Having a Good Relationship With Your Ex For The Sake of the Kids

Your ex partner and you can have a good relationship after separation and divorce. Dr Justin Coulson offers advice on creating a ‘parenting’ relationship.

‘We’re still going to be friends after all of this. We have to be, for the sake of the kids.’

Michelle used the well-worn cliche as she discussed her impending divorce with friends. Sadly, being friends is an optimistic idea that rarely works in practice. It is ironic that the person you will be forced to share the most important decisions with in relation to your children will be the person you find impossible to get along with. Co-parenting means putting your love and care for your children above your frustration and resentment with your ex.

The following list of ideas can help you to work together with your ex to give your children the best possible conditions in difficult circumstances.

How to treat your ex-partner

  • Treat co-parenting like a business venture. You wouldn’t yell at a client. You wouldn’t denigrate your clients, talk about them behind their back to other stakeholders, or ring them at all hours. Show the same restraint in regards to your ex.
  • Kill your ex with kindness. Do it for the kids. It’s best for them, and for your relationships, and for you.
  • Make it easy for your children to love both of you by showing a genuine positive interest in what they do with their other parent. Tell them you hope they’ll have a great time at mum’s/dad’s. It reduces the emotional distress and internal conflict the child feels at departure. And it lessens the need children might feel to be loyal to one parent over the other.

Create a co-parenting plan

Sit down together and create a general parenting plan. Again, treat it like a business plan, and a business transaction. Think about things like schedules, agreement on friends, rules, etc. Keep it as your parenting template – but remember to be flexible. Then, maintain the routine in both houses. Work out how things should work, and communicate the right way:

  • Use a book to write things down. It is much harder to forget things, mix things up, or get upset with each other when everything is in writing.
  • Communicate on just one or two issues at a time to keep communication lines open and simple. It reduces confusion. It’s not always practical, but it is generally the most helpful way to deal with things.
  • Don’t use your kids to pass on messages. Use the communication book, SMS, email, etc. It may be a simple matter like rescheduling a pick-up or drop-off, but if it upsets your ex (perhaps due to inconvenience) then your child will feel responsible.

Access visits

For a lot of families, mum will become the primary carer of the children. But the other caregiver should remain involved:

  • For younger children, shorter more frequent visits with dad are best. If your child is under the age of two then every effort should be made for daily contact with both parents.
  • I discourage sleepovers until the child is three years old. It’s confusing for the child and can cause real separation anxiety. It can also harm the attachment between the main caregiving parent and the child. For children under two it is generally too distressing to even consider sleep-overs (although some children will cope).
  • If your child is upset at visiting his other parent, that should be acknowledged. In most cases, though, the visits are important (except in cases of aggression, abuse and violence). However, the contact should be in a way that you can all feel good about. For example, Mat would visit his ex-wife’s home every night on his way home from work. He would read their four children a story and help with their bath. On some occasions he stayed for a meal as well, so he could tuck the children into bed. When Mat re-partnered, his visits became more sporadic, but enough time had elapsed and enough relationship building had occurred that he was able to have his children come over to his home for sleepovers. When Mat’s ex-wife re-partnered, the visits stopped due to tension, but other flexible arrangements were worked out. Mat explained to his kids, ‘Now that Mummy’s married to Richie, it’s better if I don’t come in.’ When asked ‘Why’, he simply responded that it’s ‘Mummy and Richie’s house now, and it’s better if I don’t come in.’

Manipulative kids

  • Some children work out that they can play mum and dad off one another. ‘Dad let’s me do that all the time though, Mum. ‘In that instance, simply saying ‘I’ll talk with your Dad about it and we’ll make a decision. Then I’ll let you know. In the meantime, you follow our rules.’
  • In some homes things will be done differently. Acknowledge that there’s not really any right and wrong on most issues, and it’s just ‘different.’

Working with your ex will be one of the more challenging aspects of your life for some time after you have separated from your spouse. Your ability to treat your ex partner with respect and kindness, consider your parenting together as a business venture, and communicate kindly with one another can make an enormous difference in your own lives, and more importantly, in the lives of your children.

This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidpsot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz

If you’re separated from your child’s other parent, what advice can you offer on making it work?

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8 Comments

  1. Alezandra 03/03/2019 at 11:24 pm

    Fortunately I have not experienced this nor do I have close friends that have gone or going through it. Having read the article has made me realise that it can definitely be hard work – if we find it hard work now, it just seems doubly so. Kudos to them who are working through this.

  2. SarahBlair 02/03/2019 at 10:35 pm

    The child that I have with an Ex is now 24 so I don’t have to deal with him anymore but when she was little it was quite a struggle, I got on with him ok but he was rather flaky and broke many promises to her which was heartbreaking and I was left to try to make her feel better. It was very hard to not talk down about him but I tried, not always successfully, but I don’t think that kids should have to hear their parents putting each other down.

  3. kymmage 01/03/2019 at 7:43 am

    Haven’t had to deal with this thankfully. I think most of the list should be achievable if everyone can act in a mature and responsible way. Sadly though, break ups can bring the worst out of people and previously abusive relationships are unlikely to be healthy after a break up either. I would be worried about giving kids false hope as well, that their family will get back together. Business transactions – probably the best way to handle it.

  4. MuddledUpMolly 27/02/2019 at 3:41 pm

    My husband and his ex are definitely unable to co-parent. It is sad because my husband has been on the ridiculous court appointed parenting through separation courses, yet his ex wasn’t made to. There is no point to the course if one party does it and is wanting to implement change and the other party point blank refuses for their own selfish reasons. Kids should always be put first. Always.

  5. dawnblyth 27/02/2019 at 11:47 am

    This is a very tricky mind field to navigate I’m sure. I do think if you can work together for the best outcome for your children then that is what you should do. Children don’t need to be involved in the drama or problems going on between adults.

  6. Mands1980 25/02/2019 at 12:17 pm

    I know a few people who have or are going through these issues. It is very hard to be friendly to the ex it sometimes gets nasty but they have to try so hard for their children’s sake not to be negative in front of the kids when allowing the ex to see the kids etc. Like this article says about manipulative kids this is true as well from listening to the families I know.

  7. Bevik1971 25/02/2019 at 10:06 am

    I have never had to deal with this issue thankfully but you never know what the future may bring. I do have a close friend who has gone through a separation with her ex and at the time their daughter was 2. She had to go through the shared custody week on week off thing with her at 2 years old and that was really difficult for her ūüôĀ Her daughter is now 11 and things have definitely gotten easier and they are getting on better, which is so much nicer for everyone.

  8. Jen_Wiig 19/02/2019 at 1:24 pm

    I loved that very first idea… Treat it like a buisness relationahip… Made so much sense and helps to take away some of those emotional attachments and issues in order to focus on greater good… The kiddos.
    I know all too well how hard it is dealing with an ex in order to co parent sucessfully, what i find the toughest is that the moment im being nicer he thinks theres hope and because we co parent well he believes we will cont if he were to move back in… Not that easy sadly…and because we “get along” its made it abit harder to explain to the kids.

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