Mutual Parenting After Divorce: Putting Children First

Photo by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash.
Noel McDermott
Noel McDermott
Founder
Mental Health Works Ltd

It’s clear that staying together for the sake of the kids is no longer something we believe in.

In the UK, divorce rates are high (42% of marriages end up in divorce), and this is not likely to drop.

The question is then, what is best for our kids?

As a general rule what we do is more important than what we say and indeed much therapy in relationships is about getting people to look at actions not words; in our actions are our truths. This is never more so than in our parenting practice.

Modelling healthy behaviours around relationships and relationship breakups is of vital importance for our kids.

Children see a lot more than you think and see much less of what you imagine.

They are egocentric and look for their needs to be met. Around their family the core needs are, love, consistency and them being central to family life. The advice that follows relates to situations in which there is no danger to yourself or your children from the behaviour of your ex, such as situations of domestic abuse.

Safety of yourself and your kids are the most important issues there and the best thing you can do is get police and legal help to get away safely.

Putting Children First

If you are going through a breakup with your partner and have children, the key rule is to organise the breakup in a child centric way, to ensure you put them first during the process, that their needs for love and safety are met. Not by saying that it is important, but by showing it is important.

Some golden rules in navigating a child centred breakup:

  • Never trash talk your ex or soon to be ex around your kids.
  • Don’t put your children in a position to have to make choices about who they can be loyal to.
  • If possible, show affection and kindness to each other in front of your kids, even if this is painful. Maybe agree a script and touch boundaries.
  • Be honest with your kids about being sad about the breakup if that is true for you but explain that this happens between adults.
  • Try, if possible, to have ‘family’ events.
  • Think about blended family events if one person has another relationship.

Keep communication going

In parenting the key thing is ongoing communication between the parents and this is even more important between co-parents who are not sharing a physical home together.

A very close second to this is parents not undermining each other or allowing themselves to be played off against each other. Kids need consistency in the parenting they receive, and a breakup is no reason to fall down on this. It’s maybe better to rid yourself of the idea that you are breaking up because in many ways you are not. You will have a couple relationship for the life of your kids even into their adult relationships, but the boundaries will shift away from the sexual intimacy and house sharing for example. Although that is important to you, it shouldn’t have much impact on children if you maintain a loving and friendly co-parenting relationship.

There are key messages in all of this for your kids which are crucial for them for the whole of their lives:

  • They remain the most important thing in their parents’ lives.
  • Their parents are able to put their needs first and as divorce and breakup is likely for them, they can use this modelling in their later lives with their own kids.
  • Love relationships can survive change and remain healthy and strong when the boundaries change radically.

Successful co-parenting

The evidence for successful co-parenting is beyond challenge these days and if you manage to navigate it successfully there will be no damage to your children’s’ life outcomes.

Whilst divorce is still listed as an ACE (adverse childhood experience), it is more about how the divorce is navigated and it’s more correct to say a messy and acrimonious divorce is an ACE.

About Noel McDermott

Noel McDermott is the Founder of Mental Health Works Ltd. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home.

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