According to the most recent 2016 Canadian census, the percentage of children aged 0 to 14 living with one parent rose from 17.8% to 19.2% since 2001
I’ve reached the point in my thirties where at least half of my friends who are parents are no longer with their children’s biological parent. When we get together for brunch, it’s just as common for us to discuss custody agreements as it is to rehash the latest episode of RuPaul’s Drag Race.
As the old song goes, “breaking up is hard to do,” and children add an extra layer of complexity to an already difficult situation. But for many Canadians, learning to co-parent is simply a fact of life. According to the most recent 2016 Canadian census, the percentage of children aged 0 to 14 living with one parent rose from 17.8% to 19.2% since 2001.
But like many things in life, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s easy. If witnessing my friends struggles has taught me anything, it’s that developing a healthy co-parenting relationship is essential, but also challenging.
“Communication is often a big challenge. If the marriage failed, chances are the communication was not good even when married. After a split, the communication between exes might be even more strained, making conversations about basic logistical issues difficult and stressful,” says Iona Monk, a registered clinical counsellor and owner of Vancouver Couples Counselling.
1. Put a positive spin on parenting differences.
Co-parents often struggle when it comes to their differing parenting styles, says Monk. Each parent may run their homes differently with different rules. “This may confuse children and make it difficult for their readjustments to the other parents’ home. Parents who are stricter may feel frustrated at their more lackadaisical ex-partners’s styles while easy going parents may rebel against their more rigid ex partners styles.”
Monk says it’s important that you don’t trash your ex’s parenting. “Explaining the differences as “style differences” may be a kind and generous way of explaining the situation to the children,” she explains.
2. Make your children’s needs and feelings your priority.
Breakups are complicated, but don’t allow your own unresolved feelings to spill into interactions with your kids. “This might present as a co parent asking their kids uncomfortable questions about the ex and his or her general whereabouts, criticizing their ex and unwittingly making their children pick sides and loyalties. It is important to keep your feelings about your ex and the failure about the relationship private,” says Monk.
3. Be consistent.
As Monk explains, consistency is important for children’s well being. If parents do not agree that consistency is important, it will be tough to maintain the same rules and expectations for the kids. “If your ex refuses to agree to consistency, seek the help of an unbiased third party (therapist, trusted friend, someone who has already gone through a divorce with children) and ask them to weigh in,” says Monk.
4. Find a healthy way to communicate.
As Monk reminds us, communication is crucial when children are involved. “If email or text works better than phone calls, then do that. Use whatever tool works between the two of you to keep the lines of communication open,” says Monk. If you’re still struggling to communicate, seek counselling.
5. Be a united front.
“Keep in mind that the split of the family is not the worst thing that can happen to a child. What’s more important is that the co parents are friendly, work together and have the same goal- the happiness and safety of their children,” says Monk.
However, you don’t have to be best friends with your ex in order to be good co-parents. You just need to work together as a team. As Monk says, “if kids feel that parents are united on this front, then they can emerge from the situation with a healthy understanding of relationships; that sometimes they may change form, but they never disappear.”