After Separation


Co-Parenting vs Toxic Parenting

This circle represents the emotional world for a child. His or her wellbeing is dependent upon this emotional world staying safe

Then when the family splits it very naturally falls into two separate units

This is understandable at the time of breakdown; its messy, people are hurt, and both partners need boundaries. Each home has a different feel, with different family and friends, different rules, different values, and different views about the other parent

But where it becomes really harmful is when this goes on for years. In that situation you have the nightmare of “split parenting”. This is where the child has to cross a divide from one world with one parent into a separate world with the other parent.

The gap in between those two worlds is a very lonely and scary place, and it crosses a void of hostility between the two worlds.

We call it the “ transition bridge”.

If children say they don’t want to leave to go and be with the other parent, it may be because they don’t want to transition through this void of hostility again as they transfer from one world or the other.

Leaving a child to grow up in an environment where there is bad feeling and poor communication between the parents throughout childhood can be devastating to the long term mental health of the child. Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service refer to this as “toxic parenting”..

Instead, what children need is ‘co-parenting’. This is where parents work as a team, to care for the child, to make decisions, to discipline, to share concerns.

Co-parents understand that the job of being a parent continues with the other parent, whether they are together or apart.

It can take time and patience to build a successful co-parenting relationship, and the start is just to take small steps, with clear boundaries

… where there is just the beginning of contact between the parents

until ultimately they will end up with this:

This is coparenting; where you’ve got one parent and their world, and the other parent and their world, and they are separate spaces but there is open communication either way so the child doesn’t have to cross the the void of hostility. They commit to parenting this child together so this child never is anywhere that isn’t freely moving within the carers’ space”.

Co-parenting is about using the term “ We”. What children need is parents who communicate.

For example you have a 14 year old daughter who wants to go out to a party wearing a dressless strap (not a strapless dress) and one parent says “Hold on…I’m just going to have a word with your Mum”. So they call and discuss it then come back and say “Mum and I have spoken and we agree you can go to the party but we both want you to get changed first”. This avoids allowing the child to ‘play one parent off the other’ and provides a united parenting front, which is important for the child to be and feel safe.

Even once the active conflict between parents has died down, passive conflict between you both is just as harmful. Passive conflict is where you ignore the other parent, make no eye contact, never refer to him or her. This is conflict and harmful for children.. Instead we need to move towards a place where we can both say:

“Mummy and i will discuss that”.

“Mummy and i are so proud about how well you did in French”

“Daddy and I are going to talk about the summer holidays”

“Mummy and i are not happy about the amount of time you spend on the x box




And this extends to caring for our children when they go through hard times

“I hear that Bob has been mean to you at school. I’m so sorry – do you want to tell me about it?”

You and your ex are not always going to agree – that’s the case even where the relationship hasn’t broken down. But it is actually healthy for your children to see where you DON’T AGREE but come to a solution without resorting to conflict. It’s okay to say:

“I know that it’s different in Mum’s house but Mummy and i have discussed this. She knows I want you in bed by 8:30 although you are allowed up til nine at Mum’s house. That’s okay with us. But in this house we go to bed at 8:30”.

The important thing is not that you disagree, it’s that you have discussed it together; the children don’t have to hide the different bed-times from the other parent.

It’s very hard to get to this point until people are healthy and whole emotionally, which is why we encourage parents going through a relationship breakdown to join a divorce recovery programme such as Restored Lives (again a link and information needs to be provided ss omewhere in the course).

So you have to ask yourself a question:

“How do I want my child to describe his or her childhood, particularly when they go into adulthood? Do I want to leave them crossing the void of hostility for the next five, ten , twenty years or can I see a time coming where I have enough confidence in myself to make a move towards co-parenting? Will we both be able to attend our children’s weddings? When our first grandchild enters the world will our children have to work out who can visit them in the maternity ward or will we be ok by then ?”

Raising children after a relationship breakdown is a lot like running a business together. Parents have a job to do which continues whether they are together or apart and that job is based on good communication and teamwork. But we need to have well established boundaries. We don’t need or have a right to access to personal information about their new life, and they don’t have the right to access personal information about ours.

In the next video we’ll be looking at laying the foundation of the new situation and then we’ll start looking at some of the tools which will help you and your children going forward, starting with Special Time.