text, email, post on Facebook or anything that someday you might regret. One very helpful tip is to write a letter that you’ll never send. It can be as long as you like, you can be as angry as you like and say whatever you really want to say; BUT, don’t send it, think about it and then tear it up and put it in the bin along with all the other negative emotions that it held for you.
What is a Parenting Plan
Bringing up children involves lots of joint decisions. If you don’t live together, it is harder to make these decisions as you go along. A Parenting Plan is a written or online agreement between parents. It helps you record how you will share the care of your child now and in the future. It can easily be changed and is not a legally binding agreement.
Agreeing on an approach
Making a Parenting Plan is easier if you both agree on why it is a good idea and what you both want for your child. The first part of the Parenting Plan explains your approach to parenting and your general aims.
Using the Parenting Plan
Your plan can be as simple or as detailed as you like. The simpler it is, the easier it is to stick to. It might include day-to-day arrangements, financial arrangements, and decisions about the future. It’s a good place to store information like medical records and contact details. You probably won’t look at it every day, but it is good to have it available to refer to.
This is the main part of the plan. It is usually divided up into sections such as childcare, communication, education, social activities, and finance. You can add as many sections as you like and make it personal to your situation.
Can we follow a template?
Yes, there’s a good parenting plan template linked at the bottom of this page.
What about consulting our children in mediation?
Direct consultation with children involves a family mediator, who is trained as a child consultant, talking with a child or children as a part of a mediation in which arrangements are being made for children. The government has suggested that children aged 10 and above should generally have access to a mediator when questions about their future are being resolved in mediation.
Parents sometimes suggest that the child or children are involved in the mediation process. Sometimes the child makes the suggestion. It is important that parents understand the views, needs and desires of their children and involving them in the mediation process may be a good way to do this. Children like to be informed and they appreciate having their views and options heard, although they need to understand that they are not responsible for the overall decision.
Involving children in mediation can be very complex and a great deal of preparation is needed before a mediator will speak to a child. Different considerations apply depending on the age and maturity of the child. The child and both the parents have to agree to the consultation. It is the mediator’s decision whether child consultation is appropriate.
Our specialist mediators offer direct consultation with children. These mediators have attended specialist courses to equip them with the necessary skills to consider whether direct consultation with a child is appropriate and to carry out that consultation if it is.
Direct consultation with a child means the child talking face to face with the mediator separately on the basis that what they say is completely confidential from anyone else including their parents. Very often the child does have something that they want the mediator to tell their parents, and that they would like the parents to take into consideration when making their decision. Strictly with the child’s permission, the mediator will then bring the child’s voice into the mediation.
The child can either meet with the mediator who is already working with the parents or, as often happens, with a different mediator. Consultations with a child usually last approximately 45 minutes. Siblings will be seen separately or together depending on what the children themselves prefer. Children should generally be aged 10 years and over, but in exceptional circumstances, younger children may be seen.
Splitting Up? Putting Kids First
This website is excellent and free! It’s an online resource to help you write your parenting plan. You can find it here: http://www.splittingup-putkidsfirst.org.uk/home
Getting it Right for Children when Parents Part
This is a free skills-based programme helping you work out what’s best for your kids when you’re planning your separation. You can find it here: https://theparentconnection.org.uk/programmes/programmes/getting-it-right-for-children-when-parents-part
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