Conflict management when you’re co-parenting: why it’s important
Disagreements, arguments or conflict are natural parts of all relationships, including relationships after separation or divorce.
When you’re co-parenting in this situation, conflict between you and your child’s other parent – and how you deal with it – is one of the key things that affect your child’s wellbeing.
If you and your child’s other parent can sort out disagreements in calm, consistent and respectful ways, it can be very reassuring for your child.
It can even help your child learn valuable relationship skills. For example, it gives your child an example of how to manage emotions, negotiate and solve problems effectively.
But ongoing high levels of conflict and bitterness between parents affect children badly, whether parents are together or separated.
There is never any excuse for bullying, abuse or family violence. If you think you or your children are in immediate danger, leave or call the police on 000. If you want to talk to someone and don’t know what to do, call the National Domestic, Family and Sexual Violence Counselling Service on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).
Tips for conflict management when you’re co-parenting
Here are some tips that can help you manage conflict with your child’s other parent.
Rethink your relationship
Try thinking of your relationship with your child’s other parent as a business arrangement made for the benefit of your child. This can make interactions less personal and more focused on practical solutions.
Be respectful and polite
These tips can help you achieve respect and politeness:
- Listen to each other and talk respectfully – you could try talking as you would with a colleague at work.
- Keep the focus on your child’s needs and achievements.
- Acknowledge each other’s strengths and your co-parenting achievements.
- Avoid criticism of the other parent’s parenting.
- Try talking to your child’s other parent in a public place like child care or school.
- Use email or text messages to communicate if face-to-face or phone communication is too difficult.
And if you don’t handle a situation well, it’s OK. Show yourself some compassion, and try to repair any damage when you feel calm again. For example, ‘I’m sorry. I didn’t handle yesterday’s conversation well. Let’s try again’.
Consistency is important for children’s wellbeing, but try to be flexible if your child’s other parent needs to make changes to your co-parenting arrangements.
If you’ve repartnered, you might need to talk about new boundaries with your child’s other parent. For example, your child’s other parent might have come in for a chat on a Sunday night when dropping off your child, but now your new partner might prefer your child’s other parent to stay at the door.
Use a problem-solving approach
If you’re having trouble working through issues with your child’s other parent, problem-solving techniques can help you find solutions. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and support when you need it.
Protecting your children from conflict: tips
If there’s conflict between you and your child’s other parent, these tips can help you minimise the effect on your child:
- If you need to have a difficult conversation, do it where your child can’t hear you. If talking face to face will lead to conflict, send an email, text message or letter. Stick to the facts, avoid accusations and name-calling, and focus on your child’s needs.
- Always speak or write to your child’s other parent directly – never ask your child to be a messenger. You could try sharing important information about your child by using an online calendar or a shared journal that travels between your homes.
- Avoid making negative comments about your child’s other parent, either in person or on social media. Your child loves both parents, and it hurts them to hear or see negative things about their other parent.
- Try to behave in a calm, consistent and respectful way, even if your child’s other parent is behaving badly. This can lower stress levels for you and your child.
- If you need to vent frustration, talk to a friend or therapist. Or you could try writing in a journal.
A big challenge for me was to respect my ex-partner’s parenting skills. I wouldn’t want to hear his criticisms of how I do things, so I had to bite my tongue and not criticise him.
– Shay, 30, divorced for 3 years and mother of 2 children
Effects of conflict on children
Conflict can come up at different times during co-parenting.
If conflict between parents isn’t handled well, it can affect children’s wellbeing. For example, when there’s serious conflict, children might feel they have to take sides. This can make them feel sad, depressed or stressed. They might also worry that one parent won’t like them anymore if they show love for their other parent.
Children in this situation might:
- seem to lack confidence or stop trying new things
- become withdrawn
- act out at child care, kinder or school
- have trouble concentrating at school
- have trouble getting along with or connecting to others, including you.
These problems and behaviours are more likely when parents fight and argue a lot and don’t resolve their differences, or when the conflict involves physical or verbal abuse, threats or arguments in front of children.
Counsellors can help you and your family work through the challenges that come with separating and co-parenting. You can call the Family Relationship Advice Line on 1800 050 321 or Relationships Australia on 1300 364 277. Or you can ask your GP about local family counselling services.