When couples separate it’s usually a difficult process. When couples who have children separate, it’s even harder. Both of us have divorced and both of us have children. Neither of us found it easy. We decided to write this together, not to say that one of us did it the right way and one of us did it the wrong way, but to empower you in your choice of how you work with your ex to bring up your children.
We hope our honesty empowers you to think about your children at the front and centre of everything you do. Co-parenting may be the hardest but most important thing you will ever do for your children.
My story isn’t straight forward. I have three children. When my son was 11 and my daughters were 10 and 8, their dad essentially disappeared for about 18 months, concentrating on a new relationship. Everything fell apart. It was a mess and we all suffered. Probably my son suffered the most as he missed his father so much and he also tried to become ‘man of the house’. Many years later, I now experience how the lack of communication between their parents and how not addressing my own emotional ‘fallout’ has affected my children in different ways. One constantly seeks approval from their father, whilst another has a very minimal relationship with him. In part this is probably because I didn’t promote or even try to establish a positive relationship with their father, but partly because their dad just didn’t try either.
With hindsight, I wish I had done things very differently. I wish that I had been supported by professionals adopting all or any of the approaches and suggestions set out in this booklet and that I had been aware of the multidisciplinary support available. I wish that I had parented my children very differently when my own relationship fell apart and that I had been aware of the consequences and damage the conflict with my co-parent would have, even today, on my now adult children. My wish is that this booklet will help others not to make the same mistakes, albeit unintentional, that I did and that it will encourage those professionals working with separated parents to adopt a child focused approach with their clients.
The first time I had to handover my son to his dad for the night. He was one year old.
It was summer. It was probably a Tuesday night. My son’s father rang the doorbell to pick up our child to take him to his new flat for the first time. I answered the door and I felt sick. Our child was so little still. A baby. His dad stood on the doorstep. I clung onto our son. I didn’t want this to happen. I didn’t want to let go. And as I reluctantly passed him over the threshold, he began to scream. Scream like I have never heard him scream before. And I will never ever forget that screaming for as long as I live. It was like he knew that his whole life was going to change. As though he knew it was going to be harder for him in many ways. He was protesting. I could still hear him screaming down the street.
Something primal and fundamental had been severed from me. It was a pain I don’t think I have ever fully healed from. A deep visceral pain that ran through my core.
Now it’s 12 years on. So much has happened. I’m a co-parent coach for a start. Which must mean that somewhere along the way it must have turned out ok. And yes, in many ways it has. We share our son, we communicate well. We even all get together with new partners and new children so we can surround our son with a safe parental bubble as often as possible.
I help parents who are separating get to a place where they can talk with each other, make decisions together, protect their child as parents together. All of this provides such a fundamentally important structure for the child to grow up in. It keeps them safe and teaches them that relationships may not be perfect, but they can still work. I also tell parents the truth. That this will be the hardest thing you ever do.
Co-parenting means that you will see your child less than you want to. And that’s not easy. The thing that keeps me going is that I know, I deeply and fully know, that my son needs to be with his dad too.
These pages aim to help you make decisions, to understand things from your child’s point of view and your ex’s point of view. It aims to show you that we understand that what you are about to embark on won’t be easy, but it will be the most important thing you will ever do. Through this guide we want to explain what you might be feeling, to show you that you’re not alone, to give you things to think about, to help you make your decisions. We want you to feel supported. Please use it as a guide. Look it up whenever you need it. Read ahead as far as you need to. Share it with the people around you. Get as much support as you can. Most of all please remember, you’re not alone, there are people out there ready to support you whenever and however you need it.